Powerhouses to face off in UBC field hockey opener

Rachel Donohoe

VANCOUVER – A new era begins for UBC Thunderbirds women’s field hockey as Robin D’Abreo gets set for his first Canada West and Canadian Interuniversity Sport games as the program’s head coach.

D’Abreo becomes just the third bench boss for UBC since 1977, following Gail Wilson and Hash Kanjee, both of whom were multiple CIS championship winners.

D’Abreo brings a wealth of experience to his new job. As a player, he represented Canada at the Olympics, World Cup, Commonwealth Games and Pan American Games. As a coach, he has led Canada’s men’s senior national team as well as the women’s Under-17 squad. D’Abreo was most recently the assistant coach for the senior women’s national team. 

In Kanjee’s last year, the Thunderbirds completed a historic three-peat in 2013, becoming the first team in CIS history to claim three McCrae Cup titles in a row.

This year’s team will be much different following the graduation of several stars, such as captain Miranda Mann as well as Bea Francisco, Kate Gillis, Natalie Sourisseau, Shanlee Johnston and Abigail Raye, all of whom had national team experience. Raye was the CIS championship Most Valuable Player last season.

“I’m very excited to play our first game and both myself and the team are looking forward to the formidable challenge ahead,” said D’Abreo. “The group has had to absorb a lot of change both on and off the field this season. We have only been preparing in earnest for the last five weeks but the players have responded well to a new system and style of play. They have been absolute in their commitment and relentless with their desire to improve. They have shown passion and pride in their team and respect not only the opportunity in front of them, but also the legacy and proud tradition left behind by so many fantastic players before them.”

Despite the losses, the Thunderbirds were named as the top team in the league in a preseason poll of the Canada West coaches.
UBC will continue to have a solid defensive corps as reigning Canada West Player of the Year Rachel Donohoe returns, as does 2013 Canada West Rookie of the Year Sophie Jones and senior Katrina Davis.

The midfield will be anchored by senior Poonam Sandhu who will be joined by the always dependable Gabrielle Jayme and 2011 Canada West Rookie of the Year Sarah Keglowitsch, who returns to UBC after a two-year absence.

The forward line will be led by Hannah Haughn, the Canada West’s leading goal scorer in 2013, who found the net seven times for UBC. Fourth-year player Molly Driscoll will add additional skill and speed to the attack.

Lauren Logush and first-year talent Rowan Harris take on the goalkeeping duties for the team.

Logush, Haughn and Sandhu all played for Canada at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland in the summer.

“This is a new team with returning strengths and lots of new talent,” said D’Abreo. “Our first games will represent an invaluable opportunity to assess where we are as a team and what specifically we will need to prioritize moving forward.”

UBC opens its eight-game Canada West regular season this weekend and will look to begin their campaign in similar fashion to how the team ended its 2013 CIS Championship run versus the Victoria Vikes. The two squads face off in the Thunderbirds’ season opener on Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. at Wright Field, followed by an identical matinee start on Sunday.
UBC had a 2-0-2 home record while being 2-1-1 away during the 2013 regular season and went a perfect 2-0 against Victoria when it mattered most, at the Field Hockey Canada-CIS Women’s Field Hockey Championship en route to its national title. Both will challenge for the Canada West title in the three-team conference featuring the two BC teams as will the youthful Calgary squad.
Historically, the Thunderbirds have the edge over the Vikes with a 10-2-5 record since 2010 but last season was an outlier, however. Victoria had the Thunderbirds’ number going undefeated in head-to-head action during the regular season, including a win and three ties. UBC managed to turn the tide in the playoffs, and made history winning its 15th McCrae Cup whilst becoming the only school to ever win three straight national titles.
Victoria has had the luxury of starting off their season last weekend, winning two straight against Calgary, shutting out the Dinos on both occasions and combining for seven goals. In the first game, the Vikes’ offense took over as the team scored six times, all from different contributors. The Vikes also went 2-0-1 in its preseason including impressive wins over Yale and Brown during its Ivy League exhibition tour in late August.
The Vikes will be hungry to defend their Canada West regular season crown after edging out the Thunderbirds in last season’s standings with an undefeated record of 5-0-3. The Vikes’ Canada West title in 2013 was its first since 2002.  
The UBC defence will look to contain the Vikes offence, which looked in mid-season form during its opening weekend of action.
Saturday’s affair will be the first of four games against Victoria this season for the Thunderbirds during its brief eight-game regular season. The Thunderbirds will not play at home again until their final weekend series of the season, October 18-19, a stretch of almost a month.