Unparalleled

by Blake Baker

Jincy Dunne was probably just the neighborhood kid running roller hockey rinks, singing soulfully in the church choir, growing into her big heart and growing big dreams the first time her mother imparted this important advice.

“Leave people and places better than you found them.”

Today, she’s found comfort in how she’s spent the past five years: leaving Ohio State women’s hockey in better shape than anyone else ever has.

“I’m so glad Jincy chose there,” Jessica Dunne, her sister and former Buckeye teammate, said. “Our relationship is better for it. And obviously, Ohio State is better for it.”

Following her fifth and final season, Jincy’s left a permanent mark on the program. She’s as decorated a player as it’s ever seen, and she drove it through its most successful surge.

Ask Tatum Skaggs, her roommate and teammate: “She’s going to be idolized at Ohio State.”

But it didn’t come without palpable pressure. Even before becoming a Buckeye, her greatness meant growing expectations, mainly from herself. A leader from the start, she ends her career a legend, all the while realizing the opportunity that pressure presented.

“Pressure is a privilege,” Jincy said. “It’s not a curse. The higher-up I got, people were counting on me. As a teammate, as a captain, as a friend, as a daughter, I want to be someone that’s dependable. Pressure is going to come with that. You can see it as something that causes you to shut down, or something that causes you to rise up and be stronger. If you feel under pressure, your faith is too small.”

In other words, a career full of fierceness, fearlessness, and faith proves no moment was ever too big for Jincy Dunne.

“Pressure is a privilege. It’s not a curse. You can see it as something that causes you to shut down, or something that causes you to rise up and be stronger. If you feel under pressure, your faith is too small.”

Not in her earliest days on the ice, when her chance to make a name meant playing with the boys. Sure, Jincy traveled with local girls’ teams too, but at the time, in O’Fallon, Missouri, the best development for any budding star came as a part of the AAA St. Louis Blues. She practiced with future NHL draft picks – among them 2016 sixth-overall pick Matthew Tkachuk. And develop she did, both her skill set and a confidence in it.

“For most girls, even when they’re talented, that’s hard when boys are getting to the age where they can hit. She did it so well because she was super smart, skilled, gritty, and such a good skater,” Jessica said. “The fact that Jincy did it for that long, at that level, being the only girl on the team, that’s very difficult.”

Not in her youth hockey heyday, when she was centralized in Boston for Team U.S.A. tryouts. At 16 years old, she would have been the youngest skater in team history to go to the Olympics. Instead, she became the final cut from that year’s silver-winning squad.

“I definitely felt like I failed,” Jincy said. “It’s devastating and disappointing when you work all year round. But it’s all part of the process. You got to learn to trust it and not get frustrated.”

Not in her time with the U.S. team at the youth level – a kind of consolation. Not even in the 2015 U18 International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Title, where ever-poised Jincy scored a goal in regulation and the gold-medal-game-winner in overtime. Such heroics helped her earn the tournament’s Best Defenseman honors.

Fierce, fearless, faithful, and fully trusting of the process.

“She handled getting cut with so much grace and then got right back at it. She went to extra workouts, extra skates,” Jessica said. “She’s just driven differently.”

Not in her first season really playing at Ohio State. The year before, a serious concussion kept her injured, and isolated, her entire first season in Columbus. That all made for “a difficult transition.” But as a redshirt-freshman, Jincy’s teammates voted her an assistant captain.

“Her first playing year was my first year, so I had to really depend on the returners and who they wanted their captains to be,” Nadine Muzerall, then a first-time head coach, said. “They voted for her. And I didn’t question it because I knew who Jincy was. I recruited her at Minnesota.”

Before she’d even once suited up in Scarlet and Gray, she was a proven leader.

“It was well-deserved,” Jessica, then a junior, said. “It’s not normal when you haven’t played yet. But Jincy is not a normal person or player.”

“She’s just driven differently.”

Not in her first game as a starter, where she dispelled any doubt her on-ice presence mattered.

“When we went to RPI for our first game that year, she got a goal. It was her very first game,” Jessica said. “That was very rewarding for her, and that’s my favorite memory. It was the only game I remember where we were defensive partners the entire game. I slid it over to Jincy at the point, and that’s how Jincy got her first goal. Being able to assist my sister’s first goal, being able to witness it, being present with our close group of friends on the team, it was such a surreal experience.”

