Though many U of T students don’t know anything about their sport or team, the 2010 CIS and 2011 OUA champion-Varsity Blues women’s field hockey team is looking forward to a season that will make their school proud.
The team, one of the most successful in U of T’s history, is hoping to rebound from last year’s disappointing fourth place finish at the national championships. The Blues entered the tournament ranked first in Canada, but quickly fell to the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds, and later to the University of Calgary Dinos and University of Guelph Gryphons, to finally land in fourth place.
“It was really hard finishing fourth last year. The worst thing was knowing that we had the potential and the talent to have been in the final. It was probably one of the most frustrating finishes to a tournament that I’ve ever been in,” says Blues veteran Heather Haughn.
“But,” says Haughn, “I think, if anything, the disappointing finish last year has only impacted this year’s team positively. It’s allowed us to learn from the mistakes we made and made us even more determined to succeed this year.”
“The team’s strengths last year were definitely our coaching staff, technical skill, our ability to work as a unit, and the depth and diversity of our players. This year we have a lot of the same strengths and are only adding to them with a lot of new talent.”
The team has a long history of success, winning the first-ever CIS championship in 1975, and more recently recording an incredible 10 triumphs at the last 15 OUA championships. The Blues are led by award-winning coach John DeSouza, who earned recognition as the OUA and CIS coach of the year in 2011.
The Blues can also count many celebrated players among their ranks, with four CIS all-Canadians on the team in 2011. This year the team’s roster is full of talent, including 2011 OUA and CIS rookie of the year Amanda Woodcroft, 2010 CIS championship MVP and 2009–2011 all-Canadian Kaelan Watson, and veterans Britt Siu, Haughn and Sara Ali.
The team’s extensive experience has influenced their strategy for this year and the mindset they are trying to achieve going into the season.
“This year I think we need to take everything one step at a time,” cautions Haughn. “Last year I think we got ahead of ourselves a bit and instead of building gradually we tried to jump right to the big leagues. I think as long as we stay in the process and mentally prepare ourselves we can succeed.
“We definitely have our eyes set on nationals, but there are a lot of other goals we need to fulfill before we get there. We want to play Blues-style field hockey which is quick, dynamic and strategic and we won’t settle until we get there.”
The team will be under even more pressure to succeed this year, as the university hosts the 2012 CIS tournament. But Haughn isn’t worried that this will hurt the team’s chances.
“Hosting the CIS championship does add a bit of pressure to succeed, but I don’t think it is anything we can’t handle. Especially because it brings with it so many good things. There is nothing like playing at home in front of everyone you know. You get so much more support and there is more incentive to win. You’re reminded of what makes it so special to be a Varsity Blue and what you are representing when you put on a jersey.”
“Of course there are a lot of things we still need to work on, but a lot of it will come during the season. We need to play games in order to improve. I’m just excited to get going. I have a really good feeling going into this year.”
The Blues kicked the season off in spectacular fashion, winning their first two games of the season in Waterloo over the weekend. Toronto defeated the Waterloo Warriors 2–0 on Saturday with sisters Tegan and Emma Stairs notching both of the Blues goal. U of T then recorded their first shutout of the year on Sunday with a 7–0 win over the Queen’s Gaels in which six different players scored including Alex Thicke who had two goals, and both the Stairs sisters.
Haughn is optimistic. “We’ve got lots of potential and I want to see where we can go with it!”