An inside look at the Varsity Blues field hockey offseason

Blues defender details how she prepares for the upcoming season

An inside look at the Varsity Blues field hockey offseason

As a Varsity Blues field hockey player, my fall semester is packed with lifts, practices, traveling, and competition, while my winter semester is considered my offseason. ‘Off’ may be the wrong word, considering how much work our team does in the winter to prepare for our competition season in the fall.

Our offseason field hockey training is essential to our team’s success. In order to improve my skills, build strength, and increase my fitness levels over the winter, I need to stay healthy and perform my best at workouts and at practice.

Similar to our competition season in the fall, sleep is essential. Depending on the week, we may only have one or two days off, which don’t always fall on the weekends, so relying on those days to catch up on sleep doesn’t work. For me, there is really only one way to stay well-rested, and that is sleeping at least six — but ideally eight — hours per night.

Nutrition is key to maximizing offseason training results. I never count how many calories I eat in a day, but I do make sure I fuel myself properly before workouts, practice, and competition. I try not to skip meals. Even if we’re training early in the morning and I’m not hungry, I will at least have a small snack. I always pack extra food like granola bars, fruit, or vegetables in case I get hungry or I don’t have time to go home before training.

Staying hydrated is another way I stay ready for training. Especially while running, I can tell when I’m dehydrated, and I usually struggle more on those days. To prevent this, I carry a water bottle with me everywhere and, if possible, I keep it where I can see it, constantly reminding myself to stay hydrated.

During the offseason, we work out as a team twice per week. All of our lifts include various different exercises, but one day is lower body-focused, while the other day is concentrated on upper body. Since field hockey is a running sport that involves speed and agility, we also train footwork at one lift and conditioning at the other.

Our lifts serve two major purposes that prepare us for our upcoming season in the fall. Firstly, they focus on staying healthy and preventing injuries. Secondly, since all of our data — the weight we lift and our fitness scores — is tracked, lifts provide opportunities to identify weaknesses, set goals, and monitor improvements.

Offseason practices only occur three times per week, and we play indoor field hockey — a variation on the outdoor game — instead of outdoor field hockey. Indoor field hockey requires a slightly different skill set, although it is transferable to the outdoor game, and it keeps us interested, as we’re always working toward and improving on something new.

We play tournaments once per month to maintain some competition and see how much we’ve improved through practices. Indoor practices allow us to try new skills and learn new tactics — all things that keep us driven and excited about returning to Back Campus in the fall.

Overall, our field hockey off-season isn’t really ‘off’ at all. Our training is focused and requires preparation and dedication. We increase our personal strength, fitness, and skills, while also bonding closer as a team through a shared atmosphere of hard work, trying new things, but most of all, a desire to be at our best when the season starts.

Blues field hockey team earn bronze at OUA Championships

Anna Costanzo leads Blues to victory over Queen’s Gaels

Blues field hockey team earn bronze at OUA Championships

A valiant team effort throughout the weekend led by midfielder Emily Ziraldo and forward Anna Costanzo wasn’t enough, as the Varsity Blues field hockey team was unable to win their fourth consecutive Ontario University Athletics (OUA) Championship, falling in the semi-finals against the rival Guelph Gryphons.

The Blues didn’t go home empty-handed though, defeating the Queen’s Gaels 3–2 in an action-packed contest on Sunday afternoon to earn bronze at the OUA Championships at York University’s Alumni Field.

Costanzo provided the Blues with their first goal of the match with one of the best finishes of the season. She stick handled around her defender one-on-one and tucked a diving effort into the back of the net after being tripped by Gaels goaltender Amanda Thoo. Gaels midfielder Ciara Morrison equalized less than 10 minutes later, but Ziraldo scored on a penalty stroke in the final minutes of the first half to provide Toronto with a 2–1 advantage.

Blues forward Nicole Spring added a third goal for Toronto to start the second half. Spring dove toward the goal to tip defender Nicole Hicks’ shot from the edge of the circle into the back of the net.

After defender Nicole Gaul scored off a penalty stroke with 11 minutes remaining, the Gaels rallied to close out the match. Midfielders Rebecca Gray and Mairead Corrigan pressed Toronto’s defenders looking for a late equalizer. The Blues ultimately held on to their one-goal advantage to earn bronze.

Toronto battled through adversity, injuries, and a rough start to the season. The team sat in fifth place midway through the season and utilized a five-match unbeaten run to earn the third seed entering the tournament.

The Blues avenged an early October loss against the McGill Martlets with a commanding 2–0 victory in the quarter-finals to open the tournament on Friday. Ziraldo, who, alongside Rachel Spouge, was named a 2017 OUA all-star a day prior, accounted for both of Toronto’s goals. Ziraldo entered the tournament hot off a first-half hat-trick performance against the Western Mustangs the previous weekend.

