When the Canadian Junior National Team ran out onto the pitch for their first match of the 2022 Junior World Cup, they were on familiar ground. Sans a few player-changes, this was the same group that spent three weeks in Potchefstroom in December at this exact field site, as the Omicron variant caused flight delays and global travel advisories.
The familiarity was a nice comfort, but the on-field challenge was immense. This iteration of team Canada featured a young roster including nine athletes getting their first international caps. In a U21 World Cup, experience is key, and what Canada lacked coming into the event, they gained throughout the competition. Canada went 0-5 in their matches with losses coming against Zimbabwe, USA, Ireland, Uruguay, and eventual champions Netherlands.
According to head coach, Jenn Beagan, their international inexperience showed through on the field. She said playing these challenging international matches is the only way to earn that experience.
“The on-field results obviously weren’t what we were hoping for,” Beagan said. “At the end of the day, we had a really young group, and the takeaways from each game are huge. This is a group that grew each game and will have so much to bring back to our training environment.”
Team Canada takes on the world at the 2022 Junior World Cup in Potchefstroom, South Africa. Photos/FIH
Beagan said this was the first time any of these athletes had played in an environment like the Junior World Cup.
“Just the professionalism of the tournament, the media and everything else that was happening in the environment. It was a really well-run event,” she said. “It was definitely an eye-opener for our athletes. It shows them the level they can strive to be at. It left them all highly motivated and ready to get back into training and preparing.”
Beagan adds that only five athletes from this Canadian cohort will age-out prior to the upcoming abbreviated junior qualification cycle. The next Junior Pan American Championship is projected to happen in the spring of 2023 with the next Junior World Cup scheduled for later that year.
With the tight turnaround, Beagan anticipates this team will be strong and ready for the upcoming qualifiers. She said that resiliency and determination describe this team and she is looking forward to the upcoming year.
“There is a very strong and connected culture with this team. This is a group that supports each other. The girls rely on their work ethic and dedication to the game,” Beagan said. “We are well-aware of our deficiencies. We are looking forward to addressing those and I know everyone is leaving South Africa highly motivated.”
The athletes will re-join their school and club environments for the spring and early summer and then get back together in the summer months to train in the Team Canada environment. Typically, the turnaround is four years, but with COVID-19 causing delays and postponements, this cycle will get going right away.
Re-live the photo action from the Junior World Cup. Congrats to our athletes and coaching staff on an amazing year of competition.