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In sled hockey, coed in name only, women are building their own Paralympic pipeline

Photo Courtesy Kelsey DiClaudio

Swedish sled hockey player Amanda Ahrnbom arrived at the 2006 Torino Paralympics aiming to represent her country. Instead, she was ruled ineligible by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) during team processing after the organization learned she was a woman.

“I don’t think it is right and I am disappointed,” Ahrnbom said in 2006.

Ahrnbom was allowed to remain in the village and compete in a pre-Paralympic game between the U.S. and Sweden – which was ironically held on International Women’s Day. As for the actual Paralympic sled hockey tournament, she was relegated to the bench, serving as the de-facto cheerleader.

“It’s really very unfortunate for Amanda. There was a misunderstanding on the part of both parties,” then IPC spokeswoman Miriam Wilkens said in 2006.

Sled Hockey: A mixed gender sport that isn’t usually mixed gender

When sled hockey (also known as sledge hockey or para ice hockey) debuted at the 1994 Lillehammer Paralympics, it was a mixed gender sport. One woman – Norway’s Britt Mjaasund Oyen – competed in the inaugural tournament. At some point in the late 1990s or early 2000s (the exact year is unclear), the sport switched to being open only to men – thus leading to Ahrnbom’s exclusion when she arrived in Italy in 2006.

The incident in Torino sparked sled hockey being switched back to mixed gender status ahead of the 2010 Vancouver Paralympics. But it wasn’t until 2018 that a second woman – Norway’s Lena Schroeder – broke through to compete at the Paralympics.

In Beijing, a third woman – China’s Yu Jing – made her Paralympic debut. She didn’t touch the ice in five of six games, including China’s 4-0 bronze-medal win on Saturday. But she did get a few minutes of ice time in a 6-0 win over Italy on Tuesday, which – coincidentally or not – was on International Women’s Day.

Yu Jing of China (left) competes during China's preliminary round para ice hockey game against Italy at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China.
Yu Jing of China (left) competes during China’s preliminary round para ice hockey game against Italy at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China. (Photo by Lan Hongguang/Xinhua via Getty Images)

“My debut at the Paralympic Winter Games is my gift to myself on this International Women’s Day,” said Yu, who started playing sled hockey two-and-a-half years ago. “I hope that women out there will see my debut and believe that there is a chance for them to be on the same stage. Disabled women all over the world, I hope they know it’s not impossible, and I hope they see this as encouragement.”

World Para Hockey celebrated Yu Jing’s achievement on Twitter, using the International Women’s Day hashtag. But nearly 6,000 miles away, U.S. sled hockey player Kelsey DiClaudio struggled with the message she was seeing.

“Having only 3 female athletes participate in the games since 1994 is quite sad,” DiClaudio wrote on Twitter. “Internationally, para ice hockey is not a mixed event. Many countries don’t consider their female players for national teams.”

DiClaudio, who started playing sled hockey at age 9, knows that her belief in herself is not what is holding her back from competing at the Paralympic Games.

“Since 2010, when I watched the Vancouver Paralympic Games, it became my dream from that point on that I wanted to get to the Paralympics,” the 24-year-old told On Her Turf. “My goal was to make the men’s national team. That was the only goal I had, it was tunnel vision. And I was told, ‘We have a spot open for a girl, if she’s good enough.'”

The question of whether DiClaudio is “good enough” isn’t really the right one to ask, though many of her teammates insist that she is. Instead, it is whether DiClaudio and other female sled hockey players are set up for success in a so-called mixed gender sport.

The answer there is a resounding ‘no.’

“The reality is that you are still running a men’s tournament and it’s being disguised as a mixed gender tournament,” said Tara Chisholm, head coach of the Canadian women’s ice sledge hockey team.

Is sled hockey’s ‘mixed gender’ label doing more harm than good?

In addition to having the “mixed gender” label, sled hockey also features a perplexing rule that – while perhaps well intentioned – has been ineffective at best and harmful at worst. While men’s-only teams max out at 17 players, rosters are allowed to expand to 18 athletes if a woman is included.

“That rule, in theory, was attempting to be more inclusive towards women. In reality, it’s actually really inhibited the development of women’s para ice hockey because the argument has always been, ‘Well, there is a place for them. They just haven’t broken (onto) the roster yet.’ And in a full-contact sport, that’s a lot to ask,” said Peggy Assinck, who has been a member of the Canadian women’s team since it formed in 2007.

“It’s like someone dangling a dollar in front of your face and saying that, ‘You’ve worked this hard, you’re going to get it,’ and then getting it taking it away,” DiClaudio said of the potential 18th roster spot. “I did have a lot of hope that I would make the team. But as the years went on, it kind of dwindled more and more.”

DiClaudio isn’t alone.

“The number of times that women have had the dream of rostering to the men’s Canadian national team, and were told flat out by national team coaches, that there was no chance of that ever happening, just happened over and over and over again,” said Assinck. “It basically depleted those dreams.”

While Assinck believes the “mixed gender” label might be helpful in nations where the sport is still developing – like China or Norway – for powerhouses like the U.S. and Canada, it is instead serving as a barrier.

As a result, in recent years, many members of the women’s sled hockey community have shifted their focus from trying to break onto men’s rosters to dedicating their energy to developing the women’s game.