Toronto looked dominant against the Martlets, as defenders Julia Costanzo and Taylor Fleck shut down McGill’s attack led by offensive threats Tania Iskandar, Constanza Martinez-Ramirez, and Breeshey Roskams-Hieter. The Blues maintained possession and control of the tempo throughout the match. Ziraldo opened the scoring in the first minute, receiving a pass from Anna Costanzo, stick handled around a defender, and fired a shot past the Martlets goalkeeper. Her second goal of the match came early in the second half off a corner. Ziraldo won the ball at the top of the circle, angled her body away from her defender, and fired a backhanded shot into the back of the net.

The Blues’ lone loss of the tournament came in semi-finals at the hands of Guelph in a rain-soaked match on Saturday morning. Guelph, the eventual OUA Championship runner-ups, outmanoeuvred Toronto despite the conditions. The Blues had trouble connecting passes and creating a calculated attack, even maintaining their balance in a few instances during the match.

Guelph forward Olivia Finch opened the scoring in the seventh minute, and 10 minutes later fellow attacker Alexa Corrado added a second goal for the Gryphons. Anna Costanzo provided the Blues with a few quality chances but was unable to beat Guelph goaltender Morgan Kelley, who made five saves in the game.

Blues sweep Waterloo, Queen’s, and McGill over weekend

Field hockey team third in OUA standings

Blues sweep Waterloo, Queen’s, and McGill over weekend

The University of Toronto Varsity Blues field hockey team returned to strong form as the team defeated the Waterloo Warriors and Queen’s Gaels on Saturday, and the McGill Martlets on Sunday at Back Campus Fields.

The Blues kicked off action on Saturday morning with an impressive 4–0 victory over Waterloo. Toronto dominated possession throughout the first half, initiating spurts of attack and clashing with the Warriors defenders. In the fourth minute, third-year defender Julia Costanzo scored the opening goal of the game.

Maeve Chambers defended well throughout the game, and midfielder Megan Johansen possessed the ball often, distributing and initiating Toronto’s offense. After the ball was played down the right side, Morgan Sleeth received a pass and scored on a quick shot from inside the circle in the 28th minute to make the score 2–0. Blues fifth-year forward Nicole Spring launched a great attempt on net late in the first half but was unable to score.

Toronto continued attacking pressure early in the second half. Johansen produced quality chances on goal, eventually scoring in the 54th minute. Defender Taylor Fleck added Toronto’s fourth and final goal of the match in the 68th minute, and goalkeeper Sara Fredo earned the shutout in the victory.

The Blues finished the day with a key 4-1 victory over the Queen’s Gaels. Emily Ziraldo, Fleck, Anna Costanzo, and Isabella Watson provided the goals for Toronto, while the lone Queen’s tally came from Leigh Janssen in the 59th minute.

Toronto closed out the weekend with a 4-0 victory over McGill, avenging the 4–3 loss they suffered against the Martlets two weeks prior. Off a corner, Fleck opened the scoring with a goal in the fourth minute, her third of the weekend. Toronto pressed their attack against McGill to earn consecutive corners. Martlets forward Tania Iskandar had a partial break on goal, but Blues defender Nicole Hicks broke up the play. The second-year defender’s strong effort throughout the match played a key role in Toronto’s victory.

The Blues scored again in the 16th minute, as Johansen found the back of the net from close range. Sleeth added a goal in the 29th minute to extend Toronto’s lead to 3–0.

Despite the three-goal advantage, the Blues were unable to continue their same high level of execution in the second half. McGill began the half in aggressive fashion in search of the back of the net, with defender Breeshey Roskams-Hieter firing a shot just wide of goal.

Ziraldo jumped into the attack throughout the second half, launching multiple opportunities on frame. Ziraldo finally found the back of the net in the 57th minute. Anna Costanzo and Ziraldo provided the Blues with late chances for a fifth goal but were both unable to score.

Following the weekend sweep, Toronto now sits in third place in the OUA standings with a 5-3-2 record. The Blues return to action on October 22 against the University of Guelph and Western University.

Three-time OUA Championship twins talk field hockey

Emily and Hilary Ziraldo want to win a national championship

Three-time OUA Championship twins talk field hockey

The plastic cast on Hilary Ziraldo’s left arm begins midway on her forearm and extends around her injured thumb. The versatile Varsity Blues defender and midfielder hasn’t played since the preseason, when she suffered a non-sports related injury — accidentally cutting the tendon in her thumb with a knife.

Unable to fully participate in practice, Hilary’s reduced to running wind sprints up and down the sidelines at Back Campus Field while her identical twin sister, Emily, competes in a drill — standing at the top of the circle — and is ready to defend. 

“There’s… an unknown, undetermined healing time. The doctor said three months but that doesn’t align well with the team schedule, so we’re trying to figure something out to get back earlier than that,” Hilary says. “I haven’t really experienced injury too much before and this one’s a little bit frustrating because there’s nothing really wrong with me.”

