The University of Victoria Vikes women’s field hockey team are set to appear in their 34th national championship appearance and third championship final in the last five seasons. The Vikes will face off in a best-of-three championship final series, Nov. 2, Nov. 3 and, if needed, Nov. 4. This is the second year of the new two-team format that will pit the Lions against the Vikes in a national final for the first since 1994. The teams have previously met in the final in 1994, 1989 and 1984, with Victoria winning all three of those match ups.
The 11-time national champion Vikes will be on the hunt for the program’s first McCrae Cup since last hoisting it in 2008 on home soil. The storied Vikes field hockey program won six of their titles in a nine-year span (1987-1995), while all 11 banners have been under the reign of current head coach Lynne Beecroft who is in her 35th season at the helm. Krista Thompson has been with the program for 22 of those seasons as assistant coach.
York will also make history as they return to the national final for the second-straight season after not making it to the championship tournament since 2007. Last season the Lions impressed with an 11-1 record to finish as OUA champions and U SPORTS silver medalists. The Lions are still on the hunt for their first U SPORTS banner but the program, under head coach Zeeshan Minhas. The Lions are led by last season’s U SPORTS Rookie of the Year Jaslan Stirling who continues to be an unstoppable offensive threat. Stirling scored York’s game-winner as they beat Guelph 1-0 in the OUA finals this season.
The Vikes enter the 2018 championship as the Canada West champions after goal differential broke a 4-1-3 record shared by both the Vikes and UBC Thunderbirds. The Canada West crown going to Victoria automatically ended the seven-year championship title run by the T-Birds, who have 19 national titles and eight in the last nine years. The Vikes have tasted gold very little in the past two decades winning the Canada West title just twice between 2003 and 2017, while only two national titles have been won since 2002.
The 2018 Victoria squad is turning a new leaf for the dynasty of Vikes field hockey and that might just be due to the talent in its youth. Thirteen players of the 20-member squad are in their first or second year, and a senior class of five book end the roster. New additions Anne-Sophie Hannes, of Germany, Judy Cristante, of Victoria, Erin Dawson, of North Vancouver, and Sam McCrory, of Ontario are all rookies that have earned roles on the team’s starting lineup. Hannes was named this year’s Canada West Rookie of the Year as her exceptional possession skills and unpredictable offensive talents were on display all season.
The team is led defensively by 2018 Canada West Player of the Year Anna Mollenhauer, a second year from Victoria who was also last season’s Canada West Rookie of the Year. Mollenhauer’s defensive intuition and outleting talents anchored the Vikes backfield that include second-year keeper Robin Fleming, first year Cristante, fifth year Kristina Walters-Shumka and 2016 Canada West Rookie of the Year and two-time Canada West All-Star Emily Wong.
The Vikes have a wealth of talent and diversity in skillset in the midfield as Hannes has been pivotal in the centre, while fifth years Lindsay Cole and Jenna Dhillon have provided experience for the youthful midfielders Cara Butler and Stefanie Sajko, both rookies from Victoria. That experience also helped the Vikes lead in conference scoring with 18 goals for and eight against.
Up front the Vikes have had their seniors come through on the score sheet as fifth years Delaney Booker and Stefanie Langkammer have potted three and five goals, respectively. Newcomers Dawson and McCrory have been lethal additions that have yet to show their full potential but made clear statements about their skill sets in the circle.
The Vikes weathered quite the season tying UBC 2-2 and 0-0 in their opening weekends of play. Dominating wins on the road in Calgary improved the Vikes’ record to four games undefeated at the end of September but a split weekend against the Thunderbirds in Victoria left the Vikes uncertain of their fate heading in to the final weekends of play. The Calgary Dinos forced a tie out of both the Thunderbirds and Vikes to leave both teams with even records (4-1-3). The Vikes had a seven-goals-for differential over the Thunderbirds and awaited the final two games of the season to learn their fate for a post-season. Two 1-0 victories were all that the Dinos would concede and the Vikes were crowned Canada West champions for the 18th time and awaited another week to learn that the best-of-three championship would be hosted at and against York who make a historic repeat back to the championship final.
The Vikes and Lions have not met at a championship, let alone a final, since 2007. The Lions will also rely on Canadian junior development squad member and second year midfielder Frankie St. Louis as well as lone fifth year Sara Vollmerhausen and fourth years Sydney McFaul and Alicia Gray. The rookie class that includes the B.C. likes of Claire Church, Chloe Walton, Prava Sandhu and Amber Sandhu have also been key to the Lion’s success despite boasting such a young roster. Vollmerhausen, Stirling and Amber Sandhu were all named OUA All-Stars for 2018.
The Vikes and Lions will play at 11:00 a.m. pacific time on Nov. 2 and Nov. 3, while, if needed, the teams will play a third game on Nov. 4, also at 11:00 a.m. pacific time. The games will be available by webcast live on pay-per-view at usports.live.
Canada West Record: 4-3-1 (GOLD)
Canada West titles: 18
Last Canada West title: 2015
U SPORTS Titles: 11
Last U SPORTS title: 2008
Canada West All-Stars: GK Robin Fleming, M Anne-Sophie Hannes, D Anna Mollenhauer, D Emily Wong
Canada West Rookie of the Year: Anne-Sophie Hannes
Canada West Player of the Year: Anna Mollenhauer
Regular season leading scorer: Stefanie Langkammer (5 goals)
OUA Record: 10-0-2 (1st)
OUA Championship: 3-0 (GOLD)
OUA titles: 9
Last OUA title: 2017
U SPORTS Titles: 0
Last U SPORTS Title: N/A
OUA All-Stars: F Jaslan Stirling, D Sara Vollmerhausen, F Amber Sandhu
Regular season leading scorer: Jaslan Stirling (22 goals)