By Ali Lee (UVic), Photos by Christian J. Stewart (ISN)

November 8, 2015, VICTORIA (CIS) – After being on the short end against their archrivals from Toronto in both the OUA final and in championship round-robin, the Guelph Gryphons came back in fiery style to defeat the Varsity Blues 4-2 in the bronze-medal match of the CIS-FHC women’s field hockey championship, Sunday afternoon at the University of Victoria.

Guelph players (L to R) Daniela Jelec (5), Erin Houle (21) and Moon Weijens (15) begin to celebrate the Gryphons 4-2 win over Toronto Sunday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

It marks a return to the national podium for Guelph, which had settled for fourth place a year ago following four consecutive third-place finishes from 2010 to 2013.

The Gryphons scored twice in each half to provide an exceptional finish for fifth-year standout Erin Houle and OUA coach of the year Michelle Turley. Olivia Lane and Laura Straus capitalized in the opening half, while Katherine MacMillan and Rebecca Plouffe scored their first championship goals in the second period. Keeper Morgan Kelley made five saves in the win.

1D4 0828
Guelph’s Daniela Jelec (left) tips the ball away from U of T’s Emma Wingrave (right) (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

“I am ecstatic,” said all-Canadian Houle after her final game as a Gryphon. “Toronto is a tough team to play. Every time it’s a battle and this whole tournament every team has played so well. Bronze feels just as good as gold right now. We played 70 full minutes and we kept telling each other ‘We’re not tired, we’re not tired’ and we pulled through.”

Guelph’s Erin Houle (left) and Moon Weijens (right) go to congratulate Olivia Lane (centre) on her goal in the first half Sunday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

The Varsity Blues put on an admirable performance and were guided by fifth-year seniors Tegan Stairs, the CIS player of the year, and Amanda Woodcroft, the 2014 CIS MVP. The supporting cast of Emma Woodgrave, Hilary Zirlado and Nicole Woodcroft were also solid throughout the match but the Varsity Blues just couldn’t connect in their finishing.

Guelph’s Ciara Condon (right) reaches for the ball in front of U of T’s Tegan Stairs (left) (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

Nicole Woodcroft tied the game 1-1 in the opening half, while Lauren Sudac capitalized in the second half to again tie the game at two. Rookie keeper Sara Fredo had a strong performance despite allowing four goals and throughout the tournament showed great improvement and promising signs for next season.

Toronto’s Amanda Woodcroft (right) winds up for a shot against the check of Guelph’s Laura Straus (right) (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

“We played as a team for sure, passing the ball, had a lot of chances and sometimes it’s just luck and it didn’t go our way today,” said midfielder Amanda Woodcroft after her last game as a Varsity Blue. “We knew what we had to. It was always the same game plan but unfortunately they came out just as hard and they wanted it just as much. It could have gone either way.”

Guelph’s Katherine MacMillan (right) carries the ball through mid-field against Toronto on Sunday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

This was the third matchup in two weeks for the OUA rivals and, despite the final score, it was an even affair right from the beginning. Guelph earned the first promising opportunity of the game as Allison Chute picked up a deep ball on the left side and released a reverse flick on goal but the rookie Toronto keeper was in fine form deflecting the ball off the end line in the 15th minute.

1D4 0841
Guelph’s Olivia Lane (centre) navigates her way through U of T defenders Nicole Goodman (left) and Emma Wingrave (right)

Just two minutes later and Nicole Woodcroft faced a tough challenge outside the Guelph circle, earning a penalty corner for Toronto. Alison Lee’s shot was saved by Gryphons keeper Kelley and the ball was cleared away well by fifth-year post man Straus.

Toronto had another opportunity from close range as Sudac found a waiting Emma Stairs at the penalty stroke mark. The fourth-year forward was unable to get a lot of power on the shot allowing Kelley to make the save.

