Lessons I learned from my rookie season

How my first year on the Varsity Blues field hockey team shaped my varsity career

Lessons I learned from my rookie season

First year is hard for everyone, but it is often especially hard for student-athletes, as rookie season is an overwhelming mass of new experiences. Entering my first season on the Varsity Blues field hockey team, I was thrust into a world of new teammates, workouts, practice schedules, classes, and responsibilities. I remember my first season as a difficult transition period — I had to adjust quickly, especially because we compete in the fall — but the lessons I learned then are still relevant now in my third year, and they often inform my actions both on and off the field.

My rookie season also taught me to value my teammates. Playing a varsity sport is a unique opportunity to form lasting friendships. The moment I joined the team, I gained 20 new friends and relied on their support during the beginning of my first year. Since I was usually training at the downtown campus, I didn’t know anyone at UTM, where I attended classes. My teammates were always there to talk to me, give me advice, and support me whenever I needed it most. It was during that first month, as I navigated two unfamiliar campuses, that my teammates made me feel like I belonged somewhere — they became my family. This is why when new players join our team each season, I make sure to welcome them, include them, and support them the way my teammates did when I was a rookie.

My rookie season also taught me how to be a good leader. In my first year, our leadership team comprised of four highly experienced players, three of whom were in their fifth season and three of whom had national team experience. Collectively, they kept us motivated and focused, made sure everyone felt included, and maintained a high level of intensity at practice and workouts. Whenever one of our captains told me I was doing a good job, it always meant a lot and encouraged me to keep improving. Now, as one of the captains of the team, I remember how my captains made me feel during my rookie season, and I strive to create similar experiences for our first years.

My rookie season introduced me to the Blues field hockey culture of excellence. Our coach always encouraged us to be better. Winning games was not enough; we could always be faster, fitter, smarter, more skilled, and play better as a team. We spent countless hours working out, running suicides, watching videos, drawing plays, and practicing to improve as a team. I felt everyone around me — my coaches, my teammates, and our support staff — give their best effort to ensure our success. This atmosphere existed long before my rookie season, continues today, and will continue in the future, even long after I graduate. It’s important to me that I instill this work ethic in my younger teammates just as my veteran teammates did for me in order to ensure that this tradition of excellence continues.

Moreover, my rookie season taught me how to earn my spot on the field. During my first season we had a big squad that required we leave five players off every game day roster. During the first three weeks of my rookie season, I watched half our games from the stands. By the fourth week, I was motivated to prove I was good enough by performing my best at practice and in games. Eventually, I would even earn a spot on our provincial and national championship rosters. My experience vying for a spot on our competition roster taught me to value every minute I play in my Blues uniform. I know I’ve earned every opportunity, and I’m reminded to continue working hard to earn my playing time.

My rookie season taught me what it feels like to win. During the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) final of my rookie season, we were down 3–0 early in the game, but we refused to lose. We fought back and ended up scoring four unanswered goals to win 4–3 and capture the OUA banner. I vividly remember moments from that game: celebrating our tying goal, watching Amanda Woodcroft score a diving top corner reverse stick shot — probably the best goal I’ve ever seen — to give us the lead, defending a penalty corner as the seconds wound down, and, finally, sprinting to join my teammates in a group hug as the buzzer sounded. I will never forget the shared determination to win and the celebration of achievement our team felt that day. In every game I play, I chase these emotions.

My rookie season also taught me how to lose. During our final round robin match at the U SPORTS championship, a last-minute goal knocked us out of the finals. Unlike the win a week prior at the OUA Championship, I didn’t hoist the trophy in the air this time. Instead, it was ripped away in a split second. I still feel the crushing, heart-stopping defeat I experienced standing on the field at the University of Victoria when I realized our chance to win a national championship was over. As a rookie, I experienced the reality of a demoralizing defeat and decided I never wanted to feel that way again. During difficult workouts or practices I always remember this feeling — reminding myself how horrible I felt that day and motivating myself to keep working so that I never feel like that again.

Everything I experienced in my rookie season follows me. As a student-athlete, it influences me everyday. Traits I picked up from my veteran teammates have shaped the way I support our younger athletes. The team’s culture of excellence has never stopped since my first day in a Blues uniform — and I continue to pass on this tradition to my new teammates. I value every minute I play — striving for success and constantly motivated by memories of defeat.

