MONACA, Pa. — The shift is over. The gray team’s forward rolls to the bench and tumbles over the wall, fist-bumping a teammate on the way over. With feet back on the ground, the forward turns toward the action, finally still after several chaotic, blurry minutes of chasing down the puck.
So for the first time, you can really see it — the auburn ponytail peeking out from beneath her helmet.
The gray team’s forward is a woman, one of only two on the Penn State Fightin’ Beavs inline hockey team. Or, if you ask her teammates, one half of Katie Peri.
No, not that Katy Perry, the pop princess with the maddeningly catchy, sugar-coated lyrics that you just can’t shake from your head. This Katie Peri is the inseparable duo of Beaver sophomores Katie Work and Peri Coleman, who prove the oft-repeated adage that, in college as in life, you can be anything you want to be.
That they are the first, and still the only, women donning helmets and pads and taking to the rink with a bunch of guys on the Fightin’ Beavs is simply the screaming exclamation point on two personalities made for cracking glass ceilings.
Katie Work did not know how to skate, had never even been on skates.
“Doesn’t matter,” said the Fightin’ Beavs representative at the campus’ annual activities fair her freshman year. “We can teach you.”
The hockey team needed a goalie and Work was accustomed to objects flying at her head at frightening speeds. She’d been a softball catcher and a soccer goalie. She agreed to give it a try.
At the first meeting, she sat down next to Peri Coleman. Coleman had done a bit of figure skating in her youth, so balancing on a single row of tiny wheels didn’t intimidate her. Doing so while holding a stick and pushing around a bunch of guys who were after the same round, black object — that would take some getting used to.
But Work and Coleman were both excited by the challenge. Anyone who’s met them would say this is not a surprise.
Work is well-spoken and ambitious, unafraid to offer a dissenting opinion or swim against the prevailing current. (Case in point: While everyone else in high school took Spanish, she studied Arabic.) After an impressive presentation in one of his business classes, Beaver instructor Dan Smith suggested she try politics. She responded by running for the University-wide Faculty Senate student representative position. A few weeks later, she was elected as an alternate.
Coleman is a quick-talking ball of boundless energy, and she’s a joiner. A serious joiner. She’s tried soccer, volleyball, golf, karate, swimming and gymnastics. At Beaver, she’s involved in the FANCY Club, the radio station, the game room club, the multi-cultural club, the facilities fee committee, Tech Titan, the business club, and student government.
“I think I’m in more clubs than I am in classes,” Coleman mused.
Together, Work and Coleman are like a one-two punch.
“She steps on toes to get it done. I come in and kiss the boo-boos,” Coleman said as Work chuckled in agreement.
Unfortunately, hockey didn’t come so easy, at least not at first.
Work found that, in order to maneuver in a tight space in giant leg pads, ideally you’d be the best skater on the floor; not the newest. While her footwork has improved since freshman year, it’s her hockey IQ that truly benefits the team.
“As the goalie, I see the most,” Work said. “I see the openings and the positioning. I’m comfortable telling the guys what to do, giving them some direction.”
As a child, Coleman suffered from asthma, so the short, intense bursts of hockey shifts fit her well. She’s quick enough on skates to keep up with the guys, but her stick-handling is an admitted work in progress.
“Hockey is my favorite sport to play, but it’s also the most frustrating,” Coleman said, “because I suck more than the guys.”
Work shrugged. “They’ve been playing a lot longer.”
Listening to them, you get the feeling that, if length of training were equal, Work and Coleman would be crushing it. And considering they still have another two years on the Fightin’ Beavs, it’s a possible outcome, especially considering their determination.
“Hockey is my favorite sport right now, too,” Work said. “It’s a good test of my athletic abilities, being able to adapt and learn.”
Guys, gather round.
Oh, and girls.
I mean, Katie and Peri.
For the Fightin’ Beavs, adding two women to the fold has its awkward moments. They have to take turns in the locker room. They can’t toss around the word “guys” like they used to. But, ultimately, it’s not so different.
They still played in the championship game last season and had a fantastic fall. This spring has been more difficult, as they deal with the loss of key players to internships and injury. But they hope a strong recruitment push will fill some gaps. They may even bring a few more women on board.
And, should another woman join the team, breaking into the Katie Peri club might be more difficult than breaking into the guys’ club. The pair are utterly inseparable. They dine together before games (sushi and coffee are favorite pre-game snacks), drive to the rink together, help carry each other’s equipment (mostly, Coleman helps Work since Work’s bag weighs about as much as she does).
“People pretty much know we’re a package deal,” Work said.
Their studies even overlap. Work is a business major and information sciences and technology minor. Coleman started as an engineering major, but quickly flipped Work’s formula on its head and became an IST major and business minor, allowing her to spend all four years of her college career on the Beaver campus.
It’s become a running joke between them.
“She just wanted to stay with me,” Work said.
Coleman laughed. “I won’t deny the possibility. It might have been a consideration.”