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Mallory Wickline Curling

Schreyer Scholar finds her home on the ice as leader for curling at Penn State

28 March 2024
Mallory Wickline Award

Before attending Penn State, third-year Schreyer Scholar Mallory Wickline said she would have never believed that she would be leading a No.1 nationally ranked club sports team. Yet, while working on her double major in meteorology and planetary science and astronomy, she has played a large role in building Penn State's curling team into an elite club.

With that success, Wickline is also helping to grow the sport at the collegiate level which, according to USA Curling, had only 300 players nation-wide on teams that could compete for a national championship.

Curling is a team ice sport in which players take turns sliding stones toward opposing targets, called "houses." To help the stone reach the target, players sweep the ice with brooms to alter the speed and overall direction of the stone. Points are scored by placing stones within the house, and the team with the most points will win the match, or draw. Often, curling teams compete in "bonspiels," the name for curling tournaments, on weekends with multiple teams in attendance.

During the 2023-24 season, Penn State Club Curling reached the top of the national rankings with Wickline as vice president and head coach. In this leadership position, she has facilitated team cohesion and effectively trained new members for success on the ice. While many students may not be familiar with the sport due to its niche nature, Wickline explained that Penn State’s curling club, with over 20 members on the team, is the largest among U.S. colleges.

Despite her initial lack of experience playing the sport, Wickline ascended quickly to a prominent position in the club, rising to a leadership role through her goal-oriented, steadfast attitude and by consistently putting her best effort forward. Since then, Wickline has worked diligently to create an inclusive environment on the ice, where anyone can enjoy the sport and find community in the club.

Seeking something new

Growing up in upstate New York where ice sports, including curling, are extremely popular, Wickline developed a fascination for the sport at a young age. Throughout high school, she said she eagerly wanted to take to the ice and play for the local league but was unable to due to COVID-19. So, after getting her acceptance letter to Penn State University Park and scouring the student organization website, she said she knew curling at Penn State would be her first stop once she got to campus.

With no prior background playing the game, Wickline was well-aware that there would be struggles to endure as she learned curling during her first year. However, her overwhelming positive determination to learn the sport and grow as a player, she said, propelled her forward to be the accomplished curler she is today.

“I was never a big sports girl in high school, I was never that great at those things. I grew up knowing all the rules of curling and understanding how to play, so that definitely did help,” Wickline shared. “You will inevitably fall a few times, but I got addicted to it right away. I think that having a community of people here that really encouraged me to keep trying and improving really helped my passion grow even more.”

Ascending to leadership

As her passion and her skills — both on and off the ice — grew, Wickline seized opportunities to take on a larger role within the club.

“I started my first year as a player and then got slightly more involved behind the scenes that spring. Then last year, I was an assistant travel director, and then this year I am vice president and help coach the club team. I have seen the club in several of its phases, so that's been a pleasure, as I love to see it grow and evolve,” said Wickline. “In high school, I was vice president of Model UN and Science Olympiad, which I think helped fuel my competitive streak, and now I can see how that has transitioned into a sport like curling where we can be competitive on the ice.”

As head coach, she must be able to lead and teach a wide range of members, all with varying skill sets. According to Wickline, 99% of the players who join the curling team have no prior experience with the game — so the power of positivity, she said, is the secret to her success and effectiveness as a coach. Celebrating small victories and entering each practice with a smile helps to create a safe environment on the ice where players, no matter their level of experience, can perform their best, said Wickline.

Curling is a sport that is historically male-dominated and underrepresented, said Wickline. She   also places a large emphasis on improving the inclusion of the club, and helping all students feel as though they can have a home on the team. From leading discussions with the executive board to prioritizing team connections, Wickline shared her personal experience crafting and implementing an inclusive standard for the club.

“Earlier in the year I was speaking with my executive members and making sure that we are hitting our goals in making sure that everybody feels welcome. Typically, in the curling world, there tend to be more men than women. I think we have done a great job of making sure that our club is representative of the larger University as a whole and making sure that we are being inclusive to everybody,” Wickline explained. “We are all just a really positive environment, and we all make sure we are interacting with our new members and make them feel welcomed.”

