MIT may not be an athletic powerhouse, but it will have a presence in the Olympic Winter Games now going on in Salt Lake City.
The MIT women's hockey coach plays on the Russian national team. And as she plays, some of her MIT players will be there to cheer her on.
Although Katia Pachkevitch has been on leave this year to prepare for the games, she inspired great loyalty in her MIT players during the previous couple of years.
"There is just an awesome sense of pride on the team that we have such a committed, recognized and gifted coach. Just watching her makes you want to play even better," said Dara Jeffries, defenseman and assistant captain for the MIT team. Jeffries, a senior in chemical engineering, is in her third year on the team.
"I'm extremely excited that Katia is playing in the Olympics," said Michele Verticchio, another senior in chemical engineering who plays left wing and is captain of the MIT team. "I admire her tremendously. She's so modest about her talent. When I first learned that she was a world-class athlete, it was hard for me to believe that she could be coaching a team like MIT's and live an otherwise normal life. Pro athletes in America live such hyped-up lives."
WORLD CLASS TO CLUB
The 31-year-old coach came to MIT from Russia several years ago to coach the club team. Soon enough, she upgraded it to a Division 3 program. And while the new team hasn't broken any performance records (they're 0-16 this season), it has provided a place for young women here to learn the game. In Pachkevitch's absence, Jon Leslie is coaching the team.
"Every day, Katia brought a certain power to the ice. Her enthusiasm for the game and patience in teaching us novices was enough to waylay almost all frustrations," said Jeffries. "If you fall down, she's the one telling you to get back up again. It's rare to find a coach able to push a team so close to the brink of exhaustion and yet, at the end of the day, make you grateful for such persistence. Off the ice she's a friend. That alone is a unique quality.
"My one regret about her being in the Olympics is that I missed her as my coach in my final year when my game has finally come together. I wish she could have been here to see it. She's the coach who made me the player I am," Jeffries said.
Pachkevitch, a Moscow native, began skating when she was three and has played ice hockey for more than 20 years. She's been a member of the Russian National Women's Team since 1994 and has won four MVP awards in world tournament games. In 2001, as the fifth-leading scorer overall, she helped Team Russia win a bronze medal in the world championships. Her jersey hangs in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. She now plays fullback on the New England Storm, a women's professional football team.
Verticchio and a few other players will be in Salt Lake City this week watching their coach.
"We're all really psyched. Most of us will be wholeheartedly rooting for Russia to beat Team USA. For me, it's not because I'm not patriotic. I'm just so proud of Katia and I want to see her team succeed," said Verticchio.
"Fortunately the USA and Russia are not in the same preliminary bracket, so I'm free to root for both teams," said Jeffries. "I know Katia has always dreamed of the Olympics. I think no one deserves it more. I hope they make it to the final rounds. Should they be pitted against Team USA, I would probably root for Russia."
The Russian game against Canada will be televised today at 1 p.m.
"I'll be with a fellow teammate screaming at a TV and rooting on my coach and friend," said Jeffries.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on February 13, 2002.