By Ali Lee, Vikes Communications
VICTORIA, B.C. – Two perennial field hockey powers will open the 2015 Canada West season this weekend, Sept. 19-20, as the University of Victoria Vikes will play host to a home double-header against the UBC Thunderbirds. There is never a shortage of motivation as the two west coast powers have combined for 27 CIS titles since 1977.
Although the Vikes have yet to taste CIS gold since 2008, when they were also hosts, this year’s Victoria contingent can be confident as they enter the season experienced and under good guidance. Head coach Lynne Beecroft, also the reigning Canada West Coach of the Year, enters her 32nd season, while Vikes assistant coach Krista Thompson, who spent the summer coaching with the Canadian national team program, returns for her 19th season on the bench.
Beecroft and Thompson boast 11 players in their third year or higher, while the team will only graduate one player following this season. Among that senior group is 2014 CIS All-Canadian, Championship All-Star and Vikes leading goal scorer Amanda Kurianowicz (Calgary, Alta.). Canadian national team members Kathleen Leahy (Victoria, B.C.) and Rosie Beale (Victoria, B.C.) will also bring their summer training into the fold, as the pair were a part of the larger Canadian squad that helped prepare the women’s national team to win bronze at the 2015 Pan American Games in July. Both Beale and Leahy were 2014 Canada West All-Stars, while Leahy was also a CIS Championship All-Star.
The Vikes will also benefit from the talents of freshmen Alexis de Armond (Victoria, B.C.) who is arguably one of the top Canadian recruits for the 2015 season.
“We lose two players from last year, one of which was our fifth-year defender Alexis Veljacic,” said Beecroft, of the former Vikes defender and 2014 CIS Championship All-star. “We do gain Alexis De Armond who, I believe, is the top recruit of all high schools right now. She has a hard hit, a great back-hand (shot) and is very versatile in positioning.”
De Armond, a Mount Douglas Secondary graduate, is no stranger to top-level competition entering her Vikes season fresh off an 11-day Junior National training camp, one of many she has been a part of for the past two years. Joining De Armond will be Reynolds graduate and forward Jocelynne Charlton (Victoria, B.C.), niece of Olympian and former Vikette Nancy Mollenhauer. The Vikes also gain second year Elspeth McGillivray (Victoria, B.C.), a product of Glenlyon Norfolk School, who was set to play at the University of Connecticut in 2012 but returned home and continued to play locally for the past three seasons.
“We have a lot of fourth year players and our strength could very well be our experience,” added Beecroft about her 2015 team. “With that experience comes a lot of previous team cohesion and I truly believe they care a lot about each other.”
Second-year Vikes Kristina Walters-Shumka (Victoria, B.C.)and Jenna Dhillon (Victoria, B.C.), both with Junior National Team experience, will add to the Vikes’ depth in the middle of the park alongside fourth years Mei Lin Cheung (Kamloops, B.C.), Annie Walters-Shumka (Victoria, B.C.) and Andrea Jones (Vancouver, B.C.).
The UBC Thunderbirds will be after their fifth-straight CIS banner but will have to do so without 2014 CIS Rookie of the Year Lauren Logush (Richmond Hill, Ont.), CIS First Team-All-Canadian and Championship All-Star Poonam Sandhu (Vancouver, B.C.), and former Canada West Player of the Year Rachel Donohoe (North Vancouver, B.C.). Head coach Robin D’Abreo, though only in his second season with the T-Birds, has an impressive coaching and playing resume. The 2000 Olympian played 237 internationals for Canada and has coached with the Canadian senior women’s and men’s program at the senior and junior level.
D’Abreo’s 2015 squad boasts just one fifth year in defender Katrina Davis (West Vancouver, B.C.), while their top player is fourth-year midfielder Hannah Haughn (West Vancouver, B.C.). Haughn, a key player on the current Canadian women’s national team is currently in New Zealand playing in their National Hockey League with the Midlands team, but upon her return will likely be the T-Bird to watch. UBC will also look to third-year midfielder Sarah Keglowitch (Shawnigan Lake, B.C.) and third-year defender Sophie Jones (West Vancouver, B.C.).
The young Thunderbirds have 12 players in first or second year, while the Vancouver squad have two newcomers likely to make a big impact on the pitch. Rookie defender Sarah Lowes (Duncan, B.C) and second-year transfer Cailean Meredith (Delta, B.C.) will be key additions for D’Abreo’s squad who finished as last season’s Canada West Champions on goal differential over the Vikes.
This year the Vikes will host the 2015 CIS-FHC national championship from Nov. 5-8 and with that comes an automatic berth.
“It’s a bonus and also a curse being hosts of nationals,” Beecroft added. “We want to challenge our team to really earn a spot at nationals and that means starting off on the right foot now.”