E44: The Journey of Becoming a D1 Athlete, with Sami Phelan


In this episode, we welcome student athlete Sami Phelan to the show to discuss her experience of recently committing to play D1 ice hockey in New York and how she has achieved this goal.

In this episode, we also chat about balancing school and sports, how ADLS has helped her with that balance, facing adversity and doubtful people, anticipation of playing D1 sports, and much more. Tune in to hear more from Sami!


[00:00:00] This podcast is brought to you by our friends at Advantages Digital Learning Solutions, where learning is reimagined. Hi, and welcome to Learning Reimagined. This is Allison Dampier here, and with me as always is Sandy Gamba. Good afternoon, Sandy. Hello. Hi, Allison. This is so exciting. So our guest today is one of our young pro athletes, and I’m really excited to hear her perspective on how she juggles it all.

So she actually plays for the Lady Ducks in Anaheim, California. And I’m just really excited to hear from her perspective, how she’s able to do it all. These young kids are amazing. They are amazing. And she is, she’s, I can’t wait for you all to meet her. She is a. Ice hockey goalkeeper, and she is just a complete stud.

So very excited for you all to meet her. Welcome Sami. It is so great to have you here on our podcast. We have with us listeners, Sami. Tell me if I’m saying it correctly, Phelan? Phelan. Phelan. Sorry, I got that wrong. We gotta get that right before she hits the big time, guys. Sami Phelan. So, Sammy, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I live in Laguna Beach, California. I play ice hockey, which is very unusual for living in Southern California. I’ve been playing for around, I think six years now. And I’ve been to Natty camp twice, which is a USA hockey recognized camp where they select a Brown, the top 200 players in the nation.

There’s about 2000 to 5, 000, depending on which age group that girls that try out. And I got selected twice to go. So that was an amazing opportunity. That’s incredible. How, and you’ve only been playing for six years. Yeah. How did that start? Are you just awesome rollerblading in California?

Rollerblading in Laguna Beach. How did that happen? So basically my old school, St. Catharines it’s a small school in Laguna Beach. They recently closed actually. Oh. But they partnered with the Anaheim Ducks and had a roller hockey league. And so they needed more players and they were just going to have all boys, but they didn’t have enough.

So I was like, you know what? I’ll play. Like, I watched my brother play. I was like, I’m gonna do it. And then they were like, well, we don’t have a goalie. So I was like, put me in net, I’ll do it . And then after the first year, by all means I was horrible , I was horrible. But my coach went up to my mom and was like, the way Sammy has the drive, I think she needs to start ice hockey.

So I went into ice hockey and I met my goalie coach her name’s Stephanie Yates. I went on the ice and I was horrible. She was like, have you ever skated before? I was like, no, I haven’t. And so I stuck with her and to this day I still work with her. She’s gotten me where I, where I am now. So lucky.

Yeah. Oh, that’s fantastic. [00:03:00] So much determination, really, honestly, Sammy. That’s all that comes from within. And people around you have seen it and have told you about like, that’s, that’s a, that’s something innate. I’m so proud of you. It’s impressive. So now, so you play for the lady ducks. Yes. And what is the age range of your team?

So I’m on 19 years. So basically there’s girls that are 16 to 19 on my team. And then what are your plans? Cause you’re a senior in high school currently. Yeah. But what are your plans moving forward? So I just committed to play Division One hockey and at St. Lawrence University in upstate New York.

Wow! I’m so happy for you. Yeah, thank you. That is great. And do you know anybody else that’s going to be on that team? I know one girl that I met at Natty Camp. She was on my team at National Camp. So I I’ll be playing with her up there. Wow. I’m not very knowledgeable of, in the hockey realm, but with your natty camp, is that like a, almost like an Olympic training grounds type of thing?

Almost. So there’s steps to get to the Olympic team. And so for us, it’s Caja. So it’s Southern California and California. They compete. And then we go to districts. So districts is Alaska, Oregon, Washington and California. Okay, so we all go and we compete in Vegas and those people in Vegas get selected.

It’s usually one to three goalies and then five to ten players. Okay, select and they go to Natty camp. And then from national camp, you can get selected to go to the U18 camp, but that’s not usually until your later years of Natty camp. So like your second or third year. My goalie partner actually got selected for alternate.

So if one of the goalies got injured, she would have gone in on the U 18 camp. Oh, wow. That’s that’s really cool. When is the next natty camp? So I aged out last year. Oh, okay. So now I’m basically into the college realm. So next year at college, I’ll compete and hopefully get invited into the fall festival.

Okay. So they just evaluate, we don’t really try out, they just evaluate us through our game and the play. Okay. Yeah. Yeah. That’s so exciting. It’d be so neat to just hear the perspective from your coach. You know, that this woman has mentored you all the way from not knowing how to skate, To being a day one hockey player, that’s huge.

I, I hope you are writing your notes and keeping them diligently. You need to write a book. Like it just, it’s so inspiring. It’s exciting. Thank you. Thank you. Now, Sammy, how is it? I mean, with training, I would imagine the level that you train the amount of hours that you have to put in every day, every week.