The sweeper diaries

A Varsity Blues event staff member details his experiences cleaning the Goldring court

The sweeper diaries

This year, I was lucky enough to be a part of the Varsity Blues event staff for the men’s and women’s basketball teams. Every time I received the staffing schedule before the first basketball double header at the Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport, I remember feeling slightly disappointed that I was always assigned to be a sweeper. Back then, I couldn’t wait to eventually graduate to the scoring table, but, fortunately for me, that time never came. I quickly realized that sweeping the sweat off the court was the best possible gig I could ask for.

When I was growing up, I would watch those few young volunteers at NBA games pass the balls to players at shootaround, give them water on the bench, or sweep the floor during the game. I would always wonder how in the world those kids got so lucky — I was so envious that they got to be so close to the action every single night. Somehow, I stumbled upon the same position.

Although Blues basketball is not quite the NBA, each game is extremely well programmed, and everyone playing, working, or in attendance is fully invested in the game. This environment made the sweeper job truly fun.

Watching the game from under the hoop is probably the best view in the gym. I felt much more secure in my chair with my mop than I would have felt sitting at the scoring table, which seemed intimidating.

From under the hoop I could get a close look at the coaches, bench, players, and referees. Whenever there was a rough play under the hoop, I could see it first hand. I could judge whether I thought there was a foul and anticipate an argument between player and referee. I could catch every missed box out or defensive rotation, guess whether a player would be subbed out, and look to see the coach’s reaction.

Since basketball players are among the most visually exposed athletes with their light outfits and lack of headgear, I could read each player’s mood and engagement throughout each contest. The unique insight my position gave me allowed me to predict which direction a game would go. Confident stature, smiles, and a loud cheering bench showed me that they weren’t going to lose the lead, while blank faces and arguing with referees was a sign they might be vulnerable.

Each time a player fell down, I would jump out of my seat, weasel my way between players, and wipe up the wet spot left by the player. Sometimes, the referee would even look directly at me and point to the wet spot.

One night, after sweeping up a really big wet spot, the referee looked at me and asked, “Hey, do you do houses or apartments?” I responded, “Of course. Cash only though!”

Another night, the ball was wedged between the backboard and the rim, causing an awkward pause in the game. I assumed the referee or one of the girls would jump up and poke it out of the rim, but about 30 seconds had passed and no one had done anything. Fifth-year guard Rahshida Atkinson then yelled, “Isaac! Get the ball!” So I jumped up and released the ball from the rim with my hand and received a round of applause.

I quickly sat back down, feeling like I was overstepping my job description.

I had plenty of flattering interactions throughout the season. One referee told me that I was the best sweeper in Ontario University Athletics, and I even had the pleasure of goofing around with the mascot when they would come, grab my mop, and help clean up the court.

These were just some small anecdotes of my vital, yet often unnoticed, position with the Blues events staff — a true honour.

The backbone of Blues soccer’s backline

Blues defenders Laura Krkachovski and Christine Mulligan reflect on their varsity careers

The backbone of Blues soccer’s backline

It’s exactly 9:00 am on an overcast March morning when Laura Krkachovski and Christine Mulligan walk into the room, coffees in hand. Outside, the clouds have dyed the sky a silver-grey hue that streams delicately into the room, creating a pensive aura befitting the occasion. The two Varsity Blues stars sit, ready to reflect on their storied soccer journeys.

Krkachovski wears a maroon hoodie with a slightly faded Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) logo plastered across it; Mulligan wears a light top. The two are fifth-year Blues athletes — two-year co-captains of the women’s soccer team who have dressed 153 times combined — and, as Krkachovski says, “Obviously we’re best friends off the field.”

In October, the pair received a frame commemorating their contributions, before they faced a tough 1–0 Ontario University Athletics (OUA) playoff defeat that called time on their exceptional Blues careers.

Formative years

Krkachovski and Mulligan, lifelong defenders, faced very different journeys en route to becoming the beating heart of the Blues defense.

Out of high school in Markham, Krkachovski was being courted by both U of T and McMaster’s soccer programs and made her decision with a primary focus on athletics.

