Written by Ali Baggott, for Field Hockey Canada
After 11 years, Canadian forward Maddie Secco (Victoria, B.C.) will turn a new page in her story. Secco will hang up her turf boots and hockey stick to continue her MBA at the Rotman School of Management in Toronto.
Secco’s first international game was in June of 2011, in Vancouver, in a test series against Japan. From there, the Stanford graduate was a fixture on the team making appearances at three Commonwealth Games (2014, 2018 and 2022), three Pan American Cups (2013, 2017 and 2022), two Pan American Games (2015 and 2019), and the feather in the cap was a qualification and appearance at the 2022 FIH Women’s World Cup.
Of course, the forever goal is an Olympic berth and while Secco and her Canadian teammates were a shootout away, she recognizes that there was so much to be proud of in the journey.
“Although my Olympic dreams never materialized, I am so proud of the resilience my teammates and I have shown over the past 11 years,” reflects the Oak Bay High School product.
“Since the onset of my career, funding was always a struggle. In 2018, the program’s financial situation became so dire that our entire team moved to Belgium, so that we could access high quality competition and coaches in a cost-effective way.”
The Canadian women’s team engaged in a crowd-funding campaign that year, largely spearheaded by Secco, to reach out to connections around the world. It paid off. The team raised $83,000, which supported them en route to their Olympic qualification event in Ireland.
It wasn’t always ‘all-in’ for field hockey for Secco. Her dad, Dave Secco, played soccer for Canada, her brother, Scott Secco, ran varsity cross-country and track, and her mother, Debbie Secco played varsity field hockey and was an elite badminton player. It was inevitable that Maddie would be a multi-sport athlete.
At Oak Bay High School, she dawned the uniforms for the soccer, field hockey, basketball, track and cross-country teams and even had a stint on the cricket team.
“Stay involved in as many sports as possible, for as long as possible,” advises Secco for the next generation. “I believe in the power of cross training. Although I eventually focused on field hockey, I credit soccer for my footwork and running for my aerobic capacity.”
In the end, Secco attributes her pursuit of field hockey full time because of her love of the game including its speed and the team dynamics. She also says it was a bit of fate.
“I had the opportunity to play for the Junior National team in Grade 11 and I was introduced through that to the Stanford university coaches who convinced me to visit the campus,” describes Secco, who ended up competing from 2012-16 for the Cardinal. “Getting an offer to study at such a prestigious university and compete at a high level in the NCAA excited me and ultimately pushed me to specialize in field hockey.”
Little did Secco know, the journey that started with the Junior National team would be the beginning of a long road – one she didn’t have to go down alone. In 2013, Secco competed at the Junior World Cup alongside several teammates who went on to play from junior to senior national team with her. That includes a contingent of Rachel Donohoe, Stephanie Norlander, Amanda Woodcroft, Karli Johansen, Hannah Haughn, Natalie Sourisseau, Sara McManus, Kat Leahy and Holly Stewart – several of who are still on the roster today.
“While finding success on the field was the main focus, cultivating relationships was a wonderful by-product of that,” said Secco about the long-time friends she has had in her Canadian teammates. “I formed deep friendships with a core group of players. Going to practice every day and travelling the world beside my best friends was incredible.”
Secco surged onto the national team from 2012-2016, traveling the world, realizing her dream. Photos/Yan Huckendubler.
That group experienced highs and lows together but for Secco, there is one moment that still highlights them all.
“Just this year, we competed at the Pan American Cup in Chile and our final match was against the United States, a long-time, competitive rival,” she described with excitement. “It was a hard-fought, 1-0, win that secured Canada a spot in the World Cup for the first time in 30 years. The moment the final whistle blew was one I will never forget.”
Secco was also a part of the Canadian side that medalled at the 2015 Pan American Games for the first time since 2015. At that games, hosted in Toronto, Canada won a bronze, and they continued upward from there. At the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, Secco and her teammates won a silver medal. The team was also the focal point for Canadian hockey fans in 2019 when the then-ranked No. 15 Canadians played in Ireland against the No. 8-ranked Irish for a spot to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The two-game series was a nail-biter, both ending in shootouts, and Canada ultimately losing out. It was the closest the Canadian women had been to returning to the Olympic stage since their last appearance in 1992.
Secco finishes her Canadian career with 157 caps and 25 goals alongside her four-year career at Stanford and a three-year professional career overseas in Hamburg, Germany (2017-18) and Antwerp Belgium (2018-20).
“I want to show appreciation for my family, friends, teammates, and coaches who have constantly supported, and believed in me and the team,” attributed Secco. “A special mention to my hometown community in Victoria, BC. It wasn’t always easy coming from the island, sometimes feeling like I had fewer opportunities to play, and often having to commute to training in Vancouver. But I had some unbelievable coaches and role models on the island who inspired me to pursue my goals!”
Secco is already finished her second term of her MBA at Rotman School of Management. Moving from being an elite athlete and back into full-time school in a new city has been a big transition and came with a lot of change.
“So far, the masters program has been rigorous, but my National Team experience has prepared me well,” Secco said confidently. “Using my athlete mindset and motivation, I’ve been able to embrace the challenges of the MBA and thrive in the fast-paced environment. The MBA also puts a heavy emphasis on teamwork and group projects, which I’ve been able to navigate with ease, thanks to so many years competing in team sport and collaborating with others.”
For now, that’s one chapter closed and the next one well on its way. Canada looks forward to seeing what’s next in the story of Maddie Secco.