Sports Odds & Ends
There are approximately 100 African American and other student-athletes of color this school year at the University of Minnesota. In an occasional series throughout the school year and sports year, the MSR will highlight many of these players. This week: Gopher hockey player Crystalyn Hengler and soccer players Izzy and Amelia Brown.
Hockey player is ‘leaving it all out there’ her last year
After making WCHA All-Academic and Academic All-Big Ten, as well as appearing in all 39 games in 2021-22, Eden Prairie’s Crystalyn Hengler wasn’t ready to call it a college career. Hengler has returned to the Gophers for her fifth and final season.
“Hockey has been such a big part of my life,” she said after a practice at Ridder Arena. The team’s only Black player added, “I’ve been skating since I’ve been two years old.”
The always highly ranked Gophers ended last season with back-to-back losses, which left Hengler and her mates with a bad taste in their collective mouths. Because of COVID, which allows players to get an extra year if they choose, Hengler accepted the option and returned this season in hopes to go even farther this season than last and win a national championship.
The 5-8 player scored the Gophers’ first goal of the 2022-23 season in a 9-4 win over Minnesota State on Oct. 15.
“It sounds clichéd,” said Hengler, “but I mean, let me just play with no regrets. Leave it all out there, because this for sure is now my last year.”
Hengler is one of four sistahs in the WCHA, along with Ohio State’s Sophie Jacques and sisters Chayla and Laila Edwards at Wisconsin. The Eden Prairie native is the only Black female playing college hockey this season in Minnesota.
“Just showing what girls of color can do in the sport is awesome to see,” she said proudly. Now in graduate school for sports management, Hengler believes this will give her more options along with her bachelor’s degree in kinesiology.
“By doing sports management, I can do something like behind-the-scenes work, the financial stuff behind a sports organization, or I could still even work for a team and work with the coaches. It gives me more options.”
Now it’s school and hockey, concluded Hengler. “I have no idea what I’m going to do next year”
Soccer sisters love playing together
2022 NCAA Division I women’s soccer had 26 schools that feature at least one set of sisters. Eight, including Minnesota, have two sets of sisters.
Senior Izzy Brown and freshman Amelia Brown, two North Carolina natives, joined sisters Sadie Harper and Khyah Harper on the Gophers squad this season. The Browns are the team’s only Black players as well.
“Yeah, two sets of sisters. So, there can be some bickering,” explained Izzy when asked about any sibling rivalry. “It’s very lighthearted. We always talk about it after the fact, but I think everybody else [on the team] is like, ‘Oh God, here’s all the sisters again.”
This also could be the first time in school history that two Black siblings played soccer. They are the daughters of Chucky and Melanie Brown. Their father played college basketball at N.C. State and 13 years in the NBA.
Izzy was a two-sport high school athlete and came to Minnesota in 2021 after two seasons at North Carolina. She started 16 times and played in all 17 of her team matches last season. Amelia did not play high school soccer but club soccer and came to Minnesota as a three-star prospect.
But this is the first time since they were very young that the Brown sisters have played together on the same team. “We ended up not being able to play together in high school because our club team did not allow us to play high school soccer,” noted Izzy.
“I never thought that I would ever have the chance to [play with Izzy],” said Amelia. “I love going into a field with her.”
The 2022 season for Minnesota is now over, losing in the first round of the Big Ten tournament, but both Browns were happy to announce that they will play together again next season.
“I’m studying communications,” stressed Izzy, “and I’ll be graduating this semester. But I will be coming back for my fifth year to get a master’s degree in sport management. So, we’ll get to play again together next fall.”
Concluded Amelia, who plans to study communications as well, “I’m so excited to have her back and we get to play again.”
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.