Not over the next couple years, when Jincy’s impact became very real. With the privilege of pressure, she’d proven to be the real deal. And her consistency was living in a class all its own.

“You don’t understand. She’s been one of the most consistent people we’ve had,” Muzerall said. “We were overplaying her. She was playing almost 70 minutes a weekend, and still performing. Most people were playing half that. That’s a lot of stress, responsibility, and expectation. But you had no clue she felt that pressure. That’s what makes her elite.”

Not in her senior season, which, in cementing her legendary status, made a serious statement. Especially not in the game that punctuates it. In the WCHA Finals, only the program’s second appearance in the game, three exhausting periods weren’t enough. Her team reached its second overtime period in as many days – first against defending National Runner-Up Minnesota, then reigning National Champion Wisconsin.

“I don’t think anyone expected us to win,” Jincy said, which means no one expected the Buckeyes’ most blissful moment ever to come next. Not even Jincy.

“Honestly, I was just looking to get the puck as far up the ice as possible so I could get off. It was a long shift for me,” she said. “I saw Tatum cut. I threw it up there just hoping she could get it deep. She ended up doing way more.”

If by “way more” Jincy means the biggest goal in the history of the program, she nailed it. And more or less, she created it. Her preparation and poise formed a flick of the wrist into folklore.

“How many people can say their last game was an overtime win against the Badgers and they won the best conference in the country?”

With Ohio State, nobody can – just Jincy and her fellow seniors. It’s fitting, really, considering Jincy made a career out of accomplishing things nearly nobody else has. Three times an All-American. Twice an assistant captain. Twice the team’s true captain. One point away from 100 in her career.

“And she would’ve gotten that last point in our next game,” Skaggs is sure.

As Skaggs’ “lifelong friend” hangs it up, her accomplishments will too be hung, forever.

“Jincy wanted to help build a program, not just be another number. When we win, it means that much more because she helped build it,” Muzerall said. “When she comes back with her kids and she sees the banners that get hung, she can say, ‘Look what Mommy did.’ That’s what leaving a legacy is about.”

Though her final season ended with uncertainty, the Buckeyes are certainly in a much better place than when she found them. And compared to the lasting impact she’s made on the program, the impact she’s made on its people will last even longer.

“Jincy was always someone I looked up to,” Olivia Soares, fellow 2019-20 captain, said. “She’s naturally gifted not only in her athletic ability, but also in her ability to lead. She’s been an excellent friend to me, and she’s someone who really exemplifies the type of character, work ethic, and commitment that you look for in a teammate.”

“She’s more like family to me,” said Skaggs. “I knew Jincy prior to putting the same jersey over our heads. She’s just been a rock for me in so many different forms. She’s the first person to text and ask how my day is going, or if I want to go to lunch. She just made my overall experience so much more welcoming and warming.”

No matter what she and her teammates did, there’s no shaking what could have been. An abrupt ending cut short more memories – both with the program and her people.

“We just had one of the best moments in our lives, but we didn’t really have time as a team to reflect on it and enjoy it,” Jincy said. “Not even a few days later, our season is canceled. And two days after that, everyone’s gone. It was sad.”

Today, there’s pressure to move past the fact her final postseason was suddenly stolen; pressure to move forward in her hockey career with a heavy heart, all the while pursuing a Master’s degree in coaching through one more year at Ohio State.

But by now, it’s clear how Jincy prevails under pressure.

“She’ll be a great coach. She’s incredibly humble and kind. She lets her faith lead everything,” said Jessica. “That’s the kind of leader I would buy into, one who practices what they preach. She’d bring a lot out of her players and really try to emphasize not just growing as players, but as people.”

“I’d hire Jincy right now,” Muzerall added. “But she’s trying to make the Olympics. As long as I’m a coach here, I’m trying to get parts of the Buckeye family back into the family in any way possible. She’d be my first call.”

Extending her career in hockey presents the opportunity to expand her legacy in leadership – one that’s unwavering, unfazed, and unfinished.

As for the legacy Jincy leaves at Ohio State? Ask her sister.

“Unparalleled.”