Wickline explained that creating this welcoming community directly enhances performance on the ice, as the club’s current new members have been excelling during their bonspiels. She explained how rewarding it is to have a hand in coaching students who, like she was, are new to the sport and possess the natural drive to keep improving.

From the classroom to the rink 

Effective leadership traits are not inherent, rather they are mastered through practice and application, said Wickline, sharing how the honors classes she took in her earlier years at Penn State allowed her to thrive as a student and as a leader. These classes, such as the deliberation-based Communication Arts and Sciences program courses, gave her the toolbox of strategies and tactics needed to communicate effectively with others and gain the self-confidence needed to lead the curling club.

“I think there are several components of honors classes that really encourage this sort of positive attitude in leadership. I definitely used to be more shy and some of the honors classes helped me be able to talk to other students and ask questions, and that's definitely translated into leadership with curling as well,” Wickline said. “I think every honors class or honors option is very different, but you are going to learn a variety of skills along the way that are going to help pave the path to finding success in whatever discipline you're in. Schreyer has really helped me understand how to funnel my passions into actionable results.”

Creating community away from the rink

Wickline said she is devoted to leading a successful group of students on the ice and to creating a thriving, close-knit community off it. Due to the club sports volunteering requirement, she said, taking part in these volunteering and community events has allowed her to form new relationships on the team while simultaneously giving back to the Penn State community.

“As part of the club sports program, I think one thing that is really positive that they advocate for is getting your whole team together, getting service hours, and doing team building in a way that’s going to help the community around you. I think that it’s an important part of being a community member here at Penn State,” said Wickline. “We have done a lot of things, including several volunteer events including runs and walks, or clean-up services for local parks, and we also do a lot of our own fundraising, including working the concession stands at the Bryce Jordan Center.”

In addition to running fundraisers and volunteering, the team has also grown closer due to the many club-curling road trips taken to attend meets across the nation. When the team recently traveled to Wickline’s hometown in upstate New York for a bonspiel, she said, the experience could only be described as "a full-circle moment." Growing up longing to be on the ice, to now leading her nationally-ranked curling team in her hometown was truly a gratifying moment and one that showed Wickline that anything is possible.

“I didn't really have the opportunity to curl before college, so it's been really cool that I can go back and actually play on my ‘home ice.’ I come from a really small town and now I'm doing this sport which I never thought I would be doing or even succeeding at,” Wickline said. “After the bonspiel, we were able to hang out at my house and my mom helped us cook a big meal, and we all had a big team dinner.”

With a university as wide-reaching as Penn State, many incoming students may worry about finding their place on campus. With boundless clubs and ways to get involved, it may appear overwhelming at first glance, said Wickline. She explained that finding “your people” at Penn State is easier than it seems, as it all comes down to seeking out the hidden gems sprinkled throughout the University’s programs and organizations. She urged students not to shy away from unique experiences, and instead to throw themselves headfirst into any area of the campus that peaks their interest.

Future plans

Though she said she found her place on the team, Wickline said curling is not her only area of involvement on campus. With majors in meteorology atmospheric science and planetary astronomy, she is heavily involved in clubs and organizations related to her passion for these subjects. With her end goal of working for NASA one day, Wickline said, she is very excited about what her future holds beyond graduation. However, as she works toward these goals, Wickline explained that the skills formed while on the curling team will help her greatly in the years following her departure from Penn State.

Being well-versed in team conflict resolution and having the ability to take constructive criticism, Wickline said, are just two of the skills she gained from her leadership experience on the ice, to help set her up for success in her post-graduation endeavors.

“When you are a part of a team you have to learn how to get along with your teammates and perform the way you know you can perform. I think getting those skills of conflict resolution and being able to take constructive criticism has been something that is really positive that has come out of curling,” said Wickline. “I am going to be applying to grad programs, so I hope to apply some of these skills in my research group work. I do research now and I think that understanding how to take a group and form cohesive goals definitely applies to other areas of my life.”