APPLETON, Wis. -- Lawrence University is adding a 22nd varsity sports program when women's hockey begins play in the 2020-21 season, announced Director of Athletics Christyn Abaray.
"We are excited to bring intercollegiate NCAA women's ice hockey to Lawrence University with a competitive start date of the 2020-2021 academic year," Abaray said. "The time is right. We can grow our regional footprint, increase the athletics opportunities for women student-athletes and enhance the overall experience of athletics at Lawrence."
The addition of a women's hockey team brings the roster of Lawrence women's sports to 11, and Lawrence also has 11 men's teams. The work of getting the program up and running begins now with the hiring of the person to guide the team. Lawrence is conducting a national search for the program's first head coach.
"We will hire a head coach this summer so that person has the full year to recruit our first varsity women's ice hockey roster and integrate into the athletics department and greater institutional environment," Abaray said. "It truly is an exciting time to be a Viking."
The addition of the Vikings brings the number of NCAA Division III teams to 67, and Lawrence is in the middle of fertile recruiting ground for women's hockey. Minnesota has the largest girls' hockey participation in the country, and Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois rank fourth through sixth, respectively, in the nation.
The Lawrence women's team is the 10th member of the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association, the premier hockey conference in the country and the home of the Viking men's squad.
"The NCHA is extremely pleased and enthusiastic with Lawrence University's decision to sponsor an intercollegiate women's hockey program, bringing membership in the women's division to 10 programs," NCHA Commissioner Don Olson said. "The conference is particularly pleased to have a present conference member initiate competition in women's hockey and add to the strength and depth of the women's division of the NCHA. In addition, Lawrence's decision further establishes the NCHA's leadership in the NCAA Division III hockey community as Lawrence becomes the fourth conference member to initiate sponsorship of women's hockey in the past five years."
The NCHA women's conference started in 2000 with five teams, but the league was reshaped in 2013 when four teams, all from the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, departed. At that point, the NCHA had seven members, Adrian College, Concordia University Wisconsin, Finlandia University, Lake Forest College, Marian University, St. Norbert College and the College of St. Scholastica. Aurora University, Trine University and Northland College began NCHA play in 2017, and the league has nine members heading into the 2019-20 season.
The winner of the NCHA playoffs receives the Slaats Cup and an automatic berth in the NCAA Division III Tournament. NCAA women's hockey championship competition began in 2002 with Elmira College winning the first title, and Plattsburgh State took the crown in 2019.
The Lawrence women will play at the Appleton Family Ice Center, which has been home to the Lawrence men's team since 1999. The Lawrence women will move into the current quarters of the Viking men's program as an expanded men's locker room, student-athlete lounge, athletic training area and office space are currently under construction on the south side of the building.
This is the first program to be added to Lawrence athletics since men's hockey achieved varsity status in 1986.