Doing so would help even the playing field at the Winter Paralympics, where the gender disparity still skews heavily male. Of the 564 athletes competing in Beijing, only 138 (24%) are women. While sled hockey is not the only winter Paralympic sport with a wide gender gap, the fact that 117 out of 118 sled hockey athletes in 2022 are men plays a large role in tipping the scales.

The creation of the U.S. women’s sled hockey team

Shortly after Ahrnbom was nixed from Sweden’s Paralympic roster in 2006, a U.S. player received a similar message.

Erica Mitchell (now McKee) made the U.S. men’s junior team in 2004, and in 2006, she was named captain of the roster, becoming the first – and only – woman to serve in that role.

Mitchell was talented enough to be in the mix for a roster spot on the U.S. senior national team. But ahead of a selection event in 2007, she was told that while she was allowed to tryout, she wouldn’t be allowed to make the team because she was a woman. 

“My heart sank and I just started crying uncontrollably, I had never in my life been segregated from the sport that I love because I was a female,” Mitchell recounted to Think Progress in 2018.

The impact that Mitchell sparked with her anger and frustration cannot be understated.

“She literally created the women’s team,” said Monica Quimby, who has been a member of said team since 2014. “Erica was told to basically make her own team, and that’s exactly what she did.”

With the help of “the Toms” – Tom Koester and Tom Brake – the U.S. women’s sled hockey team was founded in 2007, and in May of that year, the first-ever women’s sled hockey game was played. Two current national team players – Mitchell from the United States and Assinck from Canada – took part in that inaugural game, though country lines got a little blurred.

“There were not enough women on the USA team, so I actually wore a USA jersey for that first game,” Assinck explains.

The first ever women’s sled hockey game in May 2007 featured the U.S. and Canada. Canadian Peggy Assinck (fourth from the right) competed with the U.S. team. (Photo courtesy of Peggy Assinck)

In the years that followed, both the U.S. and Canadian women’s hockey teams continued to develop. In that first decade, both teams were self-funded and operated, existing outside of their respective national governing bodies. In the U.S., “the Toms” funded the women’s sled hockey team.

“Without their support, we wouldn’t have been able to have the growth, the expansion, the amount of camps,” Quimby said.

While the Canadian team continues to operate independently of Hockey Canada to this day, in 2018, the U.S. women’s sled hockey team was taken under the umbrella of USA Hockey.

The shift came with a name change, with the U.S. women’s sled hockey team rebranded as the U.S. women’s development sled hockey team.

Female players are now siloed under the development wing of USA Hockey, along with the men’s development team. At the same time, the U.S. national sled hockey team has remained without a gender modifier. But in actuality, it is a coed team in name only. No woman has ever made the U.S. sled hockey team at the senior national level. 

Quimby says the move was bittersweet. “We saw it as a step forward towards the Paralympics – the ultimate goal.”

But it has also resulted in fewer playing opportunities. Under the Toms, “We were having seven or eight camps (a year), and multiple international trips,” Quimby said. “Now, we’re only having three or four camps.”

On Her Turf reached out to USA Hockey about the organization’s goals for women’s sled hockey at the domestic and international level, but did not receive a response prior to publication.

For Maddy Eberhard, the move to USA Hockey also marked the start of a dark chapter. In June 2020, she publicly accused a male player and a male executive at USA Hockey of sexual harassment in a story published by The Athletic.

Eberhard wasn’t sure if she wanted to keep playing, but ultimately, the support of her teammates motivated her to continue. “They’re all sisters of mine and I know I can reach out to them with anything that I have going on, whether that be hockey related or not,” she said.

Members of the U.S. women's development sled hockey team at a camp in January 2022. From left to right: Maddy Eberhard, Kelsey DiClaudio, Katie Ladlie, Monica Quimby, and Erica McKee (nee Mitchell).
Members of the U.S. women’s development sled hockey team at a camp in January 2022. From left to right: Maddy Eberhard, Kelsey DiClaudio, Katie Ladlie, Monica Quimby, and Erica McKee (nee Mitchell). (Photo courtesy of DiClaudio)

Is it any surprise that a USA-Canada rivalry extends to women’s sled hockey?

During last month’s Winter Olympics, the Toronto Star published a column arguing that women’s hockey doesn’t belong in the Olympics because the U.S. and Canada are too dominant. The article resulted in what was perhaps the most unified moment in recent women’s hockey history, with players, coaches and fans coming together to condemn the bad take.

And yet, the dominance of only two teams – the U.S. and Canada – is the reason women’s sled hockey is not currently on the Paralympic program.

“What is holding us back is the lack of international teams,” Assinck said.

It is for that reason that Tara Chisholm, the head coach of Canada’s women’s sled hockey team (a volunteer position), spends a surprising amount of time not actually focused on team Canada.

Chisholm, who lives in Medicine Hat, Alberta, splits her time working eight different positions (five paid, three in a volunteer capacity) – all in the adaptive sports realm.

Over the years, she has developed contacts in 14 nations and counting – from Australia to Japan to Armenia – with the goal of growing women’s hockey internationally. Chisholm leads zoom calls and other workshops to pass along any coaching resources and tips she can. Whenever the Canadian team travels to international events, the players bring donated equipment with them.

“It’s kind of just all hands on deck, trying to do whatever we can to grow the sport,” she said.

While Chisholm’s work is certainly making an impact, it is not entirely altruistic.

As DiClaudio puts it: “Unfortunately, the U.S. and Canada are such big powerhouses in the sport… No matter how much we grow, if the other countries aren’t growing, we can’t get to the Paralympic Games.”