How do you balance school? [00:06:00] So, with advantages, it actually helps us a lot. I’ll wake up in the morning and I have. Four hours. I’m in school for four hours and then I get out and I usually eat and go straight to the rink. And then I’m at the rink all day. So like yesterday, for example, I had class and then I went to the rink and my coach had added an extra ice time an extra workout and a video review.

So I was at the rink for six hours yesterday. So not having homework and being able to do school in the morning and just getting it over with really helped me just like be like, okay, here’s my thing. It’s done. It’s out of my brain. Now I can go focus on what I need to do. Yeah. You put things in compartments and you you go through the day.

Yeah. Now, when you go off to St. Lawrence, do you, have you met with academic advisors there? Do you get, I don’t know, kind of partnered with somebody to help you through the whole academic process going to. In person school I have not met with any of them yet. So, with the division 1 hockey team, we’re the only division 1 sport on campus.

So. Basically, everything is focused on hockey. Okay. So we have like the big man on campus when you get there. Oh, my gosh, you’re going to have such a great time. So, we have we have an academic advisor. That’s a part of the team. Okay. Everybody’s grades, classes, everything. If we have to miss a class because we have to go to a game, she’ll email the professor and the professor will give me the work and then I’ll be done.

Okay. So, yeah, I’m glad the support is already structured in. That’s really helpful. Yeah, I remember last year or the year before when we interviewed coach Dwayne, he was a D1 basketball coach. And so we talked to him about mentoring youth and how, how the transition from high school into an academic, you know, an academic setting with a university, but with the high stakes of a D1 level sport.

And it’s tough. You do need support because trying to balance all of that, your mom’s not going to be down the hall anymore. And you know, you’re really going to be on your own. So you need that. You need some mentorship while you’re there. Yeah. That’s I’m glad that they have that set up for you. That’s great.

It’s been a great well, and your your time management skills have been so solid going into that transition that I’m sure it’s going to be really smooth for you to do that. Yeah. Yeah. Now, Sammy. Sandy. That was just curious. You mentioned your brother. Is he an athlete as well? So one of my brother, I have a twin brother who plays lacrosse at modern day, but I had a brother that played on the roller hockey team with me.

His name is John. He lives in Montana. And he doesn’t play any sports anymore. He used to surf and play baseball and not much surfing in [00:09:00] Montana, but he skateboards and like skis a ton. Oh yeah. Yeah. That’s neat. Now what would be a piece of advice that you have received as you’ve gone through the past five years?

I would probably say. Like when all odds are against you, like you keep pushing because I’ve had so many moments in hockey where I’ve been shoved to the ground and coaches have not wanted me and like basically told me that I was never going to make it places. And then I literally I turned that around and I used it almost just like fuel.

Yeah. Yeah. So

like, for example, one of the years and the first year I made natty camp. So there’s levels of hockey, there’s triple a and then double a double a’s. The not as good as AAA. So I got, I didn’t make the AAA team that year and I was quite bummed on my partner at the time had my goalie partner had made the team.

And so I was like, all right, like, I thought we were kind of on the same level. So I was like, all right. I got something to prove here. So I went and I was the only goalie on 16 AA. And I worked so hard. And then I made it to the districts. And I was like, okay, like, oh, like I’m a AA goalie. I don’t think I’m going to make it to Natty Camp.

But then my goalie coach came up to me and was like, you got this. Like, you’re a good goalie. And I was like, okay. So then I just worked my, my butt off. And I ended up making Natty Camp for the first year. And then from there, I made AAA every year since. That’s awesome. Yeah. That is so impressive, Sammy. And that those are wonderful words of advice because I think even as adults, you know, we just, things come at you so fast.

Yeah. And, and does it as, as a young adult yourself, you were able to manage that and just really flip it, like you said. But can you imagine being a coach, you know, someone in a leadership role and telling a youth that you’re not going to make it. I mean, I understand being honest with people, but to be that, that’s just rough.

Yes. And hockey, it’s a very straight up sport. Coaches will not try and cover the truth. If you’re not good at hockey, they will say it straight to your face and they’ll tell you to sit down on the bench. Wow. Or like, say if you’re having a bad game when kids are younger, like if you tell them you’re having a bad game, they kind of like, Mental breakdown, they get super sad and down and hard on themselves, but I’m at that level.

I went up to my coach the other day and I told her, I was like, you have to be harder on me. Like, when I go to college, the coaches are going to be straight up and they’re going to tell me that I’m doing that. I need you to do that. And like in practice, I was like, you need to push me in practice harder than you push any other player and she was like, well, okay.

And I was like, no, you need to tell me that I suck. Like, [00:12:00] wow, good. Tell me I suck. She was like, okay, I’ll do that. So I’ve had some good practices. Wow. That’s wow. To ask for that kind of criticism, you know, yourself so well, Sammy. Oh, that’s so wonderful because it’s so mental. I mean, you have, it’s extremely physical.

I can’t imagine your mom sitting on this. That’s what I was going to ask. Next. My mom my mom hides in the ring. So she’ll be, she’ll, she’ll be behind here. Like just.