Mulligan, on the other hand, “lived really close to UBC” and sought pastures new. “I also really liked the academic programs that U of T has so that was a big draw for me and it worked out as well that I could play soccer.”

It would be Mulligan who would break into the starting lineup in 2013, impressing with two goals: one a headed effort and the other a 40-yard belter, both of which she describes as “flukey.”

Their rookie campaign ended with a fifth-place finish in the CIS Championship, with Mulligan playing all but eight minutes of action in the three CIS games; Krkachovski made the bench for the last of the three games.

In a reversal of fortunes, Krkachovski thrived in second year while Mulligan played just five times before sustaining a season-long injury. Unfortunately, Krkachovski’s breakout season would end in defeat at the OUA quarter final stage.

Heart of the defense

With Krkachovski having shone in 2014 and Mulligan returning from an injury layoff eager to recapture her rookie form, the Blues had a promising new defensive partnership — and blossoming friendship — heading into 2015.

“Every morning before game day we’d meet for a coffee… enjoy it, then go to the game,” says Krkachovski. It’s pleasing, then, to see that even five months after the season’s finale, they’re still enjoying a morning coffee together.

“We like to make a lot of jokes when we’re playing,” says Mulligan. “Often our teammates will look back and we’re laughing.” Mulligan adds that the easygoing chatter cements a strong understanding on the pitch between one another, and Krkachovski agrees.

“She knows when she’s losing me… she’ll be like, ‘Come on, I’m losing you and you’re not talking anymore.’ She definitely keeps me going when I need that,” says Krkachovski.

Krkachovski takes a brief pause before continuing her thought. It’s the kind of pause that just might, in other circumstances and between any other pairing, constitute an awkward break, but sitting next to Mulligan, it’s a comfortable, shared silence.

“Say we mess up and you look up and the whole team is looking back at you. You could read the disappointment on [their] face, but then I have her beside me or she has me to be like, ‘Okay, it’s fine. We’re still okay, everything is going to be fine,’” says Krkachovski. “That went a long way.”

Still, as co-captains, the two maintained an open channel of communication with the rest of the team, and they would stand up for their squad without hesitation.

“She can be harder on people, and I can be the nicer person sometimes. We just balance each other out,” says Mulligan.

“Mull’s more of the ‘motherly supportive’ type,” says Krkachovski with a smirk. “Put that direct quote in there.”

Their complementary technical skills also solidified their leadership and status as strong role models.

Krkachovski’s main strengths are her passing accuracy and vision, while Mulligan’s lie in her aerial presence and long ball abilities — think of Krkachovski as the ball-playing foil to Mulligan’s limited defender role. Mulligan is comfortable holding back and sweeping to accommodate Krkachovski, whom she jokingly describes as “a striker at heart.”

In 2015, the two dressed for all 17 games, with Krkachovski starting every one. She would also score her first goal for the Blues that season. She considers this fact for a moment and looks at Mulligan for confirmation.

“Is that where you shot it almost straight in the air?” offers Mulligan, sparking Krkachovski’s recollection.

“It was for sure going to Bloor Street,” says Krkachovski.

“She was probably five yards away from the net.”

“And I cranked it.”

“Straight up.”

“And yeah it went bar down. It was pretty good,” says Krkachovski, satisfied with the back-and-forth recount of the two-and-a-half-year-old landmark. The pair’s Blues careers are so closely intertwined that this becomes a common occurrence as they piece together memories.

Krkachovski would end 2015 with an OUA East second team all-star honour. “By the end of third year I was really starting to get confident, know my role,” she says. “And then fourth year I just went balls to the wall.”

In their fourth year, 2016, the two started 14 games together, and Krkachovski was again rewarded for her balls-to-the-wall efforts with an OUA East second team all-star honour. However, despite her and Mulligan’s best efforts, the team would fall at the OUA playoff stage for the second year in a row.

Disappointment and development

The next question floats in the air for a few seconds, eliciting a longer pause from Krkachovski and Mulligan. “What’s the biggest life lesson the two of you have taken out, being part of the Varsity Blues program?” Krkachovski then submits an affirmative response that elicits Mulligan’s agreement.

“No matter how much hard work you put into something, it’s not always going to go your way.

“The amount of effort her and I put in at least the past three years straight… and then we still end up in sixth place. We still end up with only five clean sheets.”