For Hilary, the toughest part about being injured has been having to sit back and watch, unable to have an impact on the game or provide any significant help to her teammates. Having missed her entire first season due to injury — the same year Hilary earned OUA Rookie of the Year honours — Emily can empathize with her sister’s current perspective.

“It’s hard because I want her to be out there with me and I want to play with her,” Emily said. “I know how badly she wants to be playing and she can’t and I spend so much time with her that it hurts me too.”

As lifelong athletes, the Ziraldo twins were introduced to field hockey by their older sister before entering Bishop Allen Academy, where their sister played. At Bishop they often played the same sports together. “We both did a bunch of sports in high school, we played competitive volleyball when we were in Grade 8 as well, so then we both ran track and field for a few years,” Hillary says.

Hilary’s injury has challenged Emily, who believes playing alongside her sister helps her succeed and that they collectively play at their highest level when they’re on the field together. With recently promoted head coach Cassius Mendonça in charge, and the last season’s leading goalscorer Alison Lee gone, the team is different from last season, when Emily scored a late game-winning goal against Guelph University to extend the Blues field hockey program’s streak to three straight OUA championships, and Hilary scored two goals to earn bronze at the national championships.

“I’m not a prolific goalscorer so its a lot different for me. Coach [DeSouza] put me in forward and it was kind of a risky move,” Emily says. “I swung and it just kind of went in; I was just jumping up and down that was about it… [the goal] wasn’t that great to be honest.”

The disappointment of being just one goal away from playing for a national championship has fuelled the Blues, a team looking to build off past success and to adapt to the voice and style dictated by their new head coach. Emily points to Anna Costanzo as a potential candidate to lead the Blues attack, but she admits the team’s offense is more spread out in comparison to Lee’s 14-goal tally in 2016.

“[Anna’s] a great goal scorer, she and our older forwards like the returning girls are looking to pick that more up and obviously me I play defense and midfield but I’m looking to score more,” Emily says. “We have the talent to do it.”

Both Ziraldo sisters are locked in on the singular goal of winning a national championship.

“For us winning the OUA championships that’s like great, but that’s never the end goal… our team culture is that we expect to win and anything less is disappointing,” Hilary explains.

“I don’t know if I’ve thought about it, neither of us has played in a final… so it’s difficult until then to start thinking about that… before we get there,” Emily adds.

“Those games are pretty tough, each one is kind of the next step, so you have to get over that hill before you can get to the next one,” Hilary added.

Blues defeat Queen’s, lose to York and McGill over weekend

Varsity Blues field hockey weekend recap

Blues defeat Queen’s, lose to York and McGill over weekend

The University of Toronto Varsity Blues field hockey team defeated the Queen’s Gaels on Saturday, but they lost their final two games of the weekend to the York Lions and McGill Martlets at Back Campus Field on Sunday.

The Blues earned their second victory of the season with a 1–0 win over Queen’s University. Despite key opportunities in front of goal, both teams largely failed to find the back of the net. The Queen’s team was unable to finish, as Blues defenders Emily Ziraldo and Julia Costanzo applied strong pressure and were able to clear and distribute the ball well.

Blues first-year forward Anna Costanzo scored the only goal of the game: she received a pass in the circle, beat her defender, and lobbed a shot over Gaels goaltender Amanda Thoo in the 48th minute for her team leading fourth goal of the season.

Shannon Snediker had a late chance to double Toronto’s lead: Thoo dove to her right, but Snediker’s shot went just wide of the target. Ziraldo also had a good opportunity to add to Toronto’s lead, but her shot sailed high.

The Blues began action on Sunday with a tough 3–1 loss against their rival York Lions. Two minutes into the match, the Lions got on the board with a goal from Madison Mitchell. The Blues provided plenty of attack throughout the first half but failed to equalize.

York midfielders Frankie St. Louis and Amira Bear added two quick goals to open up the game in the 45th and 51st minutes respectively, stretching the Lions’ lead to 3–0. Toronto managed to get one back in the 64th minute as Taylor Fleck scored her third goal of the season on a corner, but the Blues were unable to make up the difference.  With the loss, Toronto’s regular season record against York falls to 0–2.

The Blues closed out the weekend with a 4–3 loss to McGill University in a tightly contested match on Sunday afternoon. Costanzo concluded her strong weekend with an early goal against the Martlets in the seventh minute for a 2–0 lead, two minutes after Megan Johansen opened the scoring on a corner.

McGill mounted a strong comeback, recording three straight unanswered goals — two in the first half — and Breeshey Roskams-Hieter netted the third one in the 53rd minute to overtake Toronto. Johansen tied the score in the 66th minute, adding her second goal of the match on another corner. The Blues were unable to net a go-ahead goal, and Constanza Martinez provided the game-winner for McGill in the 68th minute to close out the victory.

Following this weekend’s action, Toronto falls to fifth place in the OUA with a 2-3-2 record. The Blues will return to action on October 14 against the University of Waterloo at Back Campus Field.