(Images courtesy of: Yan Huckendubler)
After spending three years playing for the University of Iowa Hawkeyes, 19 year-old forward Stephanie Norlander will be joining the Canadian women’s Senior National Team full-time in 2016.
Norlander, a native of North Vancouver, British Columbia, played in all of Canada’s matches in 2015, including at Olympic qualification tournaments World League Rounds 2 and 3, as well as at the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto, Ontario, where Canada won a bronze medal.
Her time spent with the National Team in 2015 gave her a sense of what training with the program full-time could do for her field hockey career.
“Taking off last semester to be a part of World League 2 and 3 and then Pan Ams, I just realized how much fun it was to be full-time with the program,” she says.
“I’m still a really young player and I still have a lot of potential and I think that that also is a big factor in why I decided to join the program full-time, because I know that is the only way I can reach that full potential.”
At 19, Norlander was the youngest player named to the 2016 Women’s National Team roster earlier this month and has already played in 32 senior international matches for Canada, all before her twentieth birthday (which is later this month).
This past year, she became a key component of Canada’s offense, scoring big goals in the most important competitions.
Norlander notched a hat trick in Canada’s opening match at the Pan Am Games (a 12-1 win over the Dominican Republic) and also scored a goal in the all important shootout against Chile at World League Round 2 in March.
All this comes after an underwhelming 2014, in which she missed out on selection for the Commonwealth Games.
“Following the disappointment of 2014, Steph fought back with a vengeance and by the end of this year she had forced herself into the starting lineup,” says Women’s National Program Director and Head Coach Ian Rutledge. “Steph was a key striker for us in 2015 and she had some key moments, which is a real credit to her determination. You just get a feeling with Steph, that something will happen and that constant threat causes concerns for our opponents.”
With her promotion to the Senior National Team after being a member of the Senior Development Squad in 2015, Norlander continues to make strides in her development. But Rutledge feels she has only scratched the surface.
“Steph has the potential to become a world class striker; she has a goal scorers tenacity, and has the courage, desire and drive to be better everyday. She has a hunger to reach her potential, as demonstrated by a great work ethic, and I believe she has made a decision that she believes will put her in a position to achieve her hockey goals at both an individual and team level.”
“At 19 Steph already displays a maturity well beyond her years and she will be a real asset to the program as she works with the rest of her team towards 2020.”
After a successful high school and provincial career winning titles at Handsworth Secondary and with Team BC in 2011 and 2012, Norlander joined the Canadian Junior Development Squad in 2013. That is also when she made her debut with the Hawkeyes, where as a freshmen, she started 17 games and scored nine goals.
“Coming in as a freshmen I was lucky I got to play a lot of minutes and I did so for the rest of my three seasons,” she says.
Norlander ends her time in Iowa as a two-time second team All-American, 2015’s Big Ten Offensive Player of the year, and first team All-Big Ten honors in 2014 and 2015.
But after a full year of international hockey in 2015, which included a taste of success in the form of the bronze medal at the Pan Am Games (the first medal for the Canadian women at the Pan Am Games since 199), and also defeat (Canada’s women narrowly missed out on 2016 Olympic qualification) Norlander’s desire is now as clear as it has ever been.
“Obviously it’s disappointing we didn’t qualify for Rio, but I think that even provided me some extra motivation to really commit to being full-time with the program for the full next cycle leading up to Tokyo 2020 (Olympic Games).”
“Just being in that daily training environment with all the other girls on the team pushing each other and really making each other better is what is going to make our team better as a whole.
“I think that I can contribute a lot and I’m excited to.”