“You still have to work hard on everything you want to do well in your life,” adds Mulligan. “But hard work doesn’t equal success, it just equals a better chance of success, I guess.”

Despite their unrelenting dedication, their team has been dumped out at the playoff stage of the OUA for the last three seasons. In 2015, they finished fourth in their OUA regular season conference standings with four clean sheets. In 2016 and 2017, they finished sixth, with five clean sheets each year.

Soccer is a game of such fine margins that a small slip-up at any point could be costly. Especially as defenders, Krkachovski and Mulligan are acutely aware of this. “It’s not a glamorous role,” says Mulligan.

While clean sheets are never truly a barometer of defensive success, the disappointing truth is that the team never made it back to the CIS Championship — or U SPORTS, as it was rebranded in 2016 — level after their first-year adventure, where they qualified as the hosts.

Though nice, Krkachovski’s CIS hoodie bears an uncomfortable weight as a reminder of a tournament that the Blues have not progressed to in four years — a stage that she and Mulligan undoubtedly deserve to have played more on.

But despite the Blues’ shortcomings on the pitch, Krkachovski and Mulligan’s everyday successes for Toronto as leaders, teammates, and friends are insurmountable. “We’re all really good friends with the rest of our team,” says Mulligan. “All my best friends pretty much are from soccer.”

While it may be cheesy to say, it’s these experiences that truly define success.

SEYRAN MAMMADOV/Courtesy of THE VARSITY BLUES

So it goes

Krkachovski offers her own cheesy pearl of wisdom to her previous point: “I know this one’s super cheesy, but just to actually enjoy it. You get so caught up… and all of a sudden we’re like, ‘It’s our grad game. Now what?’”

That’s a question she’s had to contend with after the end of the season. Over the past five years, she’s relied on soccer to give her a release from stress. As someone who obsessed over the team’s standing and performance for five years, the stark contrast of a final season is a bittersweet and jarring reminder to her — and all graduating Blues athletes — that nothing lasts forever. But with all she’s achieved over five years, Krkachovski is bound to overcome this challenge with ease.

Mulligan faced somewhat similar circumstances in 2016 as she approached the end of her four-year undergraduate degree, before she earned “a bonus year” upon being accepted for her master’s in Nutritional Sciences in 2017. “I’m enjoying the extra spare time, but I think it’ll be really weird in August when everyone’s back to playing and we’re watching from the stands,” she adds.

The Blues’ Krkachovski and Mulligan era may have ended, but the two clearly won’t be forgetting about their team anytime soon. While the March clouds outside still drain the blue from the sky, not even the changing seasons can drain the Blues from Laura Krkachovski and Christine Mulligan.

Blues figure skaters win third consecutive OUA Championship

Ashley Hui named OUA Coach of the Year

Blues figure skaters win third consecutive OUA Championship

In a close battle between the University of Toronto and Western University that came down to the results of the final events, the Varsity Blues figure skating team won their third consecutive Ontario University Athletics (OUA) Championship on Wednesday.

The Blues earned 88 points, four above the host Western Mustangs. Toronto’s consistency led to their success; the Blues finished on the podium in 12 out of 14 events.

Blues captain Lila Asher explained how the team managed to pull out the victory. “We were sitting behind Western for the majority of the time until the very end. They had a 10 point lead going into the last three events and then we had a second place and two first places that were enough
above Western.”

In her final year with the team, Asher won gold in the second last event, women’s pairs fours, alongside teammates Christina Liao, Melanie Zavitski, and Felicia Bonitatibus.

“The whole audience was silent while we were skating [and then] the whole crowd cheered, which is something that usually doesn’t happen,” said Asher.

Bonitatibus attributes the strong performance to the close bond and trust the group has developed in training sessions and competitions throughout the year. As a rookie, she’s been able to compete in every competition this year and said that “the team became a family as the season progressed.”

“All four of us skated clean and it was easy to smile throughout the program,” said Bonitatibus. “At the end, it sounded like everyone in the stands were cheering for us and we all hugged each other because we knew that we left everything out on the ice and could not have skated the program better.”

Fourth-year skater Melissa Eratostene won her first OUA open solo dance title following a well-executed Viennese Waltz and an Argentine Tango routine. She entered the event with additional motivation after placing a close second in the event at last year’s OUA Championships.

