When I heard that Holly Eckers, a 2020 Shakopee High School graduate, is a multi-sport athlete at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls where she made all-conference in hockey, I was impressed. She’s a great example of someone who works hard and is achieving success, which is why I wanted to interview her.

Eckers was named to the 2021 All-Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Women’s Ice Hockey Team, one of only two freshmen to earn the honor. She committed to play at River Falls her junior year in high school, and hasn’t looked back.

“I chose River Falls because it was a great fit with the coaches and the players,” she told me. “The atmosphere and the way they interact with each other has a family feel. That was important to me when picking a college and a team. They made me feel like I would be an asset playing with them and I would be a participant on the team.”

In her first college hockey game, she had two assists. “It was really awesome,” she noted. “I was definitely going in with a lot of nerves, so being able to participate not necessarily on the scoreboard but behind the scenes with assists made me feel more confident in my play.”

The team had a strong season, racking up a 10-2 record. “I’ve been able to get a good college experience,” Eckers said. “I’m able to spend time with my teammates and get to know the campus through them.”

A year after Eckers committed to River Falls, the lacrosse coach, knowing she had been a standout player in high school, reached out to discuss joining that team too. The coach offered to work around Eckers’ hockey schedule, and she joined the team. The day before I interviewed her, she had traveled to Waverly, Iowa, with her lacrosse team where she scored two goals in a 21-6 win over Wartburg College.

This means in addition to majoring in business administration management, Eckers is practicing or playing almost every day. “In the fall, we had captains’ practice for both hockey and lacrosse a couple times a week, and also lifted weights,” she said. “Then we went straight into the hockey season. I had a four day break, then went right into lacrosse.”

COVID-19 affected her hockey season, limiting games to regional matchups. With lacrosse, she’ll travel for games to cities like Chicago, but the pandemic is preventing the team from competing in previously scheduled events in California, Italy, and other locations. The traveling and team meals have formed strong bonds.

“A lot of what I like is the camaraderie, but it’s also knowing everyone on the team is there for the same reason—to be successful because they love the sport so much,” Eckers said. “In high school, some people play a sport to have fun. That’s totally fine, but it’s nice to compete at a level where everybody wants to be the best they can be.”

She points to the intensity of the practices as the biggest difference between high school and college sports.

“The intensity definitely gets kicked up a couple notches,” she said. “We’re able to train our bodies to get used to that. I do feel like I’ve gotten faster and stronger over the last year, not just from the workouts but also from the level of competition that helps you become a better player and a better version of yourself while competing. Not only do I feel physically faster, but I can make decisions faster too.”

In hockey, she wears number 4, which was her mother’s number when she played intermural college softball. She wears 18 in lacrosse, which was her dad’s number as a record-setting Minnesota Gophers quarterback.

“It’s nice to bring in both of their legacies and numbers into my sports,” she said. “They were both very athletic and competitive, and that rubbed off on me in a positive way.”

Growing up, Eckers had a tight group of friends who were also sports-minded and competitive. They enabled her to become a better athlete.

“My friend group was very successful in athletics, and we were always on the same page about being competitive and being part of sports,” Eckers said. “They helped push me and encouraged me to push myself to become the player that I am. That is something we did for each other. We were always there for each other, for good times and bad times, to share our love of sports and continue our growth.”

She encourages student athletes to stick with the sports they love, even if they feel pressure to focus on a single one.

“My advice is to continue with what you are passionate about and put everything you have into it,” she said. “Sports have been a huge part of my life. I’m so grateful to be able to play two sports.”

Brett Martin is a guest columnist who’s been a Shakopee resident for over 15 years.

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