Assinck, who has been a member of the Canadian team since that inaugural 2007 game, has also taken that commitment of growing the game internationally to heart.

After completing her PhD in Neuroscience at the University of British Columbia in 2017, she moved to Great Britain to become a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Edinburgh.

“It became kind of clear to me that, since I was here, I should probably be doing more to help develop women’s sled hockey,” she says.

While most sports paused at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Assinck instead used the time to recruit a national team player pool. She created a social media campaign, which was amplified by World Para Ice Hockey, local para sport organizations, as well as Channel 4, which broadcasts the Paralympics in United Kingdom.

Over 60 women expressed interest and 27 were ultimately selected for the first camp.

And then came the challenge of equipping the players. “We spent a huge amount of money to ship (equipment) from Canada to the UK to my living room,” Assinck says.

After more than a year of planning, at 11pm on a Friday night in October, the players and volunteer staff convened at Planet Ice Widnes – a rink midway between Liverpool and Manchester – for their first on-ice session. A representative from the IPC was even there.

“It was absolutely amazing,” said Assinck, who has also served as an assistant coach of Great Britain’s men’s team. “(The players) are quite aware that they’re at a development phase compared to Canada and USA… But they’re also excited to be trailblazers.”

Players gather together during a Great Britain women’s para ice hockey camp in October 2021. (Credit: Haganova Photo) 

In the near-term, funding remains a major barrier. While Assinck and other volunteers paid for the first camp out-of-pocket, players will be responsible for paying their own way to compete at future tournaments and camps, which is a burden Assinck is familiar with first-hand.

Because Canada’s team operates independently from Hockey Canada, the team gets by on fundraising and player fees, with coaches and staff serving in a volunteer capacity. Since that inaugural game in 2007, Assinck estimates that she’s spent about $5,000 a year to get herself to camps and tournaments, a decision that has caused her to go into debt.

“I have just comfortably gone into debt because (this sport) meant so much to me, but that’s not a reality for most women. That’s not a reality for most women with disabilities,” she said. “A lot of women have decided that playing para ice hockey couldn’t be a priority, financially.”

With no timeline for Paralympic inclusion, some female sled hockey players have also opted to pursue other sports.

At the 2022 Beijing Winter Games, Canadian Christina Picton and American Lera Doederlein – considered two of the best female sled hockey players in the world – are instead making their Paralympic debuts in nordic skiing.

Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympics - Day 4
Because women’s sled hockey is not a Paralympic sport, Canada’s Christina Picton turned her attention to Nordic skiing. The 28-year-old is making her debut at the 2022 Winter Paralympics in Beijing, China. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

“That was always the dream to be here as well for para ice hockey, but I’m so fortunate to be on the para Nordic skiing team and to be surrounded and training with excellent coaches and amazing athletes I’m so, so lucky to be here with this crew,” Picton said on Friday after finishing seventh in the women’s individual biathlon sitting competition.

A circular problem with no single solution

Despite the grassroots efforts to grow women’s sled hockey, the future remains unclear. And for players who have been involved for over a decade, the soundtrack is getting old.

“They keep saying ‘Four more years, four more years, four more years,” Quimby said. “(Let’s) create a plan, a concrete timeline, and move towards that… Saying ‘four more years’ every four years is not going to get us where we need to go.”

Assinck, 38, gets it. “As a young girl, I remember the dialogue being, ‘Soon we’re going to be in the Paralympics.’ … And obviously that hasn’t yet come to fruition.

“It’s a circular problem. If we were in the Paralympics, everyone would create a team. But because we’re not, nobody’s creating a team. And unfortunately, that’s a really tough cycle to be kind of stuck in.”

It’s the type of problem that needs to be solved using concurrent approaches: a team of dedicated and passionate grassroots personnel who are, in turn, supported by top-down initiatives.

In 2014, World Para Ice Hockey launched a women’s program thanks to a grant from the Agitos Foundation, a funding initiative program run by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC). A spokesperson for World Para Ice Hockey said a number of additional grants have helped fund both female-only and mixed team training camps since.

But Taylor Lipsett, a three-time Paralympic sled hockey medalist for the U.S. who is serving as an analyst for NBC during the 2022 Winter Paralympics, believes more support is needed.

Unlike at the Olympics, where sport federations are governed by – but operate independently from – the International Olympic Committee, the International Paralympic Committee serves as the governing body for five of six winter Paralympic sports (all but wheelchair curling, which is overseen by the World Curling Federation).

“The IPC has to take charge. They’re responsible for governing the sport, and I don’t think they’ve done a great job on the women’s side,” Lipsett said.  “It’s their responsibility to invest in various European countries, Asian countries to develop the women’s game, and they haven’t done that.”

While both the International Paralympic Committee and International Olympic Committee have discontinued the use of demonstration events since the 1990s, Lipsett thinks that model could help women’s sled hockey.

“I see no reason why it couldn’t (have been) in Beijing as a demonstration sport,” he said. “That would be a huge thing for the development of women’s sled hockey. But someone has to make that decision to allow that, to make that happen.”

Later this year, World Para Ice Hockey plans to hold a Women’s World Challenge tournament, with three to five teams expected to compete.

But the dates and host city haven’t yet been announced, and while that might not sound like a big deal, Chisholm says the absence of a consistent schedule and advance notice has impacted the growth of the game internationally.

