Jennifer Flowers admits that she’s not “proficient” in the sport of hockey.
Not yet, anyway.
“I will be,” she insisted.
Flowers last week was named the women’s commissioner of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, and while she doesn’t know much about the Xs and Os of that conference’s singular sport, she does have an extensive sports background and is passionate about the growth and increased exposure of women’s athletics.
“(Hockey) was not something that was part of my life growing up in Iowa,” Flowers said in a phone interview on Monday. “But one thing I told the (WCHA) coaches is, I currently work with 18 different sports and didn’t know about all of them when I started. I’m going to be an advocate for coaches, their programs and their student-athletes. It doesn’t matter what sport it is.”
Flowers comes to the WCHA from the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference where she’s been the assistant commissioner for membership services, so the former Winona State volleyball player knows four of the seven WCHA member schools — Minnesota State, Minnesota Duluth, Bemidji State and St. Cloud State — very well.
Flowers is succeeding Katie Million, who left the WCHA after three years for a position at USA Hockey.
“I want to take the baton and continue to move forward,” Flowers said.
Her NSIC duties included championship oversight of volleyball, basketball, softball and swimming and diving. She also created that conference’s first transgender student-athlete participation guidelines and the NSIC Women’s Coaches Symposium, which was expanded to include student-athletes and is now called NSIC Women’s Leadership Symposium. She’s also the co-chair of the Minnesota Coalition for Women in Athletic Leadership and serves as a mentor in the Women Leaders in College Sports mentoring program.
Sense a pattern?
“That’s certainly something I’m passionate about, the culture of females in athletics” Flowers said. “There really is an appetite for women to grow into this space.”
Growth is important for the WCHA, whether that comes in the form of membership or outside interest.
Currently, there are seven teams in the league, still stinging after North Dakota’s decision to cut women’s hockey two years ago. Northern Michigan,a member of the WCHA men’s league, is exploring adding women’s hockey asa varsity sport.
“The league does desire growth,” Flowers said but added that the conference will not expand just for expansion’s sake.
Where Flowers really wants to see growth is in exposure of the sport. She noted all the attention NCAA softball’s College World Series recently received, as well as how much fans have tuned in to volleyball and women’s basketball in recent years.
“Why wouldn’t hockey fit into that?” she said. “We want WCHA women’s hockey and women’s hockey in general to be more visible.”
The WCHA is the dominant conference in women’s hockey so the potential is there. Two WCHA teams, Wisconsin and Minnesota, played in the national championship game in March, and the Badgers won their fifth title. The Gophers have won six championships, and Minnesota Duluth has won five.
Flowers will finish upat the Northern Sun, takea week off and begin her new gig on July 22. The season will begin two months later so she has 60 days to visit each WCHA campus. First on the list: Minnesota State.
“I can’t wait,” she said.
Shane Frederick is a Free Press staff writer. Call him at 507-344-6373 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @puckato.