U of T’s Ally Evanyshyn (right) is denied in close by Guelph defender Jessica Donaldson (left) while Guelph’s Moon Weijens looks on (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

Toronto had a miscue on a penalty corner in the 20th minute and it lead to a quick Guelph counter-attack down the right side. The Gryphons weren’t able to capitalize on that rush but seconds later a quick sideline free hit led to a cross ball from the left side. Guelph second year Lane was unmarked and blasted in a shot for the 1-0 lead.

Play continued evenly through midfield and Toronto were able to tie it up on an advantage played off a Moon Weijens foot outside the circle. Caught off guard Guelph left an unmarked Nicole Woodcroft near the stroke mark and the fourth year calmly buried it into the mesh to tie the game 1-1.

U f T’s Amanda Woodcroft drive through a pair of Guelph defenders during Sunday’s action (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

Just as play seemed to even up Guelph were able to generate a penalty corner in the 32nd minute. The ball came out to the top to a waiting Weijens and although her shot was blocked the ball fell nicely for Straus to one-time on the back hand for the 2-1 Guelph lead. That score remained entering the break.

Toronto looked to even it up in the 42nd minute when a quick spin from Amanda Woodcroft allowed the veteran to unleash a quick reverse stick shot. The ball rung off the cross bar setting the stage for what was to come.

A huge difference Sunday was the stellar goaltending of Guelph’s Morgan Kelley who made a number of big saves, including this pad save in the second half (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

In the 49th minute Toronto earned a penalty corner and although their initial play on an Emma Stairs shot was blocked third year Sudac was able to notch her first of the tournament. The Burlington, Ont. native blasted a low-angled shot that beat Kelley at the far post, tying the game 2-2.

Play was still even in midfield but Guelph did a good job to stay on the offensive. Chute made a powerful run down the right side and was able to cross the ball to the stroke mark. Toronto’s defence was caught off guard as rookie MacMillan was able to collect the ball with no pressure and flick it into the mesh for a 3-2 Guelph lead.

Guelph’s Daniela Jelec (left) gets set to clear the ball away from the poke check of Toronto’s Lauren Sudac (right) (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

The Gryphon’s, charged by their lead, continued to press and were rewarded on another penalty corner opportunity. A good play that didn’t involve Weijens or Straus caught the Varsity Blues off guard. The ball was pulled short side to Plouffe whose off-paced shot hit the foot of a Toronto defender and redirected into the goal to double Guelph’s lead, 4-2.

Toronto had two prime opportunities late in the game, both on penalty corners, but both shots were defended well by the Guelph corner unit. With four minutes to go Chute had picked the ball up at the 23-meter line and literally ran straight past Toronto defender’s Julia Constanzo and Lee into the circle. Chute’s shot rifled past the far post.

Toronto pressed hard and were led well by their seniors, Amanda Woodcroft and Tegan Stairs, but despite a strong performance from both, were unable to get their squad on the board. Guelph took the game 4-2 and celebrated ending their 2015 championship appearance with a medal. It was an especially sweet ending for fifth years Jessica Donaldson and Houle.

Following the game Nicole Woodcroft and Chute were named players of the game for their respective teams.

GUE: 2-2: 4
TOR: 1-1: 2

First half
GUE Olivia Lane (1), 21st minute
TOR Nicole Woodcroft (2), 32nd
GUE Laura Straus (1), 34th

Second half
TOR Lauren Sudac (1), 49th
GUE Katherine MacMillan (1), 55th
GUE Rebecca Plouffe (1), 58th

GUE: Morgan Kelley (W, 70:00, 2 GA, 2-1-1)
TOR: Sara Fredo (L, 70:00, 4 GA, 1-2-1)

Players of the game
GUE: Allison Chute (Greenfield Park, Que.)
TOR: Nicole Woodcroft (Waterloo, Ont.)


1. Victoria (Canada West champions: 7-0-1 regular season / no playoffs in CW)
2. Toronto (OUA champions: 11-1-0 regular season / 2-0 conference playoffs)
3. UBC (Canada West runners-up: 4-3-1 regular season / no playoffs in CW)
4. Guelph (OUA silver medallists: 11-1-0 regular season / 1-1 conference playoffs)