“That is actually one of our biggest barriers. Women would train and they wouldn’t know what they were training for,” she said.

“One of the things that we’ve asked is to have (an event) every year at the same time… (That way) when I’m talking to other nations, I can say, ‘Hey, this is happening. Start planning for it. And what can we do to support you to get there?'”

Looking further ahead, a spokesperson for World Para Ice Hockey said via email that the organization does not currently have a specific timeline for the inclusion of women’s sled hockey at the Winter Paralympics.

“I can’t lie. It’s definitely hard,” said Katie Ladlie, a member of the U.S. women’s sled hockey team since 2015. “I have those days where I think, ‘How long is this going to take? How many times are we going to be told something and then the rug is going to be taken out from under us again?'”

With the Paralympics out of reach for now, the thing that keeps these women motivated is the same as what has powered female athletes in nearly every sport: the next generation.

“A lot of my energy and my focus and time is geared not only to my dreams, but women’s sled hockey in general,” DiClaudio said. “I just love (the sport) so much that I can’t leave at this point. If it’s my burden to bear, to play this sport and help grow it, I’m ok with that.”

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC

ALSO FROM ON HER TURF: Women starred at 2022 Winter Olympics, but men photographed most of the action

Sloane Stephens gets candid about turning 30, favorite self-care practices and freezing her eggs ahead of 12th French Open

Sloane Stephens of the US hits a return during a practice session ahead of the Australian Open.
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Sloane Stephens calls the French Open – the second Grand Slam of the tennis season – one of her favorite events of the year, and it’s not hard to understand why: The 30-year-old Stephens owns 32 victories on the “terre battue” in Paris, where she finished runner-up in 2018. The current world No. 35 looks to increase that number when she faces off against No. 16 Karolina Pliskova in first-round action, which begins Sunday.

Roland-Garros is Stephens’ most successful major in terms of match wins at 32-11. Her record at the U.S. Open, where she won the title in 2017, currently stands at 24-10, while she’s 14-11 at Wimbledon. She stands 12-11 at the Australian Open, where she fell in the first round earlier this year to Russia’s Anastasia Potapova.

The Florida native arrives in Paris with 11 events in 2023 under her belt, including her first WTA 125 title at the L’Open 35 de Saint Malo earlier in May. Stephens entered the tournament last-minute following a first-round loss at the Madrid Open, but she rebounded by dropping just one set in four matches en route to the clay-court final, which she won in straight sets over Greet Minnen on May 7.

On Her Turf sat down with Stephens ahead of the 2023 French Open to talk about a wide range of topics including Rolland-Garros, turning 30, mental health advocacy, her favorite self-care practices, freezing her eggs and more.

You can watch the 2023 French Open on NBC, the Tennis Channel and Peacock. Click here for the full schedule.

RELATED: 2023 French Open — Dates, schedule, how to watch on NBC and Peacock

This Q+A has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

On Her Turf: Let’s start with some general takeaways… What are your thoughts on your season so far?

Sloane Stephens: Definitely started off slow, but we’ve been here before, so not too worried. …I was able to go play in St. Malo, which was great, because I needed to get a bunch of matches, and I was able to pick up a title there, which was really nice. Clay-court season is my favorite season, so I’m really happy to be able to play a lot of matches at the beginning (of the season). … It’s been a tough start this season. I haven’t done as well as I would have liked to, but again, that’s just tennis. And I think now I’ve kind of picked up some momentum. And yeah, playing in my favorite season of the year, the clay-court season is always nice. And being able to win matches and collect a lot of points is always good. So just been trying to keep the momentum going from here.

OHT: Regarding what you just said – “It’s just tennis” – Could you talk a little more about your perspective, dealing with that up-and-down start to a season? Knowing it’s a long season, how do you keep yourself from judging your whole year based on how it started?

Stephens: I think having perspective instead of over-analyzing. Only one person can win every week, right? … It’s all about finding that balance: It’s not getting overly happy and joyous when you’re winning and not getting so depressed that you want to quit tennis when it’s not going well. … And part of it is managing the workload and managing the travel and the logistics. You know, you don’t work a nine-to-five (job), you don’t go into work every day. And it’s the same thing for everyone. Like everyone’s routines are messed up, everyone’s schedule is different. Everyone’s losing their bags, everyone’s flights are super expensive. There’s all of these things that go into it that you really can’t get so upset about, because it’s happening to everyone. Everyone’s managing it, and whoever is managing the very best is probably the No. 1 player in the world. And there can be someone who’s managing really great and they’re No. 50 in the world. So it’s all about perspective.

OHT: Speaking of managing stress, can you talk about how wearing fitness technology (Stephens has been a brand ambassador for WHOOP since 2021) has helped you, and how do you incorporate it into your routine?

Stephens: I think for myself, as a professional athlete, it really helps you gauge where your body is in its recovery and how it’s recovering. WHOOP actually gives you the data … and I think that’s where the stress monitor comes in. Because like I said, like, you can already see like if your body’s recovering or not recovering, and then on top of it, how much stress are you putting on your body with a 10-percent recovery day? What does that look like? Are you gonna get injured? Are you gonna get sick? Are you going to be a couch potato? For myself, I know if I have two days that are in the red and I’m going really hard, I’m gonna have three days where I’m like, “Don’t call me; I’m not going to be able to do anything.” And before, I never really knew why that was happening, so I’m able to just be way more alert and attentive to like what my body needs, especially now that I’ve gotten older. I wish I had this when I was 21, because then I’d be the hero of self-care and recovery and HRV (heart rate variability) and monitoring — all of these things. Whereas now I’m old, and it really does make a difference. I really actually need to be paying attention to these things.

