By Debra Bell
Of the Weekly Staff
Ask Dedham-native Sierra Semmel and Glenburn-native Katie McLaughlin why they love sports, and they’ll tell you that it’s simple: because it takes determination and tenacity.
And the rules don’t change if you’re a girl.
Semmel and McLaughlin, who attended Connecticut-based Taft School and Loomis Chaffee Prep School respectively, played in a Western New England Prep School All Star softball game. The girls were the only athletes chosen by their respective schools.
McLaughlin played shortstop for the game, a position she also played in her freshman year at Brewer High School. Semmel played catcher in the game.
Being named to the all star team is a unique opportunity to showcase talent, and both girls are proud of the honor.
McLaughlin was named a Founders’ League all-star at the end of the 2012 softball season, which is the league to which the Taft and Loomis Chaffee schools belong.
“I played this season with the same tenacity and was selected by my coach to play in the all-star game,” McLaughlin said.
For Semmel, getting to the All Star game was a decision made by her coaches.
“My coaches just watched for who worked hard in games and practice every day and who consistently hit and made the plays,” she said.
While their All Star team didn’t win, the girls said they enjoyed the opportunity to play.
They each decided to go to prep schools in Connecticut to pursue better opportunities for developing their skills as ice hockey players, as well as for a great education.
“I looked into attending a boarding school that had a girls hockey program because I would not get the exposure I needed if I wanted to play in college if I stayed in Maine,” McLaughlin said. “Not only did attending a boarding school in Connecticut provide me with more opportunities related to ice hockey, my skills in other sports were advanced as well. I also received a high quality education.”
Semmel saw similar opportunities at Loomis Chaffee Prep School.
“I went to Loomis initially because of ice hockey,” Semmel said. “There isn’t much girls hockey in Maine and I knew that to play at a higher level I would have to look out of state. The ice hockey coach at Loomis watched me play at a tournament when I was in eighth grade and from there started emailing my parents.
“I applied to a few other prep schools and ultimately chose Loomis. So I knew that I wanted to play a higher level hockey. After touring and interviewing, this school in Connecticut seemed like the perfect fit,” she said.
Ice hockey isn’t for the meek either, the girls said. Instead, it is a specialized sport and one where girls can’t be tentative.
For McLaughlin, her introduction to ice hockey was on travel teams where she was the sole female skater.
“I held my own playing with the boys for many years until inevitably the boys got taller and stronger,” she said. “That is when my playing time lessened.
“I am grateful for growing up playing with the boys though. I learned to keep my head up, unlike girls who have only played with girls. There is checking in boys hockey, and I was not exempt from that because I was a female … [so] I had to be quick and smart when the puck was on my stick,” McLaughlin said.
The skills she honed have made her a better player, she said. “I gained valuable skills from playing with the boys that transferred over to my playing with girls.”
Those skills include not only athletic prowess, but fast thinking and a dedication to teamwork.
“As a female athlete, playing at a higher level, both with Loomis and with the [Connecticut] Polar Bears tier 1 U19, has been both challenging and rewarding,” Semmel said. “Adjusting to the speed and physicality of prep school play took most of my freshman season. You can’t just jump onto the team and play first line and every power play immediately, you have to work your way up.
“Hockey interested me because it’s an extremely fast game,” she said. “It’s physical, and you have to be tough, but a lot of the time speed dominates. Also, some of the moves [that] players make are unbelievable, and I love seeing what a talented player will do with the puck to get around a defenseman.”
McLaughlin graduated this year and will attend Colby College in the fall, where she will play on the college’s ice hockey and softball teams.
Semmel will enter her junior year at Loomis Chaffee Prep School, where she will continue to play softball and ice hockey and will be the captain of the 2013-2014 field hockey team.