PHOTO: Canada’s Junior Women celebrate a goal against Chile in January 2016 (By: Lorena Angus)
Getting to the 2016 Junior Women’s Pan American Championships has been a process for the Canadian Junior Women’s National Team. For many of the girls, this will be the biggest tournament of their field hockey careers to date.
But as the tournament kicks off in Tacarigua, Trinidad and Tobago on Thursday, the Canadians women feel like they have as good a chance as any team for success.
“For me 85-90 percent of it is team culture and team cohesion,” says Women’s Junior National Team head coach Steph Andrews. “It’s probably the single biggest factor in being successful.”
Trinidad and Tobago is relatively close to Canada, but the road travelled is more one of individual and team growth than one of kilometers traversed.
And Andrews believes Canada’s junior women have come a long way in those areas since first coming together more than a year ago, when they took on the United States Under-21 team at Spooky Nook Sports Centre in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
“We took quite a few young kids,” she says of the team that went to Spooky Nook, many of whom were meeting each other – let alone playing with each other – for the first time. “From watching the video, we have definitely come a long way. Our young kids have really grown up and our skill level has improved.”
Along the way, Andrews has relied on athletes who have been playing international hockey for a while to help bring the young players along.
Those are the “veterans” of the Junior National Team, and one of those players is Priya Randhawa.
“I think we definitely have a good chance,” Randhawa says of Canada’s chances at qualifying for the 2016 Junior World Cup (which would require a top two at the Pan Ams in Trinidad).
Randhawa is one of the more experienced players on the Junior National Team, having trained with the Senior National Team for the better part of the last two years, picking up three senior caps along the way.
“Going in to Chile we didn’t really know what to expect because we hadn’t been training with each other,” she adds. “While we were there and playing with each other, the chemistry really came out on and off the pitch. I think that really helped us.”
Both Randhawa and Andrews credit January’s test series with the Chileans as a big stepping in stone in the Canadians becoming a team and being ready for the Pan Ams.
Canada – still a relatively young team – took on an older Chilean side in a foreign environment. But instead of being intimidated, they thrived on the challenge.
“I think for us, it was just sticking to the process,” says Randhawa. “We didn’t really care about the score too much. Especially because we hadn’t played a lot with each other.”
That process resulted in three wins and four losses through seven games, with the final game being a dominant 5-0 victory for Canada.
For a team that was still only playing together for the second time, it was pleasing and a good indicator of the team’s ability and confidence heading into the World Cup qualifier.
“I think it’s going to be really good competition,” Andrews adds. “I think we’ve set ourselves up well. We’ve got a good pool and now we’ve just got to play well.”
Canada opens pool play on Thursday against Mexico at 11:00am PT/2:00pm ET.
The Canadian women’s full schedule and results can be found here.