Girl in middle school makes a boys club soccer team because a girls team does not exist.
Resentful boy on team throws a burr at girl.
Burr sticks in girl’s hair.
“It took me forever to get that out,” recalls the girl, Carisa Wahlig, 40 years old today, the wife of Alex, the mother of two sons (Alex Jr., 2, and Watson, 7 months) and the women’s ice hockey coach at Lake Forest College since 2005.
“I was a tomboy. I got picked on. But incidents like that with the boy motivated me, made me more determined, and I became stronger mentally. When somebody told me I couldn’t do something when I was young, I did everything I could to do it.”
Wahlig, a Lake Forest resident since early 2016, sits with me and her two sons at Egg Harbor Café in Lake Forest. Big-eyed Alex Jr., seated to her right, is full of energy and curiosity; Watson rests silently in a baby car seat to Wahlig’s left. The 1995 Glenbrook South High School graduate and all-time leader in points in women’s hockey at the University of New Hampshire orders coffee and a scrambled-egg skillet with bacon, green peppers, cheese and potatoes.
Her LFC Foresters hockey squad is scheduled to face visiting Trine (Indiana) University later tonight, four days before welcoming Aurora University for its first outdoor game (at The Winter Club in Lake Forest, on Dec. 5) in program history.
“It’s been challenging and rewarding, balancing life as a mom and a full-time coach,” says Wahlig (formerly Carisa Zaban, or “Zabes” to her hockey mates), who also teaches a strength and conditioning class for students and a fitness class for faculty and staff members at LFC. “I’ve mellowed as a coach, but I still have the same intensity I’ve always had. I still want to win. Developing team chemistry is really important to me, and the ultimate goal for my program — a national championship — will never change.
“I’m not interested in women who come out for college hockey just to have fun.”
The all-time winningest women’s ice hockey coach at LFC with a career mark of 188-103-39 (including 7-3 this winter), Wahlig guided a team to the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association (NCHA) Slaats Cup championship game for the third time in four years last season. She earned NCHA Coach of the Year honors in 2010, 2013 and 2014.
Myles Gottainer taught a 5-year-old Carisa how to skate and coached her on elite youth hockey teams. A 26-year-old Carisa coached a high school girls hockey team with Gottainer.
“I was in charge of the forwards, and Myles was in charge of the defensive players,” says Wahlig, who won a silver medal at the 2001 World Championships with the U.S. National Team and skated with the pre-Olympic team in 2002. “It was during that time with Myles that I realized, This is clicking, this is exactly what I want to do. Myles was like family to me. He was so good at getting his messages across to a player without making it seem like he was picking on a player. Yes, he was tough, but his players knew he cared. I strive to be the kind of coach he was to me.
“I’ll never be as good, but I can always continue to strive.”
One of her players once sat down in Wahlig’s office for a captains meeting with her arms crossed. Wahlig’s blunt message to the defiant player: “That’s bad body language; uncross your arms.”
The player uncrossed her arms. That same player became a hockey coach years later.
“She told me,” a smiling Wahlig says, “that one of her players crossed her arms in front of her, and the scene immediately reminded her of the time I had pointed out her bad body language in my office.”
Wahlig, playing center, led her first University of New Hampshire women’s hockey team to a national championship in the 1995-96 season. She read the ice well, burned defenses with her quick hands and maneuvered the puck well in tight spaces. A right knee ligament tear kept her off the ice for the entire season two years later — when UNH captured another national title.
“I learned the importance of playing good defense in a hurry, without it hurting my offense,” Wahlig recalls. “If I didn’t play defense, I’d get benched. I didn’t like that. I had to become a better two-way player in college.
“Sometimes,” the Glenview native adds, “while watching the Blackhawks on TV, I’ll yell, ‘Why aren’t you backchecking!?’ at [star right winger] Patrick Kane.”
Wahlig played one year (2002-03) of professional hockey for HC Lugano in Switzerland. All she did there was lead the league in scoring. Elite roller hockey players persuaded her to give that sport a try a short time later. Wahlig trained with the national women’s team in California and competed at the 2004 World Championships in the Czech Republic.
All that team did was collect a gold medal.
Not bad for a self-described “geek” who loved to read and collect comic books and play street hockey with older brother Scott in her early years.
Girl makes another boys club soccer team a year after the incident with the burr.
Girl plays quite well.
“The boys treated me better than they had the previous year,” Wahlig says. “The bad ones had left the program.”