In 1994, Canada inducted two national sports: hockey for the winter and lacrosse for the summer. At U of T, the varsity women’s lacrosse team plays the game with enough dedication and passion to make the nation proud of its decision.
Coached for 20 years by Todd Pepper, the team holds practices four days a week, which last anywhere from one and a half to two hours during the season. During the off-season, the players begin preparations for the next year as early as January, undergoing conditioning exercises to stay fit and competitive. Such dedication and willingness to work hard, as well as experience and athletic ability, are just some of the criteria that Pepper looks for when picking his team.
Though the learning curve was steep when he first started coaching, Pepper has adjusted well. Described as “phenomenal” by his players, Pepper more conservatively refers to his coaching style as one that is “friendly and fair.” He tries to keep his expectations clear, and maintains good working relationships with the team.
Clearly, this effort has paid off. Last season, the team defeated McMaster and finished in fifth place at the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) Championships. This year, the team is well on its way to repeating its previous success. The team has had a solid run so far, with a record of nine wins and two losses. Captain Tasha Watkins, a third-year life science major, attributes this streak to the team’s “smart game” in lacrosse’s fast and physical environment. “We know how to make quick passes. We know how to settle down and make smart choices on the field,” said Watkins.
This incisive attitude towards the game may be inspired by the value that both the players and the coach place on school. “[The players] are student athletes, and the word ‘student’ comes before ‘athlete’,” remarked Pepper.
“When you come into school expecting to be a varsity athlete, you know that the time commitment is going to be huge,” Watkins admitted. Though the players often miss prominent events during the season, such as Halloween festivities, Watkins feels that the athletes are still have the full university experience.
“We are all amazing friends, and, honestly, I think if you want to join a varsity sports team for any reason, it would be for that,” said Watkins. Indeed, both the coach and the captain cite the long team practices, bus rides, and activities as experiences that mold the team into a close-knit family.
Pepper is excited for the future, having been graced with a fantastic combination of talented new and experienced returning players. Currently placed near the top of Ontario’s Eastern Division, the Varsity Blues’ girls are hoping to qualify for and win a medal at the OUA Championships at Queen’s. Closer to home, the team is looking to reschedule a rained-out game to October 27 at Varsity Stadium.