Thunderbirds win record 13th McCrae Cup

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Michel Belanger

CALGARY (CIS) – The UBC Thunderbirds claimed a record 13th McCrae Cup title with a 3-1 win over the host Calgary Dinos Sunday afternoon to wrap up the 2011 FHC-CIS women’s field hockey championship at Hawkings Field.

Tournament all-star Poonam Sandhu netted the game-winner for UBC, while championship MVP Robyn Pendleton, named the CIS player of the year prior to the competition, added an insurance marker with her fourth goal of the tourney to lock up the title for the T-Birds.

“The championship trophy is the one I really wanted, and it’s great to cap off my career with a win at nationals,” said Pendleton, who was also named tournament MVP in 2009 following UBC’s 12th triumph. “It couldn’t have gone down a better way.”

Pendleton’s goal came in the final minutes of the contest to put the game away. With her side up 2-1, the Victoria native carried the ball into space in the circle and wired a high shot past Calgary goalkeeper Steph Petrowitsch to dash any hopes of a Dinos comeback.

Sandhu’s game-winner was the key goal of the match, however, coming on the 44th minute off a penalty corner after the Dinos had tied the game up just before the half.

“We called my play, which I was stoked about, and Miranda Mann just had a good shot from the top and I found the ball, and it was just wide open right there,” said Sandhu. “The goalie came out pretty far and I just got it past her.”

“Our second goal was huge, because it turned the pressure on them to get back at us and it opened up a few doors for us,” said UBC head coach Hash Kanjee, whose team had dropped a 2-1 decision to Toronto in last year’s gold-medal game and was playing in a third straight CIS final.

The T-Birds got on the board first with a goal from Sara McManus in the ninth minute on a penalty corner. Her shot from the top of the circle had eyes for the far corner of the net, sneaking through traffic to put UBC up 1-0.

But the Dinos responded just before the half with a penalty corner goal of their own. After a great individual effort by Lindsay Koch to win the corner, Kaitlyn Longworth scored her tournament-leading sixth goal with a blast to the far corner.

“We always knew they were going to score,” said Kanjee. “It was a matter of us getting more than Calgary was going to get. One of our games this year, they tied us 4-4. We scored three up on them and they came back and scored four, so we know they can score against us and they have some kids who get in the right places at the right times and get some good touches on the ball.”

“UBC is a very good team,” said Calgary head coach Jenn Swagar. “We got some momentum with that late goal in the first half and we executed our game plan for maybe the first 10 minutes of the second, but there was a lull and we never got into the flow. They have some very experienced players, and that showed up today.”

The T-Birds generated most of their chances off penalty corners. They totalled 11 in the match, nine of which came in the first half. They also put 11 shots on goal compared to four for the Dinos.

Along with Sandhu and Pendleton, Abigail Raye was also named a tournament all-star for UBC. She missed the entire regular season with a broken rib and only saw game action in the CIS tournament.

“We have a great team and they were really accepting of me just coming in for the finals,” said Raye. “We all played really well and they worked hard all season and really deserved the championship so I’m glad I could help a bit.”

Longworth, Carolina Romeo, and Serena Lockhart were Calgary’s all-stars.

Bea Francisco made three good saves to earn her fifth win of the tournament in goal for the T-Birds. McManus was named player of the game for UBC, while Courtney Duggan earned the nod for Calgary.

Pendleton was named tournament MVP thanks to her four goals and countless impressive runs to pressure opposing teams and set up scoring chances.

“I’m very proud of her. She’s fun to watch,” Kanjee said of his fifth-year star player, who returned to the T-Birds this season after representing Canada at the Commonwealth Games in 2010. “You just sit back and enjoy what she brings to the pitch. She’s totally consistent, great skills and you never know what she’s going to do next. She’s hard to tie down.”

“It’s great to perform at this tournament,” said Pendleton. “There’s always a lot of nerves going on, and especially today in such an exciting environment, so it was good to have a great team performance when it counted.”

It was a bittersweet ending to a spectacular year for the host Dinos, who welcomed the tournament to Calgary for the first time since 1994 and made their first appearance since 1997. The second-place finish in Canada West and the silver medal at the CIS championship were both best-ever results for the Dinos – a long way from the team that hadn’t won a game in three years when Swagar took over the program in 2007.

“It’s overwhelming, actually,” said Swagar, who played for the Dinos from 1991-96. “It was our first-ever second place finish, and I’m so proud of what we were able to accomplish this season. Hopefully with the plan and foundation we have in place, it will be easier to get back to this level.”

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