Compiled by Kylie Penticost
Looking back, Tara Soukup, a 17-year-old Baldwin High School senior, is pleased that she has made it through 12 years of school and had the privilege of playing two seasons of varsity hockey. However, to her surprise, she also made Baldwin history in the process.
Kylie Penticost: Tell me a bit about yourself. (i.e.: family, hobbies outside of hockey, travel, etc.)
Tara Soukup:I do not have any siblings but am very close to my cousins on both sides of my family. In addition to hockey, I also play lacrosse. My older cousin, Eddie, played it in high school. He used to always toss me the ball and taught me how to cradle. In my freshman year I was double-rostered in both JV and Varsity; I played every game for both teams that season, and would be exhausted at the end of game nights. However, I was in really good shape! I also love to ski, and now Eddie lives in Vail so I have been out there to ski. It is awesome! I also love to swim and this summer will be my third season lifeguarding at Sandcastle.
KP: What are you taking in post-secondary school next year? In addition, what do you hope to do with it once you are finished?
TS: I plan to major in Pre-Med. I would like to become a physician’s assistant and specialize in surgery, but I am leaving my options open to possibly go on to become a physician. With school being so expensive I am considering obtaining my PA license, work for a while, and then continue my education if I want to become a physician.
KP: Why did you choose to get into hockey, and how long have you played?
TS: Ever since I was a child, I was surrounded by hockey. I grew up playing with equipment in my Dad’s hockey store. My parents started me skating at age two in an Ice Babies class at Southpointe and then had more skating lessons at Mt. Lebanon. My Dad started me in a developmental hockey program at Mt. Lebanon when I was four. I tried a few seasons of soccer too but it just was not as much fun as hockey! My first amateur club team was with SHAHA as a Mite at age 8. I stayed with SHAHA through Squirts and my first year of PeeWee. I then moved to the Arctic Foxes to join their girls U19 team when I was 12. We had a good team the first year but then many of the players graduated from high school and the team was no longer competitive. I then joined the boys Arctic Foxes Bantam team for a year and then played one year of Bantam with Mon Valley. I made the Ohio Flames Tier 1 AAA U16 girls team where I played U16 for two years and then U19 this year. I also joined the Baldwin Varsity team last year and played again with them this year. I enjoyed playing for every one of these hockey organizations.
KP: What position do you play? In addition, why that particular position?
TS: I play defense. I am not sure why exactly. I guess I’m a pretty physical player so I enjoyed that aspect of the defensive position in hockey. Interestingly, I play center in lacrosse and don’t enjoy defense in lacrosse at all.
KP: What has been one of your most memorable hockey moments?
TS: There are so many memories I’ve had, it’s hard to pick just one.
I broke my arm at a tournament in Philadelphia when I was playing Bantam with the Arctic Foxes. I had to revisit the ER the next day and when I returned to the rink to watch my team, the boys had bought pink tape to use that day since I couldn’t be there to play. That was so thoughtful and meant a lot to me.
Another great memory was when my team and I won the gold for the West during the Keystone games and the boys won too so the West won the Roger Sharrer trophy for the first time. We’re friends with the Sharrer family so it was special to be able to win that for our area of the state.
It was also great to win the Bantam A Major Season Championship banner with my Mon Valley team. And when I was with the Ohio Flames there were so many crazy adventures because of all the travel.
KP: Who has been your biggest supporter during your hockey career? How have they shown support?
TS: Without question, it has been my parents. Either one or the other has been to almost all of my games. In all these years there are probably no more than five games in which neither of them could be there and it was for reasons that were unavoidable. My Dad has coached some of my teams and he, of course, is why I began to play this sport. My Mom had the more flexible schedule so most of the transportation, especially with the Ohio Flames, has been because of her. But, she says she loved it. We sure did have a lot of fun. However, there were challenges too. It can be quite expensive to be on a travel hockey team and my parents have made many sacrifices so that I could pursue this sport.
KP: What does it mean to you that you are the first female player ever to play on Baldwin's high school hockey team?
TS: I really didn’t know that I was the first female until the team had put it on their Facebook page prior to my first game with them. The guys welcomed me to the team last year and I think it was because they knew I could contribute to the team. They were a little protective but that’s ok, it was nice to know they had my back. I hope that I have set a good example for the younger girls in the Baldwin developmental program and have shown them that if they work on their game now someday they can play Varsity too.
KP: As a female hockey player what are some of the pressures you face or limitations you face with the sport?
TS: I don’t feel that there are really any limitations but there are pressures. I think a girl has to be an even more skilled player than some of the boys in order to be accepted. Sometimes I also felt pressure because I know that people are more likely to make judgments about girls playing on boys’ teams. As a girl on a boy’s team I think there is pressure to be just as strong, fast and rough as the boys. I know there are quite a few girls who play on Varsity teams and some who play on Midget teams in the Pennsylvania Amateur Hockey League; I am sure many of them felt as I did. Sometimes you feel that people watch you to see if you are really good enough to be playing Varsity or Midgets. Because of this, you feel that if you make a mistake it is viewed more critically. Of course, the reverse is true too. If you make a good play, I think people are more easily impressed than they would be if one of the boys on the team made the same play.
KP: What piece of advice would you give to girls who are just starting out in hockey?
TS: Hockey is an incredibly fun game. Girls sometimes think they will get hurt but with the amount of equipment you wear really provides a lot of protection. Work on your skills, especially your skating and shooting. Don’t be discouraged by the roughness and speed of hockey. As your skills advance these things, become less of an issue. Believe in yourself. Work hard to the best you can be. The largest growth in USA hockey has been with females. There are all kinds of teams at varying levels. There are even older women taking up the sport because it is so much fun.
KP: What is a hockey dream of yours, and why?
TS: A hockey dream I have always had was to play college hockey. I never set my goal to be on the Olympic team but I always worked extremely hard and sacrificed a lot for my love of hockey. And now, my dream is coming true! I also dream that someday there will be so many girls playing hockey in this area that there will be Varsity girls’ teams, just as there are now in hockey hotbeds like Minnesota. That would be awesome!