USF women’s hockey team recently came to fruition almost 30 years after the men’s team played its first game in 1989.
The women’s team will have its time to shine on the ice this fall, but with the formation of this new club comes a long list of challenges.
The South Florida women’s hockey club has been working for months to be approved and is now recognized as an official USF club. The process wasn’t easy for current president, sophomore Bella Buontempo, and vice president, sophomore Paige Lehrer. For the pair, being recognized as a club is just the first step.
Buontempo has played hockey on and off for six years and wanted to bring her sport with her to college. Unfortunately, South Florida did not offer a women’s hockey group. She didn’t want her love for warm weather to stand in her way of playing the sport she loved when she decided to commit to USF.
During her freshman year, Buontempo helped her New Jersey high school create a women’s hockey team, so she is no stranger to starting a group from the ground up. While in high school, she was an active member of the team and watched the program go from 13 to 60 girls by the end of her senior year.
Buontempo began her journey of creating a women’s hockey team shortly after committing to USF. Her desire to create the organization started with a Facebook post that she said received a lot of attention.
“When I asked if anyone would be interested I got an overwhelming ‘yes’ from so many different people,” Buontempo said.
After she knew people would be interested in playing on the team, she was faced with difficulties from the school regarding policies and finances.
South Florida had a longer response time than expected, according to Buontempo. She said they were consistently being slowed down when having to wait for approvals for things such as their logo.
“Going through the school for everything, since it’s such a big school, it takes forever to get an answer on things,” Buontempo said.
Even with all of the struggles, the group is officially recognized as a club and plans to begin playing next season.
Lehrer found out about Bella Buontempo through the original Facebook post that inquired about interested participants. They began to work together on recruiting other members and working through the school’s policies together.
Lehrer said they are working to build a social media presence. They said the men’s team has helped bring their account attention, but they still only have around 100 followers.
Social media recognition from the College Hockey South Women’s Division (CHS) has also helped promote the new club.
CHS is helping the USF women’s hockey club create a team and line up tournaments so that they can play against Auburn, Georgia, Miami and South Carolina. The club also hopes to be in Orlando playing by September.
Practices are currently being held once a week on Thursdays, but the pair said they are working on getting more ice time. However, they said funding for more practice time has been another issue that they are facing.
The budget is still unreleased for this semester, according to Lehrer.
All current members also want to work on lifting and off-ice workouts to try and grow more as a club, she said. However, this also requires money that they have not been able to finalize yet with the school.
Some of the players played together in a tournament last year, which Lehrer said would be a bonus for the upcoming season.
“I think we’re going to do well. I know a few of the teams that are starting off in the CHS are novice and we have a few experienced players, but we also have a lot of beginners. I think we’re going to be a great team,” Lehrer said.
Buontempo said there are high hopes for the upcoming season.
“I think from seeing Georgia and Auburn I think we’re pretty much on par with them. Hopefully they’ll all be really close games,” Buontempo said.
UGA women’s hockey club was also recently founded in 2021. Its current record stands at 19-4-2, while Auburn is 9-7-3 in its season. UGA came in first in its 2022 CHS tournament.
Buontempo said she wants the club to be a fun experience for all that want to participate. She said she also wants everyone to feel welcomed, even if they have never played hockey before.
“I want it to be a club where people can just come in and have fun but still be committed,” Buontempo said.