Hockey, Life, and Leadership for Three Gustie Seniors

Posted on March 5th, 2013 by

Seniors Jenna Christensen, Meagan Wanecke, and Kelsey Kennedy.

Seniors Jenna Christensen, Meagan Wanecke, and Kelsey Kennedy.

Kathy Lund Dean joined the Gustavus faculty in the fall of 2012 as the inaugural Board of Trustees Distinguished Chair in Leadership and Ethics in Economics and Management. You can learn more about her position and role at the College by reading the cover story of the Spring 2013 edition of The Gustavus Quarterly.

Maybe you have seen the t-shirts that assert, “Hockey is life” and for some of our Gusties, that saying rings pretty true. Three of our senior student-athletes exemplify excellence in playing Division III sports, particularly on the perennially successful women’s hockey team.

Meagan Wanecke (center forward), Jenna Christensen (captain and forward), and Kelsey Kennedy (defenseman) each play specific positions on the team and have contributed to the team’s success for four years. And what success they have had! Their team has won four MIAC regular season titles and recently won its fourth MIAC playoff championship on March 2. They have once again earned a berth in the NCAA tournament, as they have done every year of their Gustavus careers. And, this season marks the first time in MIAC history that a team has gone undefeated on its way to the post-season.

These players’ level of talent may make winning look easy, but each exhibits different and evolving leadership roles. For them, hockey has uniquely blessed their lives with camaraderie, the opportunity to overcome challenges on and off the ice, and leadership learning experiences they wouldn’t find in any other arena. As I recalled my own management [in]experience coming out of undergraduate studies, and how I struggled to be effective in bank management, I was struck by how much more prepared these players will be as leaders when they first enter the workplace, because of their four year leadership ‘apprenticeship’ as hockey players.

On the ice since age four, Kennedy grew up playing in Eagan, under the tutelage of two older brothers. “My older brothers played, so I had to play too,” she said with a smile. Older siblings also had a hand in getting Christensen and Wanecke to take up hockey. Christensen started at age seven and played mites in Albert Lea, following in her two older sisters’ skate-steps. Wanecke’s older brother influenced her attraction to the sport when she was six years old as they were growing up in Delafield, Wisc. All three of the Gustie women found out early on that the commitment of belonging to a team, of gaining camaraderie and friendships, contributed substantially to hockey’s attraction. It’s no different now at Gustavus than it was when they were younger.

“I am very fortunate that the girls on my hockey team have become some of my best friends,” Wanecke said. “I knew it would be rewarding. However much hard work you put in is what you get out.”

“I’m really, really competitive, so not playing a sport here would not be an option,” Christensen added. “I wanted to get the best hockey experience possible and a great education.”

Meagan Wanecke has 38 goals and 36 assists in her Gustavus career.

Meagan Wanecke has 38 goals and 36 assists in her Gustavus career.

Although all three star Gusties had opportunities to play for other schools, they found Gustavus’s unique balance of athletic excellence and academic excellence to fit them best. “The environment felt right at Gustavus and the strong tradition Gustavus hockey has had in the past made it feel as though I’d fit in,” Christensen said.

Both Kennedy and Wanecke were also looking for a perfect fit with their skills, where they would be staples on the team. “The feel of Gustavus was great, and the rink is amazing. I knew I could be a key part of this team,” Kennedy said, an assessment with which Wanecke agreed. “Division III is perfect for my skill set. I could have played Division I but would have been lower on the depth chart. I am a serious athlete, but I wanted more time for academics and a more relaxed feel.” Understanding that balance will continue to serve these women for a lifetime, as they balance complex working lives and high expectations after graduation.

Hockey has been indispensable to their leadership and character development. Leaders not only excel themselves, they make everyone around them better. Along with team wins and honors, another key hockey metric is the plus-minus statistic. A player’s +/- shows whether good things or not such good things happen when each player is on the ice. At the time this story was written, Christensen, Wanecke, and Kennedy had racked up incredible career +/- marks of  +47, +52 and +70 respectively. When they are on the ice, everyone is succeeding.

Similar to any workplace setting, there are formal and informal leaders who are known for getting things done. Although only Christensen wears the captain’s “C” on her uniform, both Kennedy and Wanecke contribute every day as informal leaders. All three note that their leadership roles have been evolving and changing throughout their entire four year careers. Playing hockey has helped all three realize that, formal or informal, others see them as leaders. In my own experience in the workplace, I have seen many co-workers deflect this responsibility for others. These student-athletes have embraced excellence in leadership on every level.

“Over time, I have assumed more of a leadership role on the team that has been shaped by the things I admired about past Gustavus women’s hockey leaders,” Wanecke said. “I am able to adapt to different situations and different players. As a senior, it is my responsibility to act as a mentor, and to acknowledge the fact that younger players are going to look up to me as a model.”

Jenna Christensen has 21 goals and 21 assists in her Gustavus career.

Jenna Christensen has 21 goals and 21 assists in her Gustavus career.

Kennedy described her own development as unique from others: “Everyone has their own leadership skills. You have to grow into it and figure out what your leadership skills are. I used to be a leader that controlled things, always tried to influence things. Then I realized that others do things their own ways, and that you need all of those styles for things to go well.”

Finally, Christensen framed her captain’s responsibilities as taking overall ownership over what is happening with the team—once again, mirroring real organizational leadership skills. “Being a captain means never settling for less than the best. That means making harder decisions than others make,” she said. “You have to make sure that everyone abides by the rules, that everyone is accountable, and that everyone is one time, acting respectfully in and out of the game. I need to make sure we are being viewed positively by the community.” Whew! Oh, and they have full academic loads and social lives too!

Playing Division III hockey at Gustavus has changed all three of these student-athletes forever, in immeasurable ways. All of them understand that giving 100% every day in the workplace is their norm, and that being part of a successful team has shown them, time after time, that earning and giving respect helps others succeed too. As leaders, they will have to be concerned with how everyone is doing, not just their own performance, and playing together has offered them rich experiences on which to build.

Wanecke, a management major with sociology/anthropology minor, is interested in how cultures and social relationships impact business. She would also like to pursue learning how to combat social inequality and is considering not-for-profit work.

Christensen, a management major, is interested in business’s creative side, like advertising, marketing and social media.

Kennedy, an international business major with religion and Spanish minors, is interested in pursuing business strategy and understanding the philosophy of business. 


Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication JJ Akin


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