By Thomas Becker
Belle Jacobs isn't one to shy away from a challenge regardless of what people might think or say.
Before committing to UPEI, Jacobs suited up for the Sydney Academy Wildcats Division 1 boys high school team, making her the first female to play for the club.
The former Wildcat played for several AAA female teams, but she always wanted to represent her high school before graduating and the only way to do that was by joining the boys team.
Like her teammates, she had to earn her way on the roster and when she finally cracked the lineup, criticism and bullying soon followed.
"There were challenges for sure. There were negative people saying I shouldn't be there because it's a boy's league," Jacobs said. "People said I'd get hurt and some teams even targeted me on the ice and said sexist remarks to prove I didn't belong."
Jacobs could have easily given in to the haters, but the 17-year-old stood her ground and let her game do the talking instead. In 2019-20, Jacobs won the team's top defenceman award and captured the trailblazer award for being the first female to ever play in the league. She capped it all off by being named the Female Athlete of the Year.
"I learned how to take a hit, avoid them, and to also give a hit," she said. "I not only proved I belonged, I also showed them that I could help my team win."
Aside from the outside distractions, Jacobs embraced the challenge and thoroughly enjoyed the past season.
"This was by far my favourite year of hockey. I was like a little sister to my team and they always had my back," she said. "This experience definitely helped me develop into an all-around better hockey player."
Head coach Bruce Donaldson and his staff have done an admirable job of recruiting strong, high-achieving women and Jacobs is the latest student-athlete who fits that mold.
"She brings an added dimension to our team," Donaldson said. "It's always interesting to learn from others' experiences, as it adds to our leadership and what we're trying to build here."
In addition to her leadership qualities, Donaldson is excited to see how Jacobs' strong one-on-one game transitions to a tough AUS slate.
"We always look for defenders who are mobile — quick starts and have an above average skill level," he said. "The one thing that stood out was her ability to see the play and make good, sound decisions."
With the Panthers adding three new defencemen to their roster, Jacobs will get every opportunity to put the league on notice with her fierce competitiveness. And like many competitors, she has high expectations for herself.
"I would love to win rookie of the year," she said. "I expect to be pushed every day by my teammates and coaches to be at my best."