May 27, 2010
By Cecilia Carter-Smith
In my earlier dispatch you heard the voice of Guy Zink, field hockey guru at St. John’s Kilmarnock (SJK) remembering his prize pupil, Jess Walkey’s journey from SJK to the national team. Add co-coach (Tier 1) Leanne Dietrich’s voice of validation to the SJK alum’s road to the national team.
“Jess was like a sponge,” said Dietrich of the wide-eyed grade niner. “She soaked up everything, from the rules to the most subtle nuances of the game, and seemingly effortlessly applied the skills and strategies in practices and game situations with immediate success. Once Jess had a handle on the basics, she was off and running.”
Continued Dietrich. “Jess was a leader by example in the truest sense of the expression. She could easily have rested on her laurels, coasted along, and still have been successful, but, Jess always demanded her personal best of herself. It was extremely impressive in someone as young as Jess.
"By her example, Jess raised the standard of play and the confidence in each of her teammates without EVER making them feel inferior in any way.”
And Coach Dietrich paid the ice hockey convert the ultimate compliment. “I would gladly have paid money to watch our team play during the past four years…and Jess is largely to thank for initiating such a dynamic and exciting style of play (at SJK).
Concluded Dietrich. “Jess is a shining example of the kind of athlete we should have representing our country on the international stage.”
And the kind of athlete that every high school coach dreams about, too.
Jess’ fond memories of her years at SJK include “the Cinderalla story” of capturing SJK’s first OFSAA Championship.
“We beat (Kitchener) Forest Height in overtime for OFSAA gold, (having gone through several rounds of strokes in the semi-final to get to the final)” said the then grade 11 student. This was one of the most exciting moments in my field hockey career! To be a captain and to play such a big role in the tournament was incredible. It was SJK’s first OFSAA gold.
“I loved my coaches so much (still do). I was so proud to win it for them, the team, the school, and myself.”
Continued the SJK Eagle. “In my senior year we won OFSAA again. We had gone undefeated in the season and the OFSAA tournament. We played (Kitchener) Bluevale in the final and it went down to strokes after two overtimes. It was amazing winning two OFSAA golds back to back.”
Hockey scouts lined the sidelines whenever Jess brought her game to town. And why not? She orchestrated the SJK Eagles like no other player on the pitch.
And at the University of Guelph the rookie caught everyone’s eye. The SJK grad was recognized not only as the top rookie in the OUA but, the top rookie in the nation (CIS) capturing the coveted Joyce Slipp Award. Add OUA All-Rookie team, OUA first team All-Star, CIS 2nd team All-Star, CIS tournament team All-Star and CIS MVP honours to the 17 year old’s rookie resume. Indeed, a memorable, monstrous year for the gifted Gryphon rookie.
Among those following the career of the aspiring national team member was head coach Louis Mendonca.
“After the CIS Championships in my first year (2008), I was approached by Louis and invited to tour with the (national) team in January 2009 (Dublin Ireland).
“In March (2009) I lived in Vancouver for a couple of months to train with the national team. Then I transferred to UBC, got my own place in order to train with the team full time, and go to school when possible.”
Added Jess, “I am going to be taking animal science (in the middle of transferring facilities). It hasn’t been a typical university experience, but I always tend to make my own path through life. I thrive off of the adventure and uniqueness of my situation.”
Jess bunked with veteran national team player, and University of Toronto super star Cailie O’Hara when she leapfrogged across the continent. The young national credits Cailie for making the transition quite smooth. “She mentored me through living on my own, the new city (well – a city in general having grown up in the country), the National Team and so on.
“I surprised all my friends and my family (and myself) with how well I managed on my own. It was a great big adventure and there was so much to learn.”
Jess continued, “Besides missing my family the hardest thing about being away was not having my animals with me. I grew up in a house with three dogs and have never lived without them. So I adopted a little kitten. She lives with me in Vancouver and travels on the plane with me (at my feet) back and forth to Ontario. Having her with me in B.C. has brightened my world.”