With a veteran lineup including youth nationals competitor Halley Chopra (above), the John McCrae Bulldogs are making a strong push for a national capital title, which carries with it a berth in the OFSAA championships, to be hosted Nov. 1-3 at the Nepean Sportsplex. Photo: Dan Plouffe
By Dan Plouffe
It’s at least a four-horse race, with several others chasing closely, as local high school teams battle through league play for two available berths in the OFSAA girls’ field hockey championships, coming to the Nepean Sportsplex Nov. 1-3.
The big four that played in last year’s semi-finals, and have enjoyed the most success in recent years, are John McCrae, Merivale, Ashbury and Nepean, while Longfields-Davidson Heights, Glebe and Sir Robert Borden are making strides to enter the elite group.
Traditionally underdogs compared to McCrae and Merivale, it was the Nepean Knights and Ashbury Colts that scored trips to last year’s OFSAA championships, with the Knights reaching the quarter-final round.
“The kids are keen,” says Nepean coach Brian Lee, who is down six starters from last year’s city championship team. “The experience of playing so many must-win games – we played seven in a row last year – was tremendous.”
The goal for the Knights this season, adds the parent volunteer coach of several years, is to repeat as national capital champs.
“We want to make it as far as possible, and hopefully that’s OFSAA,” notes Kelly Walsh, who identifies team chemistry as a big reason for Nepean’s success. “We all get along. We all know each other really well, and when we have new players, we welcome them in right away in that first week.
“We love each other. There’s no drama and we try to keep a positive attitude.”
Walsh, a Grade 12 team captain, wished to highlight her coaches’ contributions, and thank them “for always doing everything they possibly could for us,” which included fighting to ensure Nepean would enter a team this year in spite of the teacher labour conflict at public schools.
Colts crave OFSAA return
The Ashbury Colts have similar expectations as the Knights – they’ve had a taste of the provincial championships, and they’d like another.
“It opened the girls’ eyes up to what the OFSAA experience is like,” notes coach Kathleen Munro-Collins, who’s set her team’s objectives to reach the league semi-final and then hope for the best. “They want to push forward and get back there again.”
Half the Colts’ lineup are new players, although that doesn’t necessarily mean they are field hockey rookies. With international players from countries such as Australia, Kenya and Germany, many bring plenty of experience.
Defensive sweeper Isabelle Kerrebijn, from the Netherlands, suggested a new formation setup that the Colts have stuck with, and demonstrates techniques that other players try to emulate. Centre-forward Maddie Monaghan scored a goal early in the season with a wrap-around move she learned from Kerrebijn.
Bulldogs bear favourite card
With a perfect 6-0 start, the John McCrae Bulldogs have possibly earned the favourite tag for this year’s title, despite missing OFSAA last season. The upset defeat to Nepean in the 2011 semi-finals interrupted an impressive run of consecutive OFSAA appearances for the team that is now hungry to return to the big show and pick up on its provincial bronze medal victory two seasons ago.
“We’re happy that it’s in Ottawa, and we’re hoping to go this year,” notