Catherine Elkins was the first to accomplish the feat in 2002, at the end of her senior year at Middlebury College. The next to do it was Elmira College’s Laura Hurd, in 2005.
This season, Kelly O’Sullivan—a defender at Adrian College—joined Elkins and Hurd as one of only three people to be named an American Hockey Coaches Association (AHCA) Division III women’s hockey first team All-American athlete four times.
Hailing from Inverness, Illinois, 23 year old O’Sullivan had an outstanding Division III debut in 2016-17, her freshman year with Michigan’s Adrian Bulldogs. She displayed her offensive prowess with 11 goals and 26 assists through 31 games, finishing third among all freshmen and third among all defenders in points per game with 1.19.
“As a freshman I kind of was just trying to find my place,” said O’Sullivan. “There was a lot of upperclassmen defencemen and we brought in four defencemen from my class, so it was a really close roster my freshman year. It was nerve-racking the first couple of weeks and then once the black and gold scrimmage happened, I paired up with Sydney Smith, who was a senior, and then we were kind of together the whole year.”
That first season, O’Sullivan was also named to the United States College Hockey Online (USCHO) Rookie Team and received the USCHO Rookie of the Year and Northern Collegiate Hockey Association (NCHA) Freshman of the Year honours.
She continued to be a key member of the Bulldogs’ defence corp in her remaining three years at Adrian, contributing at both ends of the ice. In 2017-18, she led her team in assists (23) and in shots (119). In 2018-19, she was named an NCHA All-Conference and All-Academic honouree, and finished the season with seven goals and 14 assists.
“I didn’t necessarily think that I would be able to do it all four years,” O’Sullivan said of continually being named to the All-American first team. “Looking at who had done it before, they had kind of progressed to getting there, so that’s how I had thought that I would do it.”
This past season, O’Sullivan had four goals and 22 assists, with three of her goals coming on the power play. She was also named to the NCHA All-Conference and All-Tournament lists, received the NCHA Player of the Year award, and was named a finalist for the Laura Hurd Award, which is presented annually to the top NCAA Division III women’s hockey player.
“[Being named an All-American] was definitely motivational where it made me pay more attention to my statistical game,” said O’Sullivan. “As a defenceman, knowing my plus-minus and if I’m on the power play, how many shots I get … getting assists and just not letting goals in, stuff like that. Then as the years went on, just getting really close with [head coach Shawn] Skelly and my coaches and being really honest about what needs to come out of my game in order to make sure that I’m still progressing as a player and not just expecting to get this award every year.”
The list of O’Sullivan’s accolades goes on. This past season she became Adrian’s all-time leading scorer among defenders and now ranks in the top 25 for all-time career assists in Division III women’s hockey (she’s second among defenders). Her team has had a lot of success over the last four years as well. This season the Bulldogs won the Slaats Cup and the NCHA Tournament championship game. The team was en route to their first game in the first round of the NCAA Tournament when the season was called off due to COVID-19.
“I honestly don’t know where to start with my thoughts on Kelly,” Adrian head coach Shawn Skelly said in an Adrian College release. “I have had the pleasure to coach her for three out of her four years and watched a good player turn into a great player … Yes, she is an amazing talent on the ice, but even a better person off the ice becoming a leader for our program and an ambassador for our college.”
“It’s bittersweet knowing her career is over at Adrian and she will be missed by many, but the things she has done for our hockey program are immeasurable.”