Over the past three years, Sierra and Sydney Blackburn have traded in stick and ring for stick and ball. The Kitchener, Ontario natives, twin sisters and former ringette players have found a home on the U18 Junior National Team that departs for France on April 12.
The Blackburn sisters attend Bluevale Collegiate Institute, they share a group of friends, and they have both committed to playing field hockey at Waterloo University next year. The two are best friends and, even though Sydney is a few minutes older, where one goes, the other is likely to follow. This includes their rapid rise through the Field Hockey Canada NextGen program.
According to the sisters, they fully committed themselves to field hockey right around the start of the COVID pandemic. They have a slab of turf in the garage and despite the world being shut down, they were still able to get some stick on ball. As things opened up and teams started reforming, the Blackburns had made the jump to truly elite high school and youth players. They both played on the U16 National Team last summer, in a test series against USA in Vancouver, an experience that Sydney said helped them take that next step to international play.
“There was just us and one other girl from Ontario, so there was a challenge adjusting to a different style of play. But everyone on the team was really sweet and inclusive,” Sydney said. “It was a big steppingstone for us. It was a really good experience, especially to see and play at the international level. It helped us grow as field hockey players.”
Being two of three Ontario-based players on a majority BC-based national team again this year has some challenges, the sisters said, but they noted that the athletes from out west have welcomed them and made them feel included. According to Sierra, it really feels like a team and not a group of individuals.
“Last year, we knew we’d feel a little on the outside, because most of them had all practiced and played together. But they were really welcoming and we’re playing again with some of those same girls in France,” Sierra said. “No matter what club we’ve played for, or our backgrounds, when we come together, we’re not individuals, we’re a team.”
Sydney added, “We met a lot of them last year, then we reconnected again at Nationals. And as soon as we’re back on the same team, we’re pushing each other and trying to achieve a common goal.”
Sierra and Sydney Blackburn will represent Canada on the U18 National Team this April. Photos/provided
The U18 National Team will depart for France on April 12. There, the team will play a series of test matches against the French youth national team. Having been on the team last year and having played on tours in Tampa and other spots in the States, the sisters feel well-versed in the North American style of play. Sierra said this will be their first tour overseas, and they are eager to learn and experience different styles of hockey.
“I’m looking forward to seeing the hockey environment in Europe and to see how we do,” Sierra said. “I’m also looking forward to receiving coaching and to see how we adapt to the teams and players we play against.”
The Blackburn twins currently play for A&C Field Hockey Academy in the GTA and are making the jump to U SPORTS hockey next year at Waterloo. There is a long history of successful national team and indoor national team players from the Kitchener/Waterloo region. Sydney said she looks up to Women’s National Team player, Jordyn Faiczak, who went to their same high school, and Sierra added that they both look up to Indoor National Team captain, and WNT athlete Alison Lee as well.
Looking forward past this summer, the Blackburns are setting their sights on playing well at Waterloo and taking the next steps through the NextGen program, Indoor program, and keeping a firm eye on the next Junior National Team cycle.
“Playing at Waterloo is the next steppingstone for us,” Sydney said. “But also, during the winter, playing indoor and potentially pursuing that at the national team level. From there, we want to try out and make the Junior National Team.”
Sierra added they both know how much work and focus is required if they want to keep improving and getting selected for teams.
“It requires determination, working out, nutrition and focusing every day on your goals,” Sierra said. “We remind ourselves that hard work pays off. Even if that means just finding the time for a little stick and ball on off days.”
The Blackburn sisters’ hard work and determination has paid off thus far. Both are looking forward to traveling to France with the U18 National Team. To follow the team’s results, make sure to tune into Field Hockey Canada’s website and channels during their tour. More information regarding schedule details and tour information will be posted in the coming weeks.