Unconventional path to ice leads Jaschke to SNC
By Rich Palzewic
DE PERE – When you think of hockey hotbeds, the state of Texas probably doesn’t top your list.
That trend was broken for one St. Norbert College women’s hockey player.
Senior Ava Jaschke, a native of Katy, Texas, is approaching the probable end of her four-year career in a Green Knights uniform.
“Katy is located just outside of Houston,” Jaschke said. “There were a few rinks down there but not as many programs. Hockey in general is not a big hotspot down there, but as you can imagine, it was even less on the women’s side of things. I played with the boys growing up. I started skating at about 3 years old, joined a regular hockey club at 5 and played with the boys up through my second year of bantams. Then, I left Texas to attend a boarding school in Canada.”
By then, Jaschke was a sophomore in high school.
“My parents are Canadian, so I have family that was in the boarding school area (in Ontario),” she said. “After playing for two years at the boarding school, I moved to Lansing, Mich., and played for a team called Meijer.”
While in Michigan, Jaschke was recruited to play at St. Norbert.
“It was always a goal of mine to play college hockey,” she said. “As a kid, I wanted to be the first woman in the NHL, but that didn’t pan out. I got more realistic with my goals as I grew up.”
Current St. Norbert women’s coach A.J. Aitken started his coaching career with the men’s program, where he served as associate head coach for 11 seasons in two separate stints.
He then served as the head men’s coach at Marian University for three seasons before taking over the women’s program at St. Norbert in June 2019 for the departed Meredith Roth, who resigned and moved on to another coaching job.
“A.J. wasn’t the coach who recruited me,” Jaschke said. “It was a little nerve-wracking (playing for a coach who hadn’t recruited me). Going into a new school, a new environment, a new team and not knowing the coach until later in the summer. I was trying to figure out if this was still the right move for me or if I should try and find another school.”
Jaschke said she’s “very happy she stayed.”
“A.J. is a great guy and coach,” she said. “My time at St. Norbert has been memorable. Obviously, there have been ups and downs, but the overall trajectory of my personal accomplishments and our team’s accomplishments has increased as the four years have passed. Going into the next part of this season, I can’t wait to see where our team goes. I have high hopes for the ladies in the locker room.”
Through 15 games played this season, the Green Knights currently sit at 10-3-2 overall and 6-0 in the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association.
The team captain Jaschke — an all-American last year — has scored two goals and collected 10 assists from her defenseman position this season.
“It’s exciting to see where this team started my freshman year compared to where we are now,” Jaschke said. “It’s something I hoped would happen coming into a program that hadn’t had much success. I hope to play a big part in moving the program forward and hopefully getting another conference title — we’ll see how that goes.”
In 71 career games, Jaschke has scored 11 goals and assisted on 28 others.
She said her game has changed over the years.
“Growing up, I would have been classified as a defensive defenseman,” Jaschke said. “I was always the one on the penalty kill and put in those situations in the defensive zone. I wasn’t necessarily chosen for the offensive zone, but as I got to my junior and senior years of high school and into college, I stepped into more of that offensive defenseman. I play on all the power plays as well as penalty kills. I’m on the ice for almost any situation coach needs me for.”
Because she doesn’t score many goals, she said the ones she has scored have been memorable.
“A nice shot from the blue line going in is probably the best feeling you can have,” Jaschke said. “I think I’ve scored two goals rushing the puck in, but those weren’t against difficult teams. Most of my goals come from the power play and taking the point on the blue line on the power play.”
Another piece of the puzzle
Jaschke said her family also uprooted from Houston and moved north to Wisconsin for a few reasons.
“My family lived in Houston for about 20 years,” she said. “They moved up here during the COVID-19 pandemic, which was around April of my freshman year (in 2020).”
Jaschke said her family thought it was best to move closer to her because she had been away from her family for four years.
They also moved to the Green Bay area so her brother Lleyton, a junior goaltender for Notre Dame Academy, could have a better opportunity to advance his hockey career.
“The only connection my family had to Green Bay was me,” Jaschke laughed. “My dad still works in Houston, so he flies back now and again — but yeah, they chose Green Bay because I was struggling mentally with being away from home for so long and for my brother.”
Jaschke is currently applying to law school for life after St. Norbert.
She said her competitive hockey career will be realistically done when the Green Knights end their season in March.
“There is an opportunity (for women) to play after college, but it comes very rarely,” she said. “In the women’s professional league, they only make so much money, so it’s not a realistic opportunity — at least for me. Because of COVID and because we missed that season (in 2020-21), we all have another year of eligibility.”
Even though Jaschke has another year of eligibility, she said she’s not looking to play another season.
“I always mess around with our assistant coach that if I don’t get into law school, I’ll come back to St. Norbert,” she laughed. “Life goes on and you have to think about your future. Maybe I could play in a beer league or something, but I’ll most likely be hanging up the skates — at least competitively — when our season is done.”
Jaschke said if she doesn’t get accepted into law school next year, she’ll likely find an entry-level job in the area and live at home with her family.
“It’s a lot different up here with the weather for my family, but my parents like it up here,” she said. “Who knows what their retirement plans are — whether it’s to move to the boonies in Alaska or anything like that. As far as I know, they’ll be staying in the area for a bit longer.”