OHT: Speaking of self-care… what are some of your current self-care practices and how did it feel to hit the milestone of turning 30 this year (which by the way is not old!)?

Stephens: It’s been totally fine. I don’t feel any different at all, really, which is good. I think in terms of “old,” I’m definitely not old, but in tennis terms I am. There are girls on tour who are 17 and 16, and I don’t even remember what it was like when I was 16 playing on the tour — it was just so long ago. …My self-care journey has changed as I’ve gotten older, as I’ve experienced more things, as I’ve traveled the world. When I get to a new city and I’m needing to relax, I’ll try to find where can I get a facial? Where can I get my nails done? I like to do things alone — I don’t know why, I think it’s just part of being a tennis player. I’m used to having to do things alone. So for me, I can take my headphones and my show and go get my nails done, go have lunch by myself, all of those things. To me, that’s very relaxing, and I love it. …But being on the road — so much has really changed how I view self-care. I’ve definitely made it my mission to be more active when I’m on the road, to implement those things I love throughout my day and then be more active in terms of finding places to get facials or get my hair done and just kind of going for it.

OHT: I want to ask about your mom: She was a standout collegiate athlete (Sybil Smith was an All-American swimmer at Boston University) and a Harvard-educated psychologist. How has she informed your approach to self-care and mental health as a professional athlete?

Stephens: My mom, she’s so freakin’ cool. She’s so awesome. We actually do a lot of (self-care) stuff together. We really look forward to like doing those things and having self-care days. …But I think she also knows how important it is to have that time to take care of yourself and have that time alone, too, to recharge and regroup. She’s encouraged me both ways, just because she knows how helpful it can be.

OHT: You mentioned that you like doing things alone when you’re on the road, but I read in a recent article where you note that being a professional tennis player can be very lonely and can take a toll on your mental health, which is a topic you regularly address. Why is it important to you address mental health awareness and where does that comfort level talking about it come from?

Stephens: I would definitely say my mom. I’ve obviously been in therapy pretty much in my whole life, so I’m very open with that. And I think being a tennis player, traveling the world, it’s a very unique experience. I travel with a coach, a physio, sometimes a friend, so it’s like I’m never truly alone. …But during COVID, we weren’t allowed to leave our rooms for probably a better part of a year and a half, and I think that’s when the loneliness came in. All through COVID I was seeing a therapist and post COVID, still continuing to see my therapist, and really just finding the balance in my life. That makes the most sense for me.

OHT: It also appears that you have a good relationship with your followers on social media. In particular, it’s been really interesting to follow your journey through freezing your eggs and talking about your reproductive health. Why has that been important for you to engage in that conversation publicly?

Stephens: I’ve always been scared of childbirth, and since I was like 18, I’ve thought I’m definitely having a surrogate, like, this is what I’m putting my mind to, I’m going to freeze my eggs. And now, as I’ve gotten older and have read more about it, and really educated myself about the maternal mortality rate for black women – it’s a very scary thing. For me, egg freezing is something that I’ve always wanted to do, I’ve always been very interested in it, and now I get to share (what I’ve learned). There are so many girls on the tour who are interested. But for a female tennis player, the process takes like three weeks, which is a bit long. You know, men are free to do whatever they want, whenever they want. They don’t have to stop working. Their wives are at home, they’re having babies, and a lot of them now – some younger than me — bring their kids to the tournaments. And I’m like, “I’m 30, I have no kids.” And I totally envisioned having a baby at 27 or 28 and living a normal life. But for a professional tennis player, it’s not ideal. It’s just not possible. We do have a lot of moms on tour, which is the best. It’s just very complicated. The reproductive system is a very complicated thing … I’m on the player council, so I’m very invested in the girls on tour and their health and how they take care of themselves, and this was just something that fits into that — being able to freeze your eggs. Like Michelle Obama said the recently, “You can have it all, just not at the same time.”

OHT: Looking ahead to the 50th anniversary of the WTA this year, what are your thoughts as the organization celebrates this milestone?

Stephens: The WTA has come a long way, and it’s something I’ve been really proud to be a part of. I think obviously when Billie (Jean King) started the tour 50 years ago, I’m sure she didn’t think it would look like what it looks like now. So just being able to be a part of something like that, and I think we all want to leave the tour and tennis better than we found it. There are more initiatives, the pension program is better, there’s free egg freezing, and all of the other things that we want on our tour – those things are possible and we’re able to make that happen.

MORE FROM ON HER TURF: Q+A with Katherine Legge: Her decision to contest her third Indy 500, why the race is ‘bonkers’ and what she hopes to achieve

2023 NCAA DI women’s golf championships: Wake Forest captures team title, Stanford’s Rose Zhang wins individual crown


Update: No. 3 Wake Forest captured its first-ever NCAA DI women’s golf national title on Wednesday, defeating No. 5 Southern California 3-1-0. Demon Deacons players Emilia Migliaccio, Rachel Kuehn and Lauren Walsh won their respective matches to clinch the 2023 title. Of note, Walsh took down USC’s Brianna Navarossa in the day’s anchor match — a day after Navarrossa beat Stanford’s Rose Zhang, who won the individual title on Monday. Wake Forest finished third in the stroke play portion of the competition to advance to match play. The Demon Deacons beat No. 6 Florida State in the quarterfinals before downing No. 7 Texas A&M to reach the national championship match, where they beat USC.

