The Edwards sisters say it’s a dream come true
It would be perfectly fine to call 2023 “the year of the Black female hockey player.”
This year, Canadian native Sophia Jacques won the prestigious Patty Kazmaier Award as the nation’s best women’s collegiate hockey player. The Ohio State graduate later became the only Black player drafted in the new PWHL, which starts in January 2024. Sarah Nurse, another Canadian, was the only Black player signed as a free agent earlier this year.
Wisconsin’s Laila Edwards became the first Black woman to make the US national women’s ice hockey team. She and sister Chayla both made history as the first Black sisters to play on a Division I national championship team in March, defeating Jacques’ Ohio State squad.
Jacques, the Edwards sisters, and Minnesota’s Crystalyn Jenkins were among the nearly 30 Black women hockey players on Division I and Division III teams this past season.
The MSR last weekend chatted with the Edwards sisters, who were in town for the annual Minnesota-Wisconsin Border Battle series.
Being trailblazers is wonderful, the two siblings pointed out. “Some dreams are harder to believe and to come true than others,” stated Laila.
The Edwards are following in Blake Bolden’s historic footsteps, the first Black woman to play pro hockey. The Ohio native once spoke to Laila’s youth hockey team. The Edwards are also from Ohio (Cleveland Heights).
A glimpse at the Edwards resumes
Chayla, 5’9” defense: three-time Academic All-WCHA and Academic All-Big 10; two-time Big 10 Sportsmanship Award winner.
Laila, 6’1” forward: MVP at the 2022 IIHF under-18 Women’s World Championships, appeared in all 41 games for Wisconsin last season.
Throughout this season, Team USA is playing a seven-game rivalry series against the Canadian team at various locations in the U.S. and Canada. Six have already been played, and the final will be in St. Paul Feb. 11. Asked if this will conflict with her Wisconsin obligations, Laila said, “I try not to let it interfere.”
Winning the national championship “was a thrill, really fun to win together,” said Chayla of playing alongside her sister in Duluth, the site of the 2023 Frozen Four. “Our family was there and [I was] looking at my sister every now and then and saying, ‘Wow, this is something.”
The sisters Edwards are fully aware of the need to see more Black hockey players that look like them. “I think it’s getting better,” Chayla surmised. “There’s a lot more we need to do to get [hockey] more diverse, more sistahs in this environment, to get more kids of color in hockey. Just showing that Black girls can do this…and have fun doing it, and completely be ourselves.”
The University of Wisconsin is celebrating 50 years of Title IX. During Big Ten media days back in October, WBB Coach Marisa Moseley said that her school hiring the first Black women’s head basketball coach in the Big Ten (Edwina Quallis, 1976-1986) has a significance worth noting. In the same summer of 1976, UW hired Bill Cofield, the first Black coach in the Big Ten.
Quallis was hired after a successful high school coaching career in her native Connecticut. When she resigned in 1986, Quallis posted five winning seasons, including a second-place Big Ten finish, and she still holds the Badgers’ best conference record (13-5) in school history.
“I think that representation is so important,” said Moseley, one of two Black WBB head coaches in the conference this season. “I would love for us to get to a point where we’re not having to talk about the first of anything, that it just becomes part of the fabric of who we are… The first woman to do this, or the first woman to do that.”
Wisconsin visits St. Thomas on Wednesday, Dec. 13, at 7 p.m.