BEDFORD, Mass. — While most 16-year-old girls are worrying about what color prom dress to wear, Jincy Dunne has three colors in mind: red, white and blue — and they have nothing to do with a gown.
Wearing a hockey jersey with “USA” on the front is the only thing this teenager has on her mind these days as she trains with the U.S. Women’s National Ice Hockey Team in Bedford, Mass. If she makes the final Olympic roster — which will be narrowed down from 25 to 21 at the end of December — she will be the youngest female hockey player to skate in the Olympic Winter Games for Team USA.
Thrown into a training camp with Olympians up to the age of 31, Dunne approaches the whole experience in a calm, confident manner.
“I don’t think you can let it intimidate you,” Dunne said after a recent practice at the EDGE Sports Center. “I don’t think the coaches are fools — I think they have me here for a reason, so I just have to have that confidence and play like that.”
U.S. coach Katey Stone said she has been amazed with Dunne’s maturity since the training camp started in August.
“Jincy actually acts like she’s 28 sometimes — she’s very reserved, very composed,” said Stone, who is taking a sabbatical from her longtime job coaching the Harvard women’s team to lead the U.S. Olympic squad. “But that’s the beauty of an Olympic experience, different than a college experience, that you’re going to have a wide disparity in age, and that’s what makes it special. I can’t imagine all the things that are going through her head, this being the first time she’s ever gone through this situation.”
Despite only getting her driver’s license less than six months ago, Dunne, a 5-foot-6 defenseman, exudes more emotional strength than the typical 16-year-old, and it seems that hockey really is the only thing on her mind. Since being plucked out of school in her O’Fallon, Mo., hometown, just outside of St. Louis, Dunne has been staying with a billet family in Winchester, Mass. The high school junior has homework sent to her, which she does in her spare time between lifting, practicing and playing games.
“The hardest part probably for me is just this (lengthy training camp) being all hockey,” Dunne said. “Back home I have so many other distractions, and I feel like here, just being away from my family and just being at the rink every day — don’t get me wrong, I love every second of it — but when I go home, that’s my time to just reflect and rest and sometimes here I just think and think and think, which just drives me crazy.”
Dunne credits the support of her loving parents and five siblings for helping her along in her pursuit of Olympic achievement. She also credits her family for introducing her to hockey in the first place.
“When I was 4, my little brother wanted to try hockey, so I was like, ‘OK, I’ll try with him,’ and we actually played roller hockey,” she explained. “Then I switched to ice when I was 9.”
Dunne has mostly played on boys’ teams, since she said high school girls’ hockey is basically nonexistent where she’s from.
“I played high school boys’ hockey just for fun,” she said with a laughable sigh and slight rolling of the eyes. “I learned to keep my head up and stay calm out there because a lot of the guys get kind of crazy, and I don’t want to get caught up in that.”
Last year was her first year switching back to girls, playing with the St. Louis Lady Blues 19-U club team. She also has had the chance to represent the United States in the 2013 IIHF U18 Women’s World Championship and the last two Four Nations Cup tournaments.
One of the most surprising things about Dunne is that she “never followed sports growing up, never had an idol” and she definitely “didn’t follow women’s hockey at all.” Her first inspiration was watching the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games, where Team USA earned a silver medal. So in three years she’s made things happen ... fast.
So how does someone so young, with a somewhat unexpected path put in front of her explain how everything has come together so quickly?
“It’s definitely all God given,” Dunne said. “He’s just put so many incredible people in my life who have opened doors for me. And my parents are always just trying to get me the best, whether it’s coaching or any kind of opportunity. I’ve just really been blessed in every situation I’ve been put in.”
Her favorite baseball team — the St. Louis Cardinals — might not have been as blessed in the World Series this year against the Boston Red Sox. While Dunne’s parents were in town visiting in October, they all went to Game 1 at Fenway Park, and it “absolutely” got her thinking about the potential of being part of championship team of her own in February.
“I think I take that every day to the ice,” Dunne said referring to the determined Olympic mentality. “Whether I make the team or not, I learned so much about what it means to be a team first. It’s like, we have a chance to win a gold medal — what are you going to do with this opportunity?”
Melissa Parrelli is a freelance reporter in the Boston area who covers sports, hard news and entertainment. Her work has been published in national magazines, various online sites and local TV. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.