The 30-team field is set for the 2023 NCAA DI women’s golf championships, set for May 19-24 at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona, with defending champion Stanford leading the charge among the six regional qualifying tournaments that wrapped on Wednesday. The Cardinal recorded both the best team and individual scores of the week, posting a combined for 50-under par to win the Pullman (Washington) regional by 17 shots.

Stanford sophomore Rose Zhang, who won the 2022 individual NCAA title, led the Cardinal with a score of 19-under over three rounds, highlighted by an 8-under 64 in her first round on Monday. Zhang set a new NCAA record for the low 54-hole score at Regionals by three shots at Palouse Ridge Golf Club, while her team obliterated the NCAA 54-hole team scoring mark by 17 strokes. The Pullman Regional produced the five lowest team scores of the week, as four teams (Stanford, Clemson, Southern California, Baylor) shot better than 20-under.

Other notable performances came from Arizona, which rallied on Wednesday to win the Raleigh Regional, while the Georgia defended its home course in the Athens Regional, holding off a late push from South Carolina. Also advancing out of Athens was No. 11 seed Augusta, who will make its first appearance at nationals in program history. In the Westfield Regional, Mississippi State won its first-ever regional tournament, while Michigan State won the Palm Beach Regional to also mark a program first. Pepperdine and SMU finished tied atop the leaderboard in the San Antonio Regional.

This year marks the first time in women’s tournament history that that five teams will advance from each regional rather than four (increasing the field from 24 to 30 teams). In January, the NCAA gained approval to increase the number of schools moving on to nationals, aligning it with the number of teams in the men’s championships.

The Stanford Cardinal are the defending champions, beating the Oregon Ducks in the 2022 finals at Grayhawk GC. Stanford sophomore Rose Zhang will aim to defend her individual title as well, and looks to keep the momentum rolling this spring after wins at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur and Pac-12 Championships, where she claimed her 10th career collegiate title to set a new Cardinal record.

Read on as On Her Turf breaks down all you need to know about this year’s championships, and be sure to check back here for updates and results as the tournament progresses.

Matchups and results

On Monday, Stanford sophomore Rose Zhang became the first women’s player to ever win consecutive NCAA individual titles on Monday at Grayhawk Golf Club. Zhang finished at 10-under 278 after 54 holes, beating USC’s Catherine Park and San Jose State’s Lucia Lopez-Ortega by one stroke. Complete scoring details can be found here.

Quarterfinals matchups and results:

  • Match 1: No. 7 Texas A&M defeats No. 2 Texas, 3-1
  • Match 2: No. 3 Wake Forest defeats No. 6 Florida State, 3-1
  • Match 3: No. 1 Stanford defeats No. 8 Pepperdine, 3-1
  • Match 4: No. 5 Southern California defeats No. 4 South Carolina, 3-1

Semifinal matchups and results:

  • Match 5: No. 3 Wake Forest defeats No. 7 Texas A&M, 3-0-0
  • Match 6: No. 5 Southern California defeats No. 1 Stanford, 3-1-0

Championship matchup and results:

  • Match 7: No. 3 Wake Forest defeats No. 5 Southern California, 3-1-0

How to watch the 2023 NCAA DI women’s golf championships

You can watch the 2023 NCAA DI women’s golf championships on Golf Channel, Peacock, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app. Check out the complete TV and streaming schedule:

  • Monday, May 22: 5 p.m. ET (final round, individual stroke play), Golf Channel and Peacock
  • Tuesday, May 23: Noon ET (quarterfinals, team matches) and 5 p.m. ET (semifinals, team matches), Golf Channel and Peacock
  • Wednesday, May 24: 5 p.m. ET (national championship team match), Golf Channel and Peacock

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Who’s playing in the 2023 NCAA DI women’s golf championships?

UPDATE: Stanford, Texas, Wake Forest, South Carolina, Southern California, Florida State, Texas A&M and Pepperdine advanced to match play.


Thirty teams — five from each of the six regions — qualified for the finals, May 19-24 at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona. Also qualifying were six individuals (one from each regional site) whose teams did not advance. They are:

Athens Regional:   

  • 1. Georgia
  • 2. South Carolina
  • 3. San Jose State
  • 4. Ole Miss
  • 5. Augusta
  • Individual: Leon Takagi – Kent State

Palm Beach Gardens Regional:   

  • 1. Michigan State
  • 2. Duke
  • T-3. Texas
  • T-3. Northwestern
  • 5. LSU
  • Individual: Sara Byrne – Miami (FL)

Pullman Regional: 

  • 1. Stanford
  • 2. Clemson
  • 3. Southern California
  • 4. Baylor
  • 5. Texas Tech
  • Individual: Tiffany Le – UC Riverside

Raleigh Regional:

  • 1. Arizona
  • 2. NC State
  • 3. Wake Forest
  • 4. TCU
  • 5. Florida State
  • Individual: Dorota Zalewska – Chattanooga

San Antonio Regional Site: 

  • T-1. Pepperdine
  • T-1. SMU
  • T-3. Oklahoma State
  • T-3. Texas A&M
  • 5. New Mexico
  • Individual: Camryn Carreon – UTSA

Westfield Regional:    

  • 1. Mississippi State
  • 2. Oregon State
  • 3. Vanderbilt
  • 4. Virginia
  • 5. Tulsa
  • Individual: Isabella McCauley – Minnesota

Past NCAA DI women’s golf champions 

The NCAA DI women’s golf championships went to a combination stroke-play and match-play format in 2015. The previous format was strictly stroke play (72 holes) from the championships’ inception in 1982 through 2014.