I mean, watching ice hockey is brutal, but to watch your daughter in the goal in ice hockey, I can’t, my daughter played goalie in soccer and it’s hard to watch ice hockey. Forget it. Oh my gosh. Your mom, your mom’s gotta be pretty tough too. You got it from somewhere. What is the worst injury you’ve had? I think I’ve just had.

I think I, I, I’ve been really lucky to be honest. I’m really lucky with injuries. The worst I’ve had is a very minor concussion. Okay. I did. I strain my muscles a lot. Yeah, that’s about it. Okay, good. Knock on wood right now, please. Yeah, we’ll wait. What are you most looking forward to going D1? I think the like people I’ll meet and like the level of play that I’ll play at.

Like when I was younger, I was like, Oh, I don’t think I’m ever going to make D1. Like it wasn’t even in my mind. And then. As soon as the opportunity like started opening for me, I was like, Oh, my God, I can do this. So that we went on a college tour. With my program and we saw St. Lawrence and I was like, you know what?

I could go here even if I didn’t play hockey. Right. And it just happened to be like, it is a great place. Yeah. So how did the whole recruitment process go for you? And when you junior year of high school, you start thinking, okay, I do want to do this in college. Like what were your first steps? This is important for our listeners because we have a lot of.

Aspiring athletes in our program. So what kind of. Process. What did it? What did it look like? It was a lot of emailing, so it was mostly getting my name out there going on recruitment sites. You do not have to go on recruitment sites. I did and it didn’t really help. And I, I individually went on to every website and took every coach about about 25 NCAA division one schools and I took every school and I emailed every coach individually.

Okay. And it’s just constantly emailing. So before every tournament, you send them your games, you send them updates and say you’re going to a camp to get scouted. You go to that coach, you email them, you tell them [00:15:00] you’re going to be here at this time, or even at tournaments if you see coaches. Go up to the, go up to them and introduce yourself.

Cause it shows them that you want, like, you’re interested in, you want to talk. So that’s what I did mostly. And then also if finding connections, so say like your mom’s friends, like grandpa went to the school, like that’s, it’s a great, it helps. Yeah. So did you, were you the driving force behind all of that emailing to the coaches and everything?

Or was your coach, was it a parent? Or was it all Sammy? It was my mom pushing me to email. So my mom was always like, you need to email, you need to email. And I was like, oh, like, no, it won’t help. Like, it’s not going to do anything. And then. Like, by the end of my junior year I was like, oh no, wait, I’m a senior.

Oh my god. By the end of my sophomore year I was like, okay, no, I need to start emailing. So before every, every single event, even if it was like just a game here that they could watch on. The TV, like the coaches could watch a game I would email and be like, Hey, here’s my game schedule. This is where I’m at.

Please watch if you want. Yeah, did you send them? Did you send them highlight reels and whatnot as well? I sent some coaches so some coaches do want highlight reels. Whoever asked for a Highlight Reel, I sent. Okay. St. Lawrence didn’t want a Highlight Reel. They wanted to see me in person. Nice. So, they, I went out and flew out to them.

I had my, like, visit, and then he was like, Alright, I’ll watch you in Rochester, because I was doing a camp there, and he knew I was going to be there. So he watched me there, and he was like, Okay, like, this really just proves something to me. I think, I think I have to have a meeting with you on Wednesday.

And What an experience the drive, like you said, just to be that persistent in the emailing. It really is helpful for our listeners because like you said, initially as a student, it’s like, oh, it’s not going to work. It’s not going to help. And it truly has less than 2 percent of high school athletes make it to D1.

Sammy, you did. And it’s ice hockey. Here’s this incredible young woman from Laguna going to New York. I mean, say, Lord, that’s awesome. You did it. Thank you. Breaking, stealing. That’s awesome. That’s so impressive. That’s wonderful. Well, congratulations. Thank you. Congratulations. And we want to wish you the best of luck in college.

Well, obviously you need to finish your senior year. And if there’s anything we can do to help you along, you let us know. We’re so proud that you’re a part of Advantages and you’ve just, you’ve really broken some barriers and you’re doing great things. I’m excited to watch what comes next. Thank you. And Sammy, before we wrap up, what, what do you do in your life for balance?

I mean, I know you do, you do schooling. Great. You do your family [00:18:00] life wonderfully. You do your, your hockey, what do you do to just keep balance? I would say I hang out with my friends. So whenever I have a free day, I go and hang out with my friend Ozzie. We love going to the beach. I love it. I love being outdoors.

So whenever I can get outdoors, I’ll go to the beach. I’ll go swimming. Maybe I’ll go on a walk. Or even like, during the winter time, me and my friends are trying to go up to the big bear a lot. So that’ll be a really good break for me. That’s beautiful. Yeah. Yeah. Now there’s so much to be said for just.

Taking in the fresh air. Exactly. Thank you so much, Sammy. It’s been such a pleasure getting to show you and we’re cheering you on. You have, you have lifelong fans here. Thank you. Thank you so much, Sammy. Thank you so much for listening to Learning Reimagined. If you’re enjoying this podcast, please help us spread the word by clicking the subscribe button or share your favorite episodes with families and friends, and leave us a five star review wherever you get your podcasts.