“Winning the gold medal in the open solo dance event was one of the most rewarding and memorable experiences of my varsity skating career,” said Eratostene. “Finally winning the event just proved how all the hard work I’ve put in the past four years paid off, and taught me that patience, perseverance and dedication is key to achieving your goals.”

“To me, winning the championship symbolizes all the hard work and dedication everyone on our team has demonstrated these past few years, and represents the resilience and perseverance through some of the challenges we have faced this year,” she added.

Blues head coach Ashley Hui enjoyed seeing how her team came together and supported each other “unconditionally.”

“Up until the very last individual event [pairs four], it was so tight, so just seeing them skate the program of their lives and bring the choreography to life was such an inspiring and re-energizing moment for the team,” said Hui. “No words can describe the amount of effort this team has put in.”

The third-season head coach also won OUA Coach of the Year honours following the event. The championship also marks the first three-peat in Blues figure
skating history.

“The way this team has grown so much with each other over the course of the last three seasons — the initiative, support, and bonds they’ve made — speak louder than any banner,” she said.

Rebecca Bourgeois: looking back at a five-year hockey career

Blues women’s hockey captain talks memories, advice, and moving on

Rebecca Bourgeois: looking back at a five-year hockey career

Fifth-year Varsity Blues women’s hockey captain Rebecca Bourgeois recently completed her last season and played her final game in a blue and white jersey. As a Blues field hockey player, I was interested in learning her perspective on the student-athlete experience, being a role model, and moving on from her varsity team.

Bourgeois started this season knowing it would be her last. Five years felt like both a long and a short time for her. “I came in knowing I was going to do five years,” she said. “I don’t look back at being a rookie and think [that was] yesterday because that was a long time ago, but I’ll think back to instances like my first goal, or like a time in playoffs, or something that we did I’ll be like, ‘Oh wow, that was three years ago.’”

Over her five-year career, Bourgeois saw many of her close friends and teammates graduate, experiences she said helped her prepare for her final season. She remembered playing in her first grad game and the motivation she felt to play hard for her veteran teammates. “You see the emotions of them through those experiences, so it does prepare you, but that doesn’t mean that it’s any less nostalgic or bittersweet when it does come.”

Though she knew her varsity career would end this winter, “it’s still a shock, and it’s still sad.”

Playing Varsity Blues hockey was about more than just athletics and academics. Especially in her upper years, she realized her position as a role model for her teammates and also for the community. She looked up to varsity players while growing up in Ottawa. “I remember going to university games… and being like, ‘Wow, these are pretty much professional athletes’ and getting signatures — and now kids come and we sign papers for them. It’s cool to have that platform to be able to do meaningful things.”

This year, Bourgeois and her teammates cooked a meal for Ronald McDonald House. Through this experience, she saw the impact her team could have on the community. “It was nice that we had a group… We had the resources of twenty-five people and our coaching staff and Varsity Blues program.”

As one of the captains of the field hockey team, I was curious about what Bourgeois thought of her position as captain on the ice and how her leadership role impacted her. She explained that as one of two graduating players, she felt she was in a leadership role anyway since she’d “been around the block a few times.”

For Bourgeois, being captain allowed her to “take on a larger role and responsibility.” She noted that at first it was a bit difficult to strike a manageable balance, “making sure you still take care of yourself while you’re trying to take care of other things, facilitate other people, and other plans.” The opportunity helped her get closer to her teammates, coaches, and support staff while learning about all the work that goes into a successful team.

Over time, Bourgeois became more comfortable wearing the ‘C.’ She added that it’s the thing her parents are most proud of and joked that her dad always tells people, “My daughter is captain of the U of T hockey team.” Even though she appreciates the honour of her title, she said she wouldn’t have done anything differently. “Letter or not, captain or not, I think I would have done the exact same things and still have been just as involved with the team.”

Since I still have two seasons left to play, I asked Bourgeois if she had any advice on making the most of my final seasons with the Blues. She told me never to wish anything away, especially the hard times, “because at the end of the day you would give anything to get back to that.” She explained that sometimes, especially during difficult moments like midterms or fitness testing, it’s easy to just try to get through it. “Appreciate even the things that are tougher to appreciate. Take it all in and soak in as much as you can from the experience and be ready to transition out of it at the end.”

