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ION's 16U Girls' Hockey Team

Featured Article

Don't Baby Me

ION's 16U Girls Ice Hockey Team is Raring to Play

Article by Melinda Gipson

Photography by Celeste Linthicum

Originally published in Leesburg Lifestyle

Alix Ballard is a 15-year-old member of ION International Training Center’s 16U Select Girls Hockey Team. She stands – fully suited, skates and all – in the bench area of a recent practice, loudly applauding and cheering on the efforts of her teammates at practice. She’s not playing because in her last house game as a defender on the ice, she stopped a puck with her helmet and is out for concussion protocol.

After a hiatus of several years, she returned to the game in June of last year and says, “that is the best choice I ever made.” She loves the environment, the camaraderie of other female athletes and the fact that everyone is so accepting of each other, no matter their skill level. “I also just love the ice. You go out and get a good full workout and then when you come out of the locker room, it’s refreshing, you know? The cold relaxes me.”

You might not expect her mom, Greta Ballentine, to be so relaxed in the wake of an injury, but she laughs noting that her other daughter – a cheerleader – got a concussion from having a human fall on her head. “This was just a puck!” More seriously she said, “They have a concussion clinic and do a wonderful job here. It’s been heartbreaking for [Alix] not to be able to be out there because she loves it so much. She’s turning 16 and starting to look at colleges and says she’d like to go to one where she can play hockey.”

Greta also offered insight on Alix’s earlier break with the game. When she played at the Ashburn Ice House a few years ago, she was the only girl on her team and one of just three girls in the entire Ashburn house league. “She liked it and the boys were great with her, but she began to notice that they were all very protective of her,” which she clearly began to resent a bit. “She loved playing, and it was a good experience, but it was really hard for her to feel like a member of the team when they were all running interference.” During her time off the ice, Alex rode horseback and tried other things, but missed the team environment.

“Then we heard there was this new place that actually had an entire girls team, and that sealed it for us,” Greta says.

In fact, ION had multiple girls’ teams last year: a travel team in the 8U division called the Killer Queens (a name they chose themselves), and the inaugural year for 16U Select, plus a couple of house teams. There won’t be enough Killer Queens to continue the younger girl’s travel team, which is unfortunate because they won most of their tournaments, but the confidence they gained from competing and the experience of winning as a team will help to build momentum as the girls program grows.

Still to come lies the prospect of another 16U team, says their coach Andrew Kucinich, who also coaches the George Mason Women’s Hockey Club team. The appeal of coaching girls is “how hard they work and how positive their attitude is,” he said. “The only thing I ask them is, are they willing to work hard, and are they willing to not quit?” He sees huge potential for growth in female teams, particularly since the facility is expanding to two more ice sheets, which will accommodate more practice times.

One indication of the sport’s growing popularity among girls is that ION’s current Learn to Play hockey group already has seven of 11 female members. ION even offers Try Hockey for Free days to encourage interest. After Learn to Play comes "Castles," the house-level teams which are co-ed, then the Loudoun Knights travel hockey program including 16U teams and younger coed teams. And, finally, players can aim for the Washington Little Caps AAA team. 

Andrew also manages the team store and has gone the extra mile in bringing in good used gear that is less expensive, plus 50 pairs of skates that are available for players, to make the sport more accessible.

Once all the players are selected, the Select team will play in Northern Virginia and Maryland in a region stretching from Frederick and Leesburg in the West to Annapolis in the East. Tryouts are the week of April 25 for a season that runs from August to the following March. (Anyone interested can reach out to Andrew at 

It will help to have a great goalie -- Alyssa Arsenault has been playing just under six months and nearly took a roster slot on the 16U Spring Boys Select team. It was a close call, as she clearly enjoys playing with other girls; Andrew says her experience as a soccer and lacrosse goalie will stand her in good stead as her “ice IQ” grows.

Both Alyssa and Alix’s brush with co-ed teams and appreciation for being part of girl’s hockey led us to ask her mom Greta if she’d ever heard of Title IX, the equality in sports law celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. The law opened massive opportunities for collegiate women athletes because it was interpreted to mandate equality in spending on men’s and women’s team sports in schools receiving federal funding. Greta said she vaguely recalled a movie she watched in her teens about a woman who tried out for a men’s professional football team, but that’s where her familiarity with the ruling ends. “And I doubt Alix has ever heard of it,” she said.

And, just maybe, that’s the way it should be.

  • ION's 16U Girls' Hockey Team
  • Alix Ballard
  • Team Moms
  • Alyssa Arsenault
  • Alyssa Arsenault
  • Stopping the puck
  • Stopping the Puck

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