As St. Thomas students tuned in to February’s Winter Olympics opening games in Beijing, they may have recognized some of the players flying across the ice over the weekend in the women’s hockey competition. Two freshmen teammates on the St. Thomas women’s hockey team, goaltender Saskia Maurer and defender Nicole Vallario, were competing for Team Switzerland against St. Thomas Women's Hockey coach Joel Johnson and Team USA.
During St. Thomas’ inaugural year as a Division I program, both players have made significant contributions to the team. Maurer has made nine starts in 10 games, during which she has allowed an average of 3.16 goals to lead the squad. She has tallied a .917 save percentage in her first collegiate season and has twice earned WHCA Rookie of the Week recognition.
Vallario, a one-time WCHA Rookie of the Month and two-time WCHA Rookie of the Week, has amassed four goals (tied for the team lead) and three assists. She has also added 22 blocked shots and one game-winning goal for St. Thomas.
“We are so proud and happy for Saskia and Nicole,” said assistant coach Marty Sertich. “They have been exceptional student-athletes so far and are well deserved of this honor.”
For both athletes, hockey has been a lifelong passion. Vallario began playing at age four in Lugano, Switzerland, while Maurer began her career at age five in Rothenbach, Switzerland. The opportunity to play at the D-I level was a draw for them when they decided to come all the way to the United States to play collegiate hockey at St. Thomas.
Playing at such a high level, says Maurer, has been an opportunity to improve her game.
“You can learn a lot,” she said.
The duo's ambitions outside the rink stem from their love of sports and competition. Vallario has declared an exercise science major in the Morrison Family College of Health, and Maurer is also interested in pursuing exercise science though she has not yet declared. Vallario is thinking of becoming a physiotherapist, but she says she is going to take her time figuring out what to do with her life after college.
Preparing for the Olympics during a pandemic and while also managing academic demands has not been without its challenges. At times they have had to resort to Zoom practices.
“We couldn’t practice the way we wanted to,” Vallario said. “But everyone who’s part of our team worked hard to get here. The practice on ice is a big part of the training but not the only one. Workouts and system stuff are even more important.”
Participating in the Olympics is an opportunity very few athletes ever get to experience, so Maurer and Vallario are planning to soak it up.
Vallario said that she is looking forward to watching competitors in other sports and playing against the best athletes in the world while wearing a Swiss jersey.
For Maurer, she said that she is going to “try to catch every moment and enjoy it. I think the most important thing is that we have fun here.”
The women’s hockey competition runs from Feb. 2 to 16. Check the schedule and keep an eye out for these Tommies on the Swiss national team through Saturday, Feb. 12.