After a tiring hockey practice filled with drills, checks and scrimmages, junior Rhonda Eraiba glides off the ice into the women’s locker room to change before rejoining the team.
Eraiba, a forward, has been the only female member of the Ithaca College men’s club ice hockey team since her freshman year. She began playing ice hockey the summer before her sophomore year of high school, where she was also the only woman on the boy’s team at Ramapo High School.
Eraiba said she has gotten used to being the only woman on the men’s team.
“I mean, it’s awkward at times because I am the only girl, but you kind of get used to it, and it’s not really as big of a deal as you make it in your head,” Eraiba said.
Senior Nicholas Mecca, president and captain of the team, said nobody on the team views Eraiba any differently from how they do one another.
“She’s a good addition,” Mecca said. “We love having her. She’s like one of the guys and adds another aspect to our team that a lot of the teams we play don’t have.”
Eraiba said she has built good relationships with all of the athletes on the team and really enjoys being a part of it.
“When I see them, we talk and hang out, and there are team–bonding events that I go to,” Eraiba said. “I’ve known them since freshman year, so we’ve all grown close.”
Senior Matthew Ambrose said seeing a woman on a men’s team is fairly rare.
“In my four years of playing college club hockey, I’ve only seen a girl on another team once,” Ambrose said.
Ambrose said Eraiba does not have to worry about being treated any differently within her own team; however, men on opposing teams are often hesitant toward her. At this level of competition, there is usually a decent size and strength difference between the men and women.
“On the ice, a lot of kids won’t be as aggressive with her as they are with us, and that’s in part knowing that if they did hit her, it would probably lead to a gigantic brawl,” Ambrose said.
Mecca said that even though there may be a difference between Eraiba and the men on the teams, she does not let that hold her back.
“It’s a little bit different now at this level: A lot of us are a lot bigger than her, but she’s not afraid to throw her body around sometimes,” Mecca said. “We all watch her back out there. I even told her during games that if someone tries cheap–shotting her or anything like that I’m hopping off the bench and beating someone.”
Eraiba said that although at first some people were hesitant to play on the ice with her, she never let it bother her.
“I’ve adjusted over time and got used to being with guys, and that awkward vibe eventually fades out over time,” Eraiba said. “Once you start getting to know the players personally, it’s not awkward. They are just like your friends.”
In high school, Eraiba said, she played on the men’s and women’s teams. Eraiba said she does not let the fact she is the only woman on the team hold her back from playing the game she loves.
“I’ve been to girls camps too, and it’s definitely different,” Eraiba said. “There’s not as much focus on you, like pressure. Being the only girl sets you apart and holds you to a different standard.”