OTTAWA (CIS) – The University of British Columbia Thunderbirds enter the 40th CIS – Field Hockey Canada women’s championship as reigning three-time titlists, and they hope to add another trophy to their record collection this weekend in Toronto.
The four-team tournament, hosted by the University of Toronto for the second time in three years, kicks off on Thursday and concludes Sunday with the gold-medal final at 3 p.m. All eight games from the tourney will be webcast live on CIS-SIC.tv.
Competing for this season’s McCrae Cup will be the top-seeded Thunderbirds (Canada West champions), as well as the No. 2 Toronto Varsity Blues (OUA champs), No. 3 Victoria Vikes (Canada West runners-up) and No. 4 Guelph Gryphons (OUA silver medallists).
All contenders will play each other once in the preliminary round, with the top two finishers advancing to the final and the bottom two teams battling for bronze. Thursday’s opening day will see Victoria take on Guelph at 4:30 p.m. and UBC face Toronto at 6:30 p.m.
The T-Birds continued to rewrite the CIS field hockey record book a year ago when they became the first program in history to capture three straight McCrae Cups, thanks to a 4-1 gold-medal win over tournament host Victoria. It marked a 15th national title overall for UBC since the inaugural CIS championship in 1975, four more than UVic and Toronto.
The last time U of T hosted the event, in 2012, the Thunderbirds blanked the locals 3-0 in the final.
This season, UBC and Victoria finished with identical 5-1-2 marks in the Canada West conference, where there are no playoffs and the team with the best record at the end of league play is awarded the banner. The T-Birds got the nod thanks to a better goal differential.
In four head-to-head meetings this fall, the archrivals battled to a pair of 1-1 draws in Vancouver in September and split a two-game series in Victoria in October, with the defending champs winning the opener 3-1 and the Vikes responding with a 4-1 victory.
“It’s an important consideration for us that even though our program has been very successful at this level, the 16 athletes that make up our team this year are attempting to win this championship as a group for the very first time,” says Robin D’Abreo, in his first-year as UBC head coach after taking over from the legendary Hash Kanjee, who guided the program for 21 seasons. “We have only four returning athletes from last year’s championship-winning side and the CIS tournament environment will be unfamiliar to me as well.
“We know firsthand what a strong team UVic is and we are gearing up for a tough fight against Toronto and Guelph as well. Both teams have had excellent performances through the OUA season and playoffs, are well coached, and will be hard to beat. We are taking nothing for granted and look forward to the challenge.”
Led by 31-year sideline boss Lynne Beecroft, Victoria hopes to claim a first McCrae Cup since a triumph on home turf in 2008.
“I am quite excited because we really haven’t played a game in the last three weeks,” said Beecroft, whose team’s last official outing was the 4-1 win over UBC on October 12. “I am hoping the girls will be really excited as well and I hope they play with the same kind of composure, excitement and magic that they did in their last game against UBC. It’s a bonus for us to go back East and not have to fight the long, thick rubber turf but I am hoping the new turf won’t be too slippery. We are familiar with all three opponents and I know that Toronto didn’t make nationals last year and they are hosting so they will be really excited to be back. It should be a really competitive tournament.”
Toronto was the last team to be crowned before UBC’s current three-year reign, in 2010. The Varsity Blues return to the tourney after a one-year absence, which marked the first time in a decade they failed to qualify for the event.
The Blues are 14-0 overall entering this week’s CIS-FHC competition, including a 3-0 shutout against Guelph in the conference final. The Gryphons are 11-3 overall, with all three losses coming at the hands of Toronto.
Guelph’s best result at the national tourney remains a silver medal in 2007.
“We feel very good about being back vying for a national championship,” says U of T head coach John DeSouza, in his ninth campaign at the helm. “Last year was a tough lesson and not going to Victoria made this team hungrier to be back. We as a team are so happy to be home for this year’s event playing in the best facility in the country. We look forward to challenging the three other teams for a national title.”
Michelle Turley, in her 11th season leading the Gryphons, hopes her troop can finally get over the CIS hump this week.
For more, icluding team profiles, click here.
“We will be looking to improve our standing at the CIS championship this year. We have a great core of returning athletes mixed with an impressive group of rookie talent. Our strength lies in our depth and team chemistry. Allison Chute was our top scorer with 11 goals in 12 games, and captain Erin Houle is one of the best midfielders in the province with her outstanding stick skills and ability to distribute the ball.”