2022 Stanford Anne Walker 3-2 Oregon Rose Zhang (Stanford, 282) Grayhawk Golf Club, Scottsdale, AZ
2021 Ole Miss Kory Henkes 4-1 Oklahoma State Rachel Heck (Stanford, 280) Grayhawk Golf Club, Scottsdale, AZ
2020 n/a (pandemic) n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
2019 Duke Dan Brooks 3-2 Wake Forest Maria Fassi (Arkansas, 211*) Blessings Golf Club, Fayetteville, AR
2018 Arizona Laura Ianello 3-2 Alabama Jennifer Kupcho (Wake Forest, 280) Karsten Creek Golf Club, Stillwater, OK
2017 Arizona State Missy Farr-Kaye 3-1-1 Northwestern Monica Vaughn (Arizona State, 275) Rich Harvest Farms, Sugar Grove, IL
2016 Washington Mary Lou Mulflur 3-2 Stanford Virginia Elena Carta (Duke, 272) Eugene Country Club, Eugene, OR
2015 Stanford Anne Walker 3-2 Baylor Emma Talley (Alabama, 285) The Concession Golf Club, Bradenton, FL

*Stroke play shortened to three rounds.

What format is used for the 2023 NCAA DI women’s golf championships?

Thirty teams and six individuals will make up the field for the 2023 NCAA DI women’s golf championships, set for May 19-24 at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona, and hosted by Arizona State and The Thunderbirds. All teams and individual competitors will compete in 54 holes of stroke play (May 19-21), with the top 15 teams and nine individuals not on an advancing team moving on for one additional day of stroke play (May 22), which will determine the eight teams for the match-play competition as well as the individual champion.

Any ties after 54 holes – either to determine the teams or individuals who’ll advance to the final round of stroke-play – will be broken by sudden-death playoff. Additionally, ties to determine the eight teams advancing to match play — as well as the individual champion — also will be broken by sudden-death playoff.

Following the conclusion of 72 holes of stroke play, the top eight teams will advance to single-elimination match play, with seeds determined by the team results. A total of five points will be available in each round, with the first team to three points winning. Once a team has won three individual matches, any remaining individual matches will be halted at that point, and the score recorded as it currently stood. Quarterfinals and semifinals are set for May 23, with the finals on May 24.

Regionals rewind: 72 teams take aim at qualifying for nationals

Regional action took place May 8-10 at six regional sites, featuring 72 teams and 36 individuals (396 competitors total). Twenty-seven conferences received automatic bids to regional championships, with each regional site hosting 12 teams and six individuals. The top five teams and the low individual not on an advancing team from each regional site moved on to the national championships, set for May 19-24 at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona.

The NCAA Division I Women’s Golf Committee announced the teams and individuals for each of six regional tournaments on April 26, with Stanford, Wake Forest, LSU, South Carolina, Mississippi State and Texas A&M all earning No. 1 seeds. The SEC led the way with 13 conference programs securing spots in the regional fields (including four No. 1 seeds), followed by the Big Ten and Pac-12 with eight each, and the ACC and Big 12 with seven.

Each regional hosted 12 teams and six individuals competing in a 54-hole tournament, with the top five teams — along with the low individual not on an advancing team — from each site qualifying for nationals at Grayhawk. The six regional sites, including selected teams and individuals, were as follows (includes seeding; conference automatic qualifiers indicated in parentheses):


Palouse Ridge Golf Club in Pullman, Washington; hosted by Washington State


  • 1. Stanford
  • 2. Baylor
  • 3. Southern California (Pac-12 Conference)
  • 4. Clemson (Atlantic Coast Conference)
  • 5. Kentucky
  • 6. Texas Tech
  • 7. Houston
  • 8. North Carolina
  • 9. UNLV
  • 10. Sacramento State (Big Sky Conference)
  • 11. Cal Poly (Big West Conference)
  • 12. Green Bay (Horizon League)


  • Camille Boyd, Washington
  • Tiffany Le, UC Riverside
  • Harriet Lynch, Fresno State
  • Darcy Habgood, Washington State
  • Stefanie Deng, Washington
  • Cassie Kim, Gonzaga


The Club at Chatham Hills Golf Course in Westfield, Indiana; hosted by Indiana and Indiana Sports Corp


  • 1. Mississippi State
  • 2. Oregon
  • 3. Vanderbilt
  • 4. Iowa State
  • 5. Virginia
  • 6. Tulsa
  • 7. Tennessee
  • 8. Michigan
  • 9. Oregon State
  • 10. Xavier (Big East Conference)
  • 11. Lipscomb (ASUN Conference)
  • 12. Morehead State (Ohio Valley Conference)


  • Isabella McCauley, Minnesota
  • Carmen Griffiths, Louisville
  • Luisamariana Mesones, Minnesota
  • Sofia Torres, Colorado State
  • Lauren Beaudreau, Notre Dame
  • Sabrina Coffman, Cleveland State (Horizon League)