Looking ahead, she’s excited to take her next step. She explained that though she doesn’t like to plan things too heavily, she will be continuing her studies in archaeology at graduate school. She’s “excited to have the time to figure out exactly what [she’s] going to do with [her] life.” Though hockey won’t be the focal point of her week anymore, she will continue to play recreationally.

Bourgeois plans to stay involved with her team even after she graduates, keeping in touch with her teammates, watching games, and visiting on alumni nights. “I know the support I felt from our alumni that I played with. They all came back for my last game and it was really special — I hope I can do that for my teammates in the future.” When asked about a hope she has for her team, she explained that though winning championships would be great, those are superficial wants. Overall, what she really wants for her team is “to be able to live the experience that they want while they’re here.”

On our team, we always say, “You want to leave the team in a better spot than you found it.” Though her team doesn’t express it the same way we do, the desire to make a positive impact was always on her mind. “If you’re there and you’re committed, then you want to make an impact. I think that was my aim and I hope I accomplished it,” she said.

Overall, Bourgeois’ varsity hockey career has been extremely important to her. She achieved her lifelong dream of playing intercollegiate hockey while also discovering all the other things she wants to do. She’s also met “some of [her] best lifelong friends” in what she calls “the most pivotal chunk of [her] life.”

Blues women’s volleyball beat Guelph Gryphons

Team to advance to OUA final four

Blues women’s volleyball beat Guelph Gryphons

The Toronto Varsity Blues women’s volleyball team finished off second in the OUA East division with a 15-4 record. Entering the match, the Blues women’s overall regular season record spanned an impressive seven consecutive victories. They had last been defeated on January 27.

On Saturday, the Varsity Blues defeated the Guelph Gryphons 3–2 (22–25, 25–19, 25–21, 24–26, 15–4) to continue their winning streak in a quarter-final match at the Goldring Centre, a back and forth affair that went to a tiebreaker fifth set.

Third-year right side hitter Alina Dormann continued to be an enormous catalyst for the Blues and set the tone by opening the first set with a kill. Both teams got off to a strong start, and the score soared an early 7–5 for the Gryphons. Despite the great offensive play from the Blues, Gryphon middle hitter Libby Donevan’s abilities in hitting deep lines allowed the Gryphons to take the first set with a score of 25–22.

The Blues took the first point of the second set with a kill from first-year middle hitter Jenna Woock. She received a substantial amount of playing time in the game, executing a strong performance by consistently hitting quick sets. The Blues continued to pull ahead through the set, driving the score to 18–10. The second set concluded with the Blues defeating the Gryphons 25–19.

In the third set, Blues right side hitter Dormann dominated the court, putting her fierce kills on display. Her hits continued to account for Toronto on the scoreboard, and the Blues reached a 13–9 lead. Toronto first-year setter Rayn Perry accumulated multiple assists and did not disappoint in putting up accurate sets. After the timeout from Guelph at 19–12, the Blues extended their lead and won the set 25–21.

The fourth set featured multiple dynamic rallies, and Gryphons left side Michaela Hellinga exhibited strong blocks and multiple kills. The performance of the Gryphons showed no lingering effects from their defeat in the last two sets. Despite the early 6–1 lead for the Blues, the Gryphons battled back with tenacity, inducing the Blues to call for a timeout at 23–21. Following the timeout, the Gryphons played with great fluidity and finished the set with a score of 26–24 in their favour.

The Blues did not allow their defeat in the previous set to affect their performance in the tiebreaking fifth set. As the Gryphons started to lose momentum, the Blues continued to display their well-practiced hits and cohesive teamwork, taking an early lead of 8–3. Toronto’s Anna Licht used her height to her advantage and scored three points with her well placed dumps over the Gryphon blockers. An ace from Blues Veronica Derylo sealed the fifth set with a 15–4 victory for Toronto.

The Blues will continue their hunt for an OUA title next Friday in the semi-finals against McMaster University.

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.

