Olympian building women’s program from the ice up

2002 hockey silver-medalist Andrea Kilbourne-Hill takes charge at Paul Smith’s College

Andrea Kilbourne suited up for the United States women’s hockey team at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, where she won a silver medal. The Saranac Lake resident was recently named the director for the newly-formed Paul Smith’s College women’s hockey program. (Enterprise file photo — Lou Reuter)

PAUL SMITHS — It’s not often that a college adds a new sport to its repertoire, building a program from scratch. But a local woman, who won a silver medal in the 2002 Olympics, is planning on doing just that.

Andrea Kilbourne-Hill, who is from Saranac Lake and now teaches at St. Bernard’s School, was recently announced as the program director for the newly-formed Paul Smith’s College women’s hockey team. And while Kilbourne-Hill has amassed quite the playing and coaching resume, she is happy to take on the director roll and let others spend their time on the ice.

“At first, I was like ‘I don’t want anything to do with it,'” Kilbourne-Hill said. “The more I talked to the other folks at Paul Smith’s, I’m like ‘This will be really good at Paul Smith’s’ and that’s good for everyone.

“I mean, how many girls are in Saranac Lake, Lake Placid, Tupper Lake, Potsdam, Massena who, when they graduate from high school, that’s it. Because they can’t make a D-I roster — hardly anyone can — there’s just such limited opportunities. I got really excited about that.”

Kilbourne-Hill was most recently coach at the Northwood School in Lake Placid, but stepped away from the position two years ago, citing the amount of travel and time away from her husband and school-aged kids.

Andrea Kilbourne-Hill is excited about bringing women’s hockey to Paul Smith’s College. (Enterprise photo — Justin A. Levine)

“Besides being a coach and teacher, you’re also a parent,” she said. “There’s so many other aspects of that job that were overwhelming. This only has the fun part of it so far. I want to recruit, I want to talk to kids about how great the program is going to be and get them there on campus.”

Kilbourne-Hill is taking a realistic approach to building the program, and expects to name a head coach sometime in the spring. Additionally, she said the college’s administration understands that the team may get off to a slow start.

“I said right off the bat, ‘Don’t expect to win a ton of games year one,'” she said. “But if there’s 20 girls on the roster and they’re all having fun and contributing to the campus community, that’s my goal for the program.”

The athletic programs at Paul Smith’s exist in a bit of a mish-mash of leagues, with sports like soccer and basketball playing in the Yankee Small College Conference, but Kilbourne-Hill said the YSCC doesn’t have women’s hockey. The team will be participating in the Independent Women’s Club Hockey League, which is based largely in the Vermont and New Hampshire region. She said that YSCC has men’s hockey, and hopes that the addition of the PSC team could spur on other YSCC schools to add women’s hockey as well.

While building the program, Kilbourne-Hill said she’s lucky that the PSC administration is fully on board, and isn’t running into any opposition.

“I think the biggest challenge will be getting the girls.

Recruiting-wise, we’re late in the game — just getting the girls there for next year,” she said. “I think once we have the girls there next year and once we show them how great a program it’s going to be, they’re going to stay and it’ll be easy to recruit after that.

“I want to start locally. So we’re reaching out to all the local high schools, all the coaches there. Reaching out to the Section X, Section VII schools. I’m going to start watching their games, and talking to their coaches, and getting in front of them, because I think a lot of those kids are the ones that we’re kind of looking for. They’re already North Country kids, and they’re good hockey players, we know that they are.”

She also said that the PSC program will offer a good chance for players to play a second sport, which Kilbourne-Hill said will be unique to Paul Smith’s.

“A kid wants to play soccer and hockey or rugby and hockey, we can make that happen,” she said. “So I think that will be a unique thing for sure.”

PSC currently has an active men’s club hockey team, and Kilbourne-Hill said she thinks the college may be doing things backwards, so to speak, by starting a women’s program first.

“There’s a really active men’s club program right now that’s really more of an intramural,” she said. “There’s already kind of a men’s [program], but really the emphasis — because we need more females on campus — is to get this going first.

“Usually it works the other way, this time we’re getting the female’s program going first and the men’s will be behind, but not ignored. But the priority is definitely on the female end.”

PSC’s athletic director, Jim Tucker, said in an email that the men’s team could become more formalized once the women’s team becomes established.

“We typically enroll several students who enjoyed playing pond hockey and others [that] grew up through the Pee Wee ranks and high school hockey, but have chosen Paul Smith’s for a specific academic offering and our wonderful location,” Tucker wrote. “There is certainly the potential for men’s collegiate hockey to become an athletic team with coaches and collegiate schedule, though our current priority is to work with women’s hockey, optimize the program and take it forward.”

The addition of the women’s hockey program is part of an effort by the school to engage and attract more female students, according to Shannon Osborne, chief marketing officer for PSC.

“The team is expected to both recruit and retain more women to the campus,” Osborne wrote in an email. “Paul Smith’s College has always had more men than women, and although the numbers have become closer to an even ratio, anything we can do to provide greater balance will enhance the collegiate experience for all involved.

“The college’s enrollment counselors are talking all the time with prospective students who want athletics as part of the college experience. The women’s hockey team gives them something new to share in their current conversations, and also something different to attract the interest of a broader group of students and families.”

In addition to hockey, the school is taking other steps as part of a coordinated effort.

“There are a few strategies in place. Earlier this year we launched a psychology program, which is a popular major with young women,” Osborne said. “We promote the success stories of female students, faculty and alums, particularly for our science programs which are increasingly enrolled with female students. Last year we began fielding women’s rugby as another athletic option.”

Tucker said Kilbourne-Hill, along with head hockey recruiter Emilee Hazelden, have already began the recruiting effort.

“Both have deep roots in the North Country, having grown up locally and played hockey as youth skaters and in the high school and Northwood School in Lake Placid,” Tucker wrote. “Andrea and Emilee have set up a recruiting plan with visitations to a series of girls’ hockey tournaments throughout the northeast.

“At the same time, Andrea has connections nationally and internationally within the world of women’s hockey. She has already begun reaching out to her contacts to let them know that Paul Smith’s College is another option for young women’s hockey players who are looking at continuing their pursuit of a sport they love.”

Kilbourne-Hill also thinks her background will add some gravitas to the new program, but is realistic about her recruiting powers.

“The most valuable part that I’m bringing to the table is the experience I have and the networks I have,” she said. “Which, obviously, being an Olympic medalist is helping build those networks. If there’s a chance that a kid might open my email as opposed to some other coach’s email because I was a medalist or they might trust me more … then that’s great.”

Kilbourne-Hill said that other coaches, who are often protective of their best players, will look to PSC as a safe place to send their most talented players.

“When I coached prep, those are your kids,” she said. “You don’t want to send them to someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing or to a program that sounds iffy. It’s such a small hockey world that I think I have a lot of trust there.

“If I say ‘We’re doing it right, and this is going to be a good spot for those kids,’ I think they’re going to believe me.

“It’s not like my name is Wayne Gretsky or Sydney Crosby,” she laughed. “It’s not like I’m so well known in the world that kids are flocking just because of me. [But] the trust I have among other prep coaches [and] high school coaches, they know that I know what I’m doing.”