GENEVA – Fox Valley Hawks uniform regulations stipulate that each of the high school hockey co-op's players use black helmets.
For Geneva freshman Alyssa Jacobsen, that requirement triggered a wardrobe change. She always sported a pink helmet after renewing interest in the sport a few years ago.
"That's how you could always know," said her mother, Kim. "Now, it's just the ponytail hanging down the back."
A few of Jacobsen's male teammates-to-be actually sport long locks of their own, which would seem to be a score for assimilation. Accustomed to being the only girl on the ice in her developmental days, Jacobsen is eager to skate on equal footing with a team also comprised of players from St. Charles East, St. Charles North, Batavia and Kaneland.
"I just think it's fun. You get to meet new people and see a different side of the game, I think, than if I was playing with all girls," Jacobsen said. "It can be intimidating at times, but I think it's definitely pushed me to work harder."
Jacobsen received her hockey orientation as a child in Naperville, accepting some friends' invitation to join them in a game on a nearby pond.
Until then, she only had ice skated recreationally, the latest in a long list of athletic exploits growing up.
Shortly after that early taste, her younger brother, Evan – now a seventh-grader at Geneva Middle School North – began playing hockey. What followed was a case of obsession by osmosis.
"Watching him play, I've been to countless games, obviously, with him," Jacobsen said. "He really just got me into it. I really have to give the credit to him. I just though it would be fun to start."
The Hawks, based in Geneva's Fox Valley Ice Arena, will be Jacobsen's first competitive team. For the past few years, she accompanied her brother to St. Charles' Jet Hockey Training Arena, either for 3-on-3 Sunday scrimmages or weekday stick and puck workouts on the facility's studio-sized ice surface.
A veteran of every position but goaltender, Jacobsen calls defense her favorite but acknowledges things could to change with the Hawks. For one, she stands only 5-foot-5 on skates. For another, she's about to transition into a faster, more physical brand of hockey on a full rink.
Jacobsen has harnessed her feel for the game during the Hawks' bi-weekly summer program, designed to bolster players' skills ahead of this month's fall evaluations that determine 2014-15 rosters. The workouts alternate between Fox Valley and her old stomping grounds, the Jet Hockey training center.
"I wanted to get better playing for Jet Hockey," Jacobsen said, "but really, I think in the past few weeks, playing with the Hawks has really been kind of like a wake-up call. Saying, you know, 'This is really what I want to do. I really want to work hard and get better.' "
Early in her daughter's career, Kim Jacobsen leveled with her about the importance of maintaining determination and a steady work ethic.
"I think that's been the biggest challenge for her is just when she comes in as a girl already, you automatically have this stigma of, 'Oh, here comes this chick in a pink helmet, she's going to be like a figure skater. What's she doing on the team?' " Kim Jacobsen said. "And I told her, I said it's just a challenge you're going to have to overcome. And you just almost feel like you have to prove yourself to them by showing them."
In February, Alyssa Jacobsen enjoyed every player's dream, as hockey provided a chance to play organized hooky.
Knowing her pupil's penchant for pucks, Geneva Middle School North math teacher Val Demich allowed Jacobsen to head to the school office to watch part of the women's hockey gold medal game between the United States and Canada.
Nearly six months later, the memory of the Americans' loss still stings. The U.S. squandered a 2-0 lead with 3:26 to play and lost in overtime.
"That was horrible," Jacobsen said.
Consider that the rare occurrence of Jacobsen speaking negatively about hockey.
"This is going to be quite a change," she said, "but I'm excited to come play here."