School becomes 45th D-1 Women’s program

The University of Delaware will add women’s ice hockey as a varsity sport and join College Hockey America (CHA), effective July 1, 2025, it was announced Friday. Delaware becomes the 45th college or university to sponsor a Division I women’s ice hockey program.

A national search for a varsity women’s ice hockey head coach will begin in January 2024, allowing a full year of recruiting and preparation ahead of the 2025-26 inaugural season. UD has offered women’s ice hockey as a club sport since 2003, with the club earning a top-10 national ranking in each of the last 10 seasons. The University will continue offering women’s ice hockey as a club sport in 2024-25 and beyond.

“The addition of women’s varsity ice hockey at UD is the latest bold step in the evolution of our Athletics program, raising the profile of our outstanding Blue Hen student-athletes and the whole University,” University of Delaware President Dennis Assanis said. “We are deeply committed to gender equity in Athletics and throughout UD, and we are excited to be part of this growing sport.”

With the announcement of Delaware football transitioning to FBS, the University was committed to adding a women’s sport to continue to stay Title IX compliant. The University looked at a number of key criteria, including the feasibility, continued commitment to gender equity, recruiting footprint, conference fit, facilities, and ability to win championships.“We’re thrilled to be part of growing the game of women’s ice hockey here, both nationally and at UD.” Director of Athletics, Community, and Campus Recreation Chrissi Rawak said. “I’m confident women’s ice hockey will have success on and off the ice, and joining the CHA allows us to surround ourselves with aspiring institutions and some of the best competition in the nation.”

In its due diligence, the University of Delaware performed a feasibility study funded by the Industry Growth Fund, a joint initiative of the NHL and NHLPA, with the goal of empowering schools exploring the addition of Men’s and/or Women’s DI varsity ice hockey. The results of the study reinforced UD’s findings and made clear that women’s ice hockey was the best path forward. In addition to this being the right decision for the University of Delaware, there’s also the great benefit of helping to grow a sport that is popular in this region of the country.

“The growth of women’s hockey is undeniable and unstoppable,” NHL Sr. Executive Vice President of Social Impact, Growth Initiatives and Legislative Affairs Kim Davis said. “The NHL is proud to support the development of the University of Delaware’s women’s ice hockey team – it represents our vision to open access, opportunity and aspirational pathways for young women in the game.”

Delaware and the Philadelphia Flyers will form a partnership, with details being shared on Thursday, February 8 at Wells Fargo Center as the Flyers take on the Winnipeg Jets on the day after National Girls & Women in Sports Day. The Flyers have a strong history of helping grow the game of hockey, particularly within women’s hockey. The organization launched a girls-only Learn to Play program, hosted the Professional Women’s Hockey Player Association (PWHPA) Dream Gap Tour, and created a female-focused front office mentorship program, Next Shift. You can buy tickets to celebrate the newly formed partnership and the addition of Delaware women’s ice hockey here.

“I am incredibly grateful to the NHL and College Hockey Inc., for their collaborative insight and support in working together with the University of Delaware to help us determine that women’s ice hockey was the right sport for us to be adding,” Rawak said.

College Hockey America was established as a NCAA Division I women’s ice hockey conference in 2002. Currently, the CHA includes six institutions spanning three states from the Midwest to the East Coast. The membership includes Lindenwood University, Mercyhurst University, Pennsylvania State University, Rochester Institute of Technology, Robert Morris University, and Syracuse University.

The CHA has qualified a representative to the NCAA Women’s Ice Hockey Championship 19 times since the league’s founding. Mercyhurst has qualified 14 times with four trips to the Frozen Four and an appearance in the 2009 national championship game.

Individually, CHA players have earned All-American honors 12 times. The CHA has also been represented among the finalists for the Patty Kazmaier Award 14 times since 2005. That group includes five top-three finishers and one winner – Mercyhurst’s Vicki Bendus in 2010.

CHA alumni have competed for eight countries at the Winter Olympics and skated off with 14 medals, including four gold. Professionally, 15 CHA alumni are in training camps with Professional Women’s Hockey League teams, a number that includes seven league alumni who were selected in the PWHL draft in September.

“College Hockey America is incredibly excited to welcome the newly established Division I hockey program from the University of Delaware to the CHA and NCAA Women’s Ice Hockey,” College Hockey America Commissioner Michelle Morgan said. “Chrissi Rawak and her team have done an exceptional job in getting us to this point and I look forward to working with her as the program takes shape and builds towards its first season of competition in 2025-26.”

With the addition of women’s ice hockey in 2025-26, UD Athletics now sponsors 22 varsity intercollegiate programs.

Student-athletes at UD are known for their excellence in competition and in the classroom. The University of Delaware’s academic programs are among the nation’s best and its research classification places the University in the top 3% of all U.S. universities and colleges. Announced in September, UD ranks No. 76 among national universities and No. 36 nationally among public universities, according to U.S. News & World Report’s 2024 Best Colleges rankings. U.S. News also ranked eight undergraduate programs at UD among the nation’s top-100 in their disciplines, including No. 5 nationally in chemical engineering. UD Is also a top-50 university in the U.S. for veterans and active-duty military.

That outstanding academic reputation also translates to UD Athletics and UD student-athletes.

UD student-athletes complement their athletic success with strong academic performances. In the 2022-23 academic year, Blue Hens compiled a cumulative 3.286 grade-point average—the highest in department history, excluding academic terms impacted by COVID-19. This marked the ninth-consecutive year and the 19th-straight semester in which UD student-athletes have posted a 3.00 GPA or better.