Among the feel-good stories of the 2018 ISBHF Masters, one of the most fascinating involved Team USA competitor Courtney Semplice. While the vast majority of Masters’ players already possessed experience at previous ISBHF events with their respective national teams, Semplice was in the unique position of making her empowering debut with the red, white and blue.
Representing an incredible story of perseverance, the Masters heralded the arrival of Semplice, a resident of Pittsburgh, as a world-class competitor, an exciting chapter in the journey of an admirable individual and a sporting humanitarian. The revelation that she had qualified for a roster spot on Team USA Blue brought with it a combination of national pride, along with a sense of euphoria.
“Ecstatic for two reasons: First, (it was a) total honor to make the team. First time for me to tryout and make a team donning red, white and blue. Secondly, umm hello? Bermuda! What a destination! Knew I had to get there early for some R&R vacation time prior to the hockey start.”
With the exotic location of Bermuda as the backdrop, games were contested outdoors, the combination of the ocean breeze and the bright blue sky enveloping a radiating sun, it represented a treasured venue that Semplice gleefully participated in. Acquiring experiences that shall last a lifetime, while she graced the slab with the number 3 adorning the back of her jersey, her journey culminated with a proud podium finish.
Prior to the Masters, Semplice’s competitive background involved wearing the jersey for Team Ireland at the 2015 World Cup of Ball Hockey, which was organized by the World Ball Hockey Federation (WBHF). Earning a bronze medal, it was a buoyant harbinger filled with splendor, instantaneously allowing for an element of foreshadowing. Colleen O’Connell, a member of Team Ireland would also call her a teammate on the 2018 edition of Team USA.
Among her finest performances at the event, Semplice logged a goal and an assist in a 3-0 blanking of Czech Republic on May 29, 2015, as Jamie Walsh recorded the shutout. Worth noting, there was also a strong element of familiarity in Semplice’s milestone appearance. Representing a gathering of talent that she had known throughout seasons past, with many games contested at Robert Morris University in Moon Township, Pennsylvania, the team also managed a surprise victory against a strong American roster.
“There were not really tryouts for that team. The team was heavily put together from past tournaments and relationships, but prior to Bermuda it was the only World tournament (that) I had been a part of. It was in my hometown with a great group of ladies and coaches.
It was such a valuable experience, and certainly helped prepare me in many ways for what this tournament would bring. I had so much fun, and was so proud of the tournament and finish that we had there.
Nobody expected much from us, and our LAST SECOND win over Team USA is probably one of the biggest highlights I have experienced in my career (certainly, the most memorable finish I can remember).
The best part about that tournament was getting to play with so many of the girls I play with all the time, and the coaches were guys I have known and respected for as long as I’ve been playing hockey. I also got to represent my mother, her family, and her heritage by wearing her name on my jersey.”
Although Semplice’s debut in Masters play involved a tremendous source of attainment, highlighted by the proud realization of competing in the gold medal game, the feeling of achievement also held a sullen sense of heartbreak.
Emerging with a silver medal, it was not the expected outcome for an ambitious US team aiming for its first-ever gold medal in ISBHF competition. Having also qualified for the gold medal game at the 2017 ISBHF World Championship, an unprecedented first for the US, in which silver was the outcome, there was an understandable combination of momentum and optimism heading into this year’s Masters.
Reflections indicating a commendable team-first approach, where Semplice worked tirelessly towards her teammates aiming to reach their elusive goals of gold, the sense of achievement is also meant with a tinge of frustration. While such sentiment is understandable, the passage of time has also brought with it profound perspective, grateful for the privilege of being able to don the Stars and Stripes and play alongside some of the game’s American-born luminaries,
“As ‘jerky’ as it sounds, we were disappointed with our finish. The GOLD is what we set out for. Many of the girls on the team had played in this tournament before. A lot of them multiple times. You can tell they are still doing it because they want that GOLD soooo bad.
