When Shakopee junior Olivia Grabianowski, known as Liv to her friends, graduates next year and attends Lindenwood University, she’ll continue an impressive streak for the Shakopee girls high school hockey team. She will be the third player in three consecutive years to play Division I hockey. A 2020 graduate is playing at Sacred Heart University, a current senior will be heading to Dartmouth College, and in 2022, Grabianowski will play for Lindenwood in St. Charles, Missouri.

“There has been a lot of excitement about our team with players going on to play in college,” Grabianowski told me. “My teammates are all so supportive. They are really excited for all players, wherever they decide to go. We’ve been playing together for years and we’re all from Shakopee. We’ve known each other most of our lives, so it’s nice to grow up together and look at the next chapter.”

Like other athletes across the state, Grabianowski is looking forward to tryouts and practices resuming this week. Games are right around the corner.

“I’m so excited to get back on the ice,” she said. “We’ve been waiting for what seems like forever. I’m honestly looking forward to first of all, being able to see my teammates again. I’m also looking forward to being able to play and learn the game again, and being with our coaches.”

For Grabianowski, who’s been playing varsity since ninth grade, the COVID-imposed break was her longest hiatus from the sport in years. She plays in a competitive league in the spring, summer, and fall in addition to participating in training programs.

“The longest break I normally have is one week, maybe two. This was definitely a change of pace,” she said. “Since we’ve been on lockdown, I’ve been talking with my strength coach and figuring out what I can do from home. Honestly, it’s been a lot of running up and down the street, doing sprints, and playing in the garage with stickhandling and shooting to keep the hands fast.”

An honor roll student who used to also participate in softball, cross country, and competitive dance, Grabianowski now focuses on hockey. She plays forward, which is the position she’ll play in college.

“I’ve always loved hockey, ever since I started when I was four. It’s a different kind of feeling. When I get on the ice, it just feels so natural,” she said. “I’m willing to do anything to win and to help my team. I constantly work to improve, and it’s just so rewarding to see the work pay off. Hockey is one of those sports where you can always keep improving.”

Grabianowski watches a lot of hockey and strives to continue learning and building new skills.

“I want to keep being a student of the game and improving where I can. I’m very much a team player, and I want to take on more of a leadership role now that I’m an upperclassman,” she said. “I want to be here for all of my teammates and make sure we’re all on the same page with a common goal.”

Several colleges were interested in recruiting her. The coronavirus made on-campus visits a challenge.

“This recruiting process with COVID and NCAA rules was probably very different than what other athletes might have had. I got to have phone calls with all the coaches, which was amazing,” Grabianowski said. “I really clicked with the coaches at Lindenwood. I got to go to the campus and walk around with my family. As soon as I got there, I had the feeling that this is the school I want to go to.”

Grabianowski is appreciative of the strong coaching she’s received at Shakopee. She credits it for preparing her to compete at the college level.

“As far as reaching my goals, I couldn’t have done it without the great coaches that we have at Shakopee,” she said. “As athletes, we’re so fortunate to have the facilities we have and access to these coaches. I can’t talk highly enough about our coaches. They give us so much insight and knowledge, and they want the best for us individually and also as a team.”

Having talented and inspiring female hockey coaches is important, she noted.

“I had Kris Wilkie as a coach in sixth grade. She was the first female hockey coach I had for a full season,” Grabianowski said. “Having a strong female role model who has gone through everything that we’re going through is just amazing, and it changed me as a player and personally. Also having great coaches like Coach Hunt is such a big help and made me a better player.”

Despite the late start to the season, she expects the girls hockey team to be competitive. “We are going to be good,” she said.

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