When Ariella first received the email with the word "Olympics" in the subject line, she thought it was a joke. "It just didn't seem real to me," she remembers. "I thought the email had been sent to the wrong person." She quickly scanned the note, sent from Rob Morgan, coach of Kunlun Red Star, a Chinese ice hockey club, and realized it was actually meant for her. After the initial recognition, she thought it was an invitation to an Olympic prospect camp. Then an Olympic tryout camp. After finding out who else had been invited, she realized it was the development camp for North American prospects — 20 girls, nearly all DI athletes or incoming recruits, the best Chinese ice hockey players who currently reside in North America. It finally began to make sense for Ariella. Some of the names she recognized were one-time teammates of hers on the Chinese National U18 and U22 team. They had all been invited to a preliminary camp for consideration to be on China's team for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.
Ariella's invitation, while an initial surprise to her, came on the heels of her selection to be a member of China's U18 and U22 national teams. Following several rounds of competitive camps, similar to the Olympic Development Camp, she was selected for the U18 team this past summer. Ariella trained with the team in Massachusetts all fall, leaving Canterbury on Friday and returning late Sunday in preparation for their debut at Worlds. While demanding, she was inspired by her love of the sport and her remarkable teammates and coaches. She was eager to work with many of the same players at the Olympic Development Camp.
Ariella, who was born in China and grew up in upstate New York following her first birthday, has been skating since age eight. While her parents are "the least athletic people I have ever met," as she laughingly puts it, they were encouraged by a group of neighborhood families to bring their daughter to skate at the town's new rink. Ariella spent many afternoons during the open skate time at the rink or on the frozen pond near their family home. While she loved skating, "at one point, it just became really boring." At age eight, Ariella was done skating in a circle and told her supportive parents that she was ready for more. The town's competitive team practiced daily after the open rink time, so Ariella made the leap to competitive ice hockey.
Ariella played for the Connecticut Polar Bears—with two future teammates (Gabby Vitelli '18 and Meaghan Francis '18)—and Albany Academy before entering Canterbury as a Third Former. A four-year varsity letter recipient, Ariella captained Canterbury's team this past season, her last, to an appearance at the NEPSAC Small School Championship. Her parents, who attend as many games as they can from their home near Albany, are a big motivation for her, she notes.
While the winter season ended at Canterbury and the team was off the ice, Ariella did her best to train for the Development Camp. Like she had done during the prior season to train for the winter ice, Ariella rollerbladed and worked on her stick handling skills on the old, paved tennis courts. She put in several weeks of dedicated training before flying out for the camp on May 10.
Teammates joined Ariella on her fight, including her friend from the Taft School, another national team teammate. "I feel like this brings me full circle," remarked Ariella. "From my first year in China to prep school in the States and back again."
Ariella returned to campus on Monday, May 21 for her VI Form week before graduation on Friday, May 25. She will attend Elmira College in the fall and play for the Soaring Eagles, the reigning NCAA DIII Women's Ice Hockey champions... for at least one full season before any Olympic prospects are confirmed.