Times Staff Writer
It is never too late to start playing hockey.
That is what Gunnison High School senior Alexis Duke believes after recently earning multiple offers to play Division III hockey on the East Coast.
Duke wasn’t always a huge fan of the sport. Rather, it took some encouragement from friends before Duke decided to pick up the hockey stick at the age of 13.
“My sister had played hockey for one year and every time they would make me go skate I was miserable,” said Duke. “The summer before I started playing hockey we went on a camping trip with some friends and they had talked me into trying it.”
During Duke’s first practice as a member of the Gunnison Blades U14 girls hockey team, the coaches had to take her hockey stick because Duke could hardly skate on the ice.
Parents of other players noticed how much Duke was struggling and approached her family, suggesting she should quit the team because she would hold back the U19 squad during her freshman year.
After being told as much, Duke worked hard every single day, determined to prove them wrong. That year, the Gunnison Blades U19 girls team, with Duke on it, went on to win state. The following year, Duke and the Gunnison Blades were runner ups in the state championship.
Duke also challenged herself in another way early in her high school career — by joining the Crested Butte Titans junior varsity team, comprised almost entirely of boys.
“My junior varsity hockey career will always be something I will look back on,” said Duke. “My sophomore year I was scared they would pick on me because I wasn’t nearly as skilled as half of the boys.”
Duke had some help, however, from teammates at the time — Colten Crittendon and Dylan Frazier, both of whom played on the Crested Butte varsity hockey team this past season.
“They definitely kept me going those first couple of weeks,” said Duke. “By the end of my sophomore season, I had improved so much.”
Crittendon and Frazier, along with other teammates, pushed Duke to work harder than she ever had previously, which helped Duke become the player she is today.
The success Duke had with the Gunnison Blades and from the junior varsity hockey team gave her the confidence to step outside her comfort zone and try something new her junior year.
“I wanted to see how I compared to other girls and I was ready to test myself,” said Duke. “I went to a high level camp and got scouted to play for the U19AAA Lady Rough Riders based out of Boulder.”
As Duke’s high school hockey career is coming to a close, she has a big decision to make when it comes to choosing what Division III school on the East Coast she wants to play hockey for.
Duke will have some time, however. She plans to take a gap year to improve her hockey skills before going on to college.
Over the gap year, Duke plans to work and continue to play hockey, with hopes of getting another year of competition under her belt.
“Alexis is the epitome of someone who is driven by doubters and naysayers,” said Brandy Marquez, Duke’s mother.
Duke has accomplished a lot over the course of her high school career and has one final message for all the girls in the Gunnison Valley:
“The girls hockey in Gunnison seems to be slowly dying and it’s hard watching that,” she said. “It can be an expensive sport, but there are scholarships and fundraisers.”
For Duke, hockey teaches values that apply to life.
“To all of the girls who want to play hockey in college, work hard, keep your grades up and never let someone bring you down,” she said.
(Brandon Warr can be reached at 970.641.1414 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)