Jocey Kleiber on launching a new women’s hockey program: “I’m just trying to get [the players] to buy into being the first players to wear our jersey next season, which is a pretty unique experience.” (Photo by Danny Damiani)

By Alex Freeman ’23

Lawrence University is launching a brand-new athletics program: Get ready for women’s hockey!

It will be the 22nd varsity sports program at Lawrence, bringing the roster of varsity sports to 11 women’s and 11 men’s teams. The Vikings will join the men’s hockey program in the competitive Northern Collegiate Hockey Association and play at the Appleton Family Ice Center. Lawrence will be the 10th women’s squad in the NCHA and one of 67 teams competing in NCAA Division III.

“We are excited to bring intercollegiate NCAA women’s ice hockey to Lawrence University with a competitive start date of the 2020–21 academic year,” says Director of Athletics Christyn Abaray. “The time is right. We can grow our regional footprint, increase the athletics opportunities for women student-athletes and enhance the overall experience of athletics at Lawrence. It truly is an exciting time to be a Viking.”

After an extensive search, Jocelyn “Jocey” Kleiber has been chosen to lead the new Lawrence University women’s ice hockey program as it prepares to embark on its inaugural season.

Kleiber was an assistant coach at the North American Hockey Academy in 2015 and 2016. She also served as a graduate assistant coach at Robert Morris University (Pa.) from 2013 through 2015. Prior to joining Lawrence, she spent three years as an assistant coach at Stevenson University in Maryland, helping to coach them to the Middle Atlantic Conference championship in 2018. A 2012 graduate of Niagara University, Kleiber was a standout defensive player for the Purple Eagles. She earned a bachelor’s degree in sports management in 2012 and went on to earn a master’s degree in organizational leadership from Robert Morris in 2015.

“What made Jocey stand apart was her detailed plan of growing a program from the beginning and her enthusiasm to become part of the community, here on campus, in the Fox Valley and the Upper Midwest,” says Abaray.

We sat down to talk to Kleiber about taking the helm of this exciting new program.

On Kleiber’s first day on the Lawrence campus as the new women’s ice hockey head coach, she did not yet have access to her email. By day two, she had 25 emails in her inbox from possible new recruits. From there, the recruitment process took off.

By the beginning of the 2020–21 school year, Lawrence will have formed its inaugural women’s ice hockey team—the first new Lawrence NCAA program since the 1980s. And Kleiber is building it from the ground up.

“I have a lot of friends that are coaches too, so they’ve inherited programs that have been around for 10-20-30 years,” Kleiber said. “So they have to try and change a culture, whereas here, you actually get to start the culture. … I’m just trying to get [the players] to buy into being the first players to wear our jersey next season, which is a pretty unique experience.”

With three years of experience as an assistant coach under her belt, Kleiber is excited to take on the challenge of being a head coach. For now, that means focusing most of her energy on recruitment.

Before the COVID-19 safer-at-home lockdown, Kleiber’s year consisted of traveling around the U.S. to watch women’s hockey tournaments, reaching out to coaches and potential recruits and helping to facilitate campus visits. Through this process, 30 recruits have already applied to Lawrence.

Kleiber hopes Lawrence can win 10 games in its first season. She acknowledges that the goal is optimistic, but she is confident that it is attainable as long as the players embrace the systems and strategies she presents.

From there, the team can start working to achieve a more long-term goal: a spot in the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association (NCHA) championship. Eventually, Kleiber hopes they might even earn a spot in the NCAA tournament.

“It’s going to take maybe some baby steps at first, but we’ll get there,” Kleiber said. “It’s just a process of [getting the team to] buy in. It’s getting everyone to be on the same page and getting it to work.”

Alex Freeman ’23 is a student writer in the Communications office.