To be a first timer, and one of the newer members of the team, you want to be able to come in, represent, and help be an addition that can make an impact, (one) that is going to help those ladies get there. It was a letdown to lose the big game and not make that happen for the women, (for whom) silver has been all too familiar for. Still, so proud of how our team performed throughout the tournament. It was a great experience.”
Statistically, Semplice logged a goal and an assist in six games played. Recording her first ISBHF goal in the first period of a 7-0 whitewash of Slovakia, with assists credited to Kendra Pasciucco and Clarissa Arseneault, it was a game that also saw eventual Masters MVP Cherie Stewart record a hat trick for the victorious American squad. In another 7-0 victory, this one taking place against Canada’s New Tecumseth X-Treme entry, Semplice would gain the assist on the game’s final goal, which was also the second scored by Stewart in the contest.
Looking back on the event in Bermuda, it was an ideal opportunity for Semplice, a social butterfly, to become better acquainted with some of Team USA’s most accomplished players as both competitors and people. Acquiring an exceptional new wealth of knowledge, gaining a greater appreciation to the strategic elements of the game, certainly, the experience was defined by friendship, edification and admiration,
“100%, the new friends and teammates, and getting to know old friends and teammates better. Also, thankful for the growth I gained as a player. Thanks to the captains and coaches. They brought up suggestions to me that I had never heard before that I know will improve my game.
My biggest highlights I will take from the team from the week were: 1) the post-game team cliff diving at both of the decks, and 2) our bottle passing team “closing ceremony” speeches in the locker-room. Some great team bonding moments I will cherish from this tournament.”
Just as relevant in Semplice’s sporting narrative is her combination of business acumen and tireless charitable efforts, all indications of her galvanizing presence. The only female manager at New York Life’s Pittsburgh General Office, where she has risen to the revered status of Partner, her amazing efforts for Cystic Fibrosis.
Complemented by donating her time to other great causes such as the ALS Association, March of Dimes, and Purple Stride for Pancreatic Cancer, are indicative of an empathic character, augmented by the positive presence of her remarkable mother, whose dedication to her family (following the unexpected loss of Semplice’s father at the tender age of seven) resulted in three children that graduated college, providing a lifelong inspiration.
While Pittsburgh is one of America’s premier sporting cities, teams like the NFL’s Steelers, NHL’s Penguins and MLB’s Pirates, holding a fond place in the collective memories of its loyal fans, the Steel City is also home to many competitive female football teams, elite ice sledge hockey and ball hockey competition. Undeniably, Semplice’s heroics in ball hockey help comprise an exciting generation of fantastic female athletes, composing an exciting new chapter.
Adding to its impact as a hockey hotbed in the Rust Belt, Semplice’s resolve, along with her long devotion to the sport, are helping add tremendous relevance to ball hockey. Enhanced by the experience of the Stars and Stripes, giving her a well-deserved place among the city’s premier female sporting heroes, it simultaneously added lustre to an honor that was bestowed upon her in 2015. Gaining prestigious recognition by Whirl Magazine as one of Pittsburgh’s Top 40 Under 40, an achievement which acknowledged her strong leadership, it also served as the type of recognition which was testament to her status as an admired role model.
“Being featured in Whirl Magazine as one of Pittsburgh’s 50 Finest was a tremendous honor. The 50 Finest Program is put on by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Every year they honor and recognize 50 young professionals they consider to be accomplished leaders within their professional careers and within their communities.
Those 50 individuals raise funds and awareness for the foundation as part of the program. I participated as a nominee for the program in 2015, and I have participated by mentoring a nominee every year since then.
It means a lot to me because it is the opportunity to represent my family, my company, and my community all for a greater cause. The year I was nominated was the year that I made Partner at New York Life, which was a huge individual accomplishment in my career.
It was nice to get that professional recognition as well.
The foundation and that program have been founded and run by a great group of individuals here locally, who I am glad to serve, as well as the wonderful local families here dealing with CF every day. I will continue to be a part of the program in the future.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Images provided by Courtney Semplice