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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

She Loves that Dirty Water

Jacqui Villani learned a lesson taught in the Wizard of Oz: while chasing annual national titles and playing for a storied women’s college hockey program in New York, there truly is no place like home.

The West Roxbury product is back in Massachusetts and playing in the Clark Athletic Center once again, defending the blue line for the 4-1-1 Lady Beacons hockey team following two years at Manhattanville College in New York.

After growing up honing her skills on UMass Boston’s ice as a youth, she headed up to Manhattanville College to pursue a national championship with the Valiants. But after three semesters at Manhattanville never feeling completely comfortable, Villani left New York to return home. After spending the spring semester at Mass Bay Community College, Villani figured her collegiate hockey career was over.

“I didn’t really know what I wanted to do when I came back, and I wasn’t sure if I was still gonna play hockey,” Villani said. “I thought I was going to work.”

After some prodding from forward Maria Nasta and several other Lady Beacons who Villani had played with and against as a youth, the College of Management major decided she still had a fire burning to get back out onto the ice. At that point, all she had to do was ask head coach Maura Crowell for a spot on the team – no easy task, considering the Lady Beacons had already begun the preseason.

“I knew not too many coaches were looking for transfers, and they had already started playing in the preseason,” Villani said. “So I started looking for jobs.”

Fortunately for the Lady Beacons, Crowell found Villani a job – protecting the defensive end of the ice for the Lady Beacons. “I just asked if I could play again,” Villani remembers of her meeting with Crowell earlier in the year. “She said yes, and here I am.”

Nasta has been skating against Villani for years, and is happy to be carrying the puck into open ice without seeing Villani in opposing colors up ahead. Having a solid blueliner behind her means attacking forwards like Nasta can take more chances on the offensive end, knowing they are covered in any aggressive mistakes by a tireless defender.

“She really doesn’t give up, if it’s a one-on-one or a two-on-one,” Nasta said. “She finds a way to get the puck.”

That skill is what attracted the Manhattanville coaches to Villani out of high school. While Villani’s intensity picked up at the pressure-cooker known as Manhattanville hockey, she is enjoying life as a Lady Beacon.

“At Manhattanville, everything was ‘national championship, national championship, national championship,'” Villani said. “Here, it’s a day to day process, and it’s more fun.”

But Villani knows that just because she’s having fun it doesn’t mean the Lady Beacons don’t have high expectations for their season. The coaches will look to Villani to provide some of the intensity that carried over when she left Manhattanville.

“She comes from a program where national championships are their goal, so to bring that attitude to our locker room is awesome,” said head coach Maura Crowell.

Last season, as a member of the Valiants, Villani traveled to Clark Athletic Center with Manhattanville to take on the Lady Beacons. She remembers a strong feeling of belonging, skating once again on UMass Boston’s ice.

“It was an away game for Manhattanville, but a home game for me,” she said.

Since coming home and deciding to play hockey for the Lady Beacons, Villani hasn’t wavered in her focus or effort. She’s been a welcome addition to a team on the rise.

“On the ice, she’s 110 percent from start to finish, and very intense,” Crowell said. She believes Villani’s hard-working attitude has rubbed off on teammates. “Our practices have been at a whole new level than I’ve seen in the past three years.”

Nasta completely agrees with that sentiment, and credits Villani as being the change to the Lady Beacons practice habits.

“She tries really hard at practice, and I think that brings another level of play into our game,” Nasta said. “She brings a lot of energy to our team.”

That energy isn’t going anywhere, as Villani finally feels comfortable skating at the Clark Athletic Center. The defender said, “I’m happy here, and I’m not going anywhere.” That’s good news for Crowell and the rest of the squad, as Villani’s yellow brick road has led to the Lady Beacons blue line.