Lonnie Poole Golf Course in Raleigh, North Carolina; hosted by NC State


  • 1. Wake Forest
  • 2. Arizona State
  • 3. Florida State
  • 4. Florida
  • 5. Arizona
  • 6. North Texas (Conference USA)
  • 7. TCU
  • 8. NC State
  • 9. Purdue
  • 10. Nebraska
  • 11. Campbell (Big South Conference)
  • 12. Richmond (Patriot League)


  • Dorota Zalewska, Chattanooga
  • Kendall Turner, James Madison
  • Mallory Fobes, UNCW
  • Morgan Ketchum, Virginia Tech
  • Becca DiNunzio, Virginia Tech
  • Sarah Kahn, High Point (Big South Conference)


University of Georgia Golf Course in Athens, Georgia; hosted by Georgia


  • 1. South Carolina
  • 2. San Jose State
  • 3. Ole Miss
  • 4. Ohio State
  • 5. Georgia
  • 6. Maryland
  • 7. Kent State (Mid-American Conference)
  • 8. Charleston (Colonial Athletic Association)
  • 9. Kansas
  • 10. Furman (Southern Conference)
  • 11. Augusta (Southland Conference)
  • 12. Sacred Heart (Northeast Conference)


  • Carla Bernat, Tulane
  • Mathilde Delavallade, Penn State
  • Mikhaela Fortuna, Oklahoma
  • Catie Craig, Western Kentucky (Conference USA)
  • Christy Chen, Boston U (Patriot League)
  • Isabella Gomez, Harvard (The Ivy League)


TPC San Antonio in San Antonio, Texas; hosted by UTSA and San Antonio Sports


  • 1. Texas A&M (Southeastern Conference)
  • 2. Auburn
  • 3. Pepperdine
  • 4. Oklahoma State (Big 12 Conference)
  • 5. SMU (American Athletic Conference)
  • 6. UCLA
  • 7. New Mexico (Mountain West Conference)
  • 8. Denver (The Summit League)
  • 9. Illinois (Big Ten Conference)
  • 10. Sam Houston (Western Athletic Conference)
  • 11. ULM (Sun Belt Conference)
  • 12. Missouri State (Missouri Valley Conference)


  • Victoria Gailey, Nevada
  • Allysha Mae Mateo, BYU
  • Haley Vargas, Kansas State
  • Camryn Carreon, UTSA
  • Jasmine Leovao, Long Beach State (Big West Conference)
  • Alex Giles, Incarnate Word (Southland Conference)


PGA National Resort in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida; hosted by Florida Atlantic and Palm Beach County Sports Commission


  • 1. LSU
  • 2. Texas
  • 3. Northwestern
  • 4. UCF
  • 5. Duke
  • 6. Michigan State
  • 7. California
  • 8. Arkansas
  • 9. Alabama
  • 10. South Florida
  • 11. Penn (The Ivy League)
  • 12. Quinnipiac (Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference)


  • Christin Eisenbeiss, North Florida
  • Sara Byrne, Miami (FL)
  • Yanjun Liu, Princeton
  • Karissa Kilby, FIU
  • Leah Onosato, Old Dominion (Sun Belt Conference)
  • Katherine Lemke, Creighton (Big East Conference)

Last year at Grayhawk Golf Club

The No. 1-ranked Stanford Cardinal captured their second national title — and first since 2015 — with a 3-2 win over the No. 2 Oregon Ducks at Grayhawk Golf Club, marking the first time that a No. 1 seed won the title since the tournament switched to match play in 2015. The Cardinal also became the first team since Arizona State in 2017 to win both the team and individual championship in the same year.

In the championship matches, Stanford’s Brooke Seay and Aline Krauter each won to give the Cardinal a 2-0 edge, but Oregon’s Briana Chacon and Tze-Han Lin tied it up with wins over Sadie Englemann and Rachel Heck, respectively. Stanford’s hopes rested on Rose Zhang, who closed out Sofie Kibsgaard Nielsen on the 17th hole, 3 and 1, and secured Stanford’s team title.

Earlier in the week, Zhang also secured the individual NCAA title, finishing four rounds of stroke play at 6-under 282. Despite a 3-over 75 in the final round, Zhang won by three shots over SJSU’s Natasha Adrea Oon, who finished solo second, followed by Texas A&M’s Jennie Park and LSU’s Ingrid Lindblad, who tied for third. Zhang became the second consecutive Cardinal to win the title following teammate Heck’s win in 2021. Heck and Zhang are the only two Stanford women to win the individual national championship, and each did so as freshmen.

More about Grayhawk Golf Club’s Raptor Course

This year marks the third straight year that the Raptor Course at Grayhawk Golf Club will host the women’s NCAA golf championships. Located in Scottsdale, Arizona, less that 20 miles from the Arizona State campus, Grayhawk was designed by Tom Fazio and opened in 1995. The Raptor Course will play as a par 72 (36-36), stretching 6,384 yards, and is known for its generous fairways, large and undulated greens, and deep bunkers, which are especially noteworthy considering Fazio sculpted these features from what started as a flat piece of desert land.

Grayhawk GC also will host the men’s NCAA tournament May 26-31, but both tournaments move to the Omni La Costa Resort & Spa’s Champions Course in Carlsbad, California, for 2024. This year marks the eighth consecutive edition of the NCAA Division I Golf Championships that one course will host both the women’s and men’s championships in the same year in consecutive weeks.

The NBC Sports golf research team contributed to this report.

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