Keyira Parkes: more than just an athlete

The Blues star talks academics, life, and hoop dreams

Keyira Parkes: more than just an athlete

Being a university student isn’t easy. Students have to grind it out during the year for assignments, quizzes, midterms and the most dreadful of them all: final exams. The workload is already hectic enough for students, but imagine trying to add sports to the stack, another massive time commitment. It takes a lot of effort and dedication to handle the busy schedules of varsity athletes. University of Toronto Varsity Blues basketball guard Keyira Parkes is one of those brave few willing to sacrifice precious time to play a sport they love.

Growing up, Parkes was avidly involved with sports. She started playing sports when she was just seven years old. Her first love was, surprisingly, soccer, not basketball. “[I played] soccer, but not for a rep team or anything,” says Parkes. “[I played] mostly in school. I actually wanted to play soccer before basketball. It was my favourite sport.”

Parkes already found success on and off the court before joining the Blues program. Graduating with honours from the International Baccalaureate program at St. John Paul II CSS, she was also MVP of her basketball team. She won another MVP award in a basketball tournament outside of high school. Parkes is currently pursuing a double major in Criminology and English.

Now a prolific scorer on the Varsity Blues women’s basketball team, it’s no surprise the player from whom she takes inspiration. “Growing up, the most influential basketball player to me would have to be Allen Iverson. He was one of my idols growing up,” says Parkes. Like Iverson, Parkes is quick and can slash her way to the rim. She is a very impressive scorer despite her relatively small stature. Iverson is listed at just six feet, while Parkes is 5’1″ tall.

“I’d have to say my strengths as a player is my shooting ability,” notes Parkes. This season, Parkes is leading the team in points with 16.8 points per game on an efficient 46.6 field-goal percentage. She also leads the team in three-point percentage, with a staggering 45.8 mark. “I really take pride in being a great shooter,” she adds, while also emphasizing the importance she places on creating opportunities for her teammates.

Most athletes generally have some sort of weakness. LeBron James, for example, has been a below average free-throw shooter for his entire career. Parkes, however, claims that there is no true physical weakness to a player. In her mind, mental weakness is what separates good players from great players. “I think that when you doubt yourself, that’s the only weakness you can possess. I truly believe that when you believe in yourself and have confidence in yourself, you can do anything.”

Parkes notes that her only ‘weakness’ would be when she doubts herself. “I don’t doubt myself often though,” she adds.

Despite being a talented basketball player, Parkes doesn’t come from a family with a history of sports. “I’d love to lie and tell you that they do, but they don’t. They never really pursued sports, at least not in a serious way.”

When it comes to balancing school and sports, it can get confusing and challenging. A typical week could begin with a women’s basketball team practice at 6:30 am on Monday morning. These practices often last until 9:00 am. Then, players proceed to the weight room, where they lift for another hour.

Her own personal schedule begins with going back to the gym to practice shooting and ball-handling, since she doesn’t have class until the afternoon. After she’s finished with extra reps, she heads to physiotherapy to focus on physical health and rehabilitation. Her final step of the day is academics, going to classes until roughly 7:00 pm. “Then the next day is just wash, rinse and repeat,” she laughs.

Being a varsity athlete can be difficult, as time management is one of the biggest aspects of maintaining a healthy workload. “It’s pretty tough, especially coming into university as a first-year student,” says Parkes. Having to represent your school as an athlete is similar to a full-time job. The demand of constant workouts, practices, meetings, and weekly games can take a toll on body and mind.

“We tend not to have a social life because it’s just basketball and school back and forth,” she adds. “But it’s a comfortable rhythm, and I think I adjusted to it pretty well.”

Before upcoming games, players participate in shootarounds, drills, and practices in preparation for their next opponent. Players and coaches go through the other team’s offense and focus everyone on their defense.

“For me personally, I usually like to get up shots during the week,” says Parkes. “The day of the game I sleep a lot, just to get my mind and everything calm, because I don’t like being tired before the game.”

At the end of the day, it’s all worth it to Parkes. The opportunity of being a varsity athlete at one of Canada’s most prestigious schools is rewarding for her. “The feeling that I get when [I play basketball] is feeling free, and there’s just not a care in the world.”

After graduation, Parkes plans on going to law school. She prefers Harvard University, or any of the top schools in the US. She also wouldn’t mind staying at U of T to become a lawyer. When it comes to her future in professional basketball, Parkes says that “if it comes, it comes. I would love to play pro if the opportunity came about.”