After spending their high school years giving St. Paul’s Pelicans’ fans plenty to cheer about, the Frechette sisters brought their athleticism — and laundry list of accomplishments — to East Hill.
Finley, a sophomore, and Gillis, a freshman, racked up almost every accolade in field hockey, ice hockey, and lacrosse at St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire. In ice hockey, both were invitees to the USA National Camp for hockey and integral members of the 2015 team that won the prestigious New England Prep School Hockey team championship.
After arriving at Cornell last year, Finley was able to make an immediate impact as a freshman, appearing in all 33 contests and finishing the season with a +1 rating and the second-best shot percentage on the team (0.200).
The addition of Gillis to the No. 6 ranked squad has already proved to be a boon for the team that was tantalizingly close to a national title run, finishing just one spot out of the NCAA tournament. Only five games into the season, Gillis has already established herself as a starter for the Red and tallied an assist in her first collegiate game against Syracuse on October 23.
Born and Bred Athletes
Growing up in Weston, Massachusetts, skating came as naturally to the Frechettes as throwing fish on the ice against Harvard does to the Lynah Faithful. From a young age, it was clear that the duo was mesmerized by the sport that would soon engulf their lives.
“When we were out learning to skate, there was a hockey practice on the other half of the ice,” Gillis said. “And we just kept staring over there and turning and saying to our mom, ‘Can we go over there? Can we go over there?’”
“So from a very young age, it was never figure skating for us. It was hockey ever since we learned to skate.”
Due to the lack of organized competitive hockey for girls in the area, however, the Frechettes often found themselves competing with the boys.
“I remember one of the coaches told me I could go out with the older guys group,” Finley said. “So I told my dad and he said, ‘You can go out, but you have to wake me up.’”
However, it wasn’t as easy as Finley thought it would be, as practice was at 5 in the morning and her family didn’t have an alarm clock.
“I remember staying awake almost all night,” she recalled. “The next morning I walked into my dad’s room and I had no idea what time it was, but he took me right to the rink and I think that’s when he knew that we really loved the game.”
When they were in high school, the sisters found themselves playing on the varsity boys team with full checking and instead of shying away from the challenge, they embraced it.
“It was just Gillis and I — Gillis was in eighth grade, I was in ninth — with all the guys,” Finley said. “It was full checking, so our parents were kind of worried, but Gillis and I both loved it.”
“On the other team, they didn’t really know what to do because we were girls. But Gillis and I would hit them as if we were guys.”
Years of playing with boys has calloused the Frechettes to the grittiness of D1 hockey and given them an edge over their competitors.
“I think it made us overall tougher,” Finley said. “Not just because of playing with guys because we were all the same age, but also because you were the only girl in the locker room and you had to figure out how to be friends and how to infiltrate the guys and their jokes and everything. I think that really helped me and it was really valuable experience both on the ice, and just in life.”
Same Goal, Separate Paths
Although they both did end up playing far above Cayuga’s waters, the sisters came to the conclusion to commit to a career at Cornell separately.
Gillis said that “Cornell stood out to both of us as our favorite” after their college visit.
“We loved the coaching staff and the whole atmosphere, but our mom said, ‘You guys, you cannot commit until you’ve seen Cornell in the winter because you don’t know you like it until you like it with it sleeting and raining sideways.’ So we visited again in the winter and we both still loved the school.
Gillis said although she loved playing with her sister, their sisterhood wasn’t the deciding factor for her commitment to Cornell. “I think we both loved the school for what it was,” she said.
Although they were both multisport athletes in high school, Finley decided to continue her lacrosse career at Cornell as well, while Gillis has opted to focus solely on hockey for now.
“I remember walking by lacrosse practice the day after hockey season ended and I just stopped and watched,” Finley said. “I was like ‘I miss lacrosse so much.’ Now I’m on both teams and I’m figuring out a way to manage it, but I really love it and both of the teams are awesome.”
A seasoned veteran of the Cornell student-athlete experience, Finley has been a valuable resource for Gillis, but is careful not to coddle her too much.
“It’s great to have an older sister here,” Gillis said. “I had questions about classes or what the fastest way to a building was, and [Finley’s] always the person I go to for that stuff.
But the Finley doesn’t always give out everything: there are things she wants Gillis to experience for herself too.
“I don’t want her to have the easy way,” Finley said with a laugh. “We all had to learn it the hard way.”
Both on and off the ice, the sisters have always pushed each other to be their best and have brought that contagious energy to Cornell. From playing youth boys hockey to suiting up for the Red, one thing is clear — the Frechettes will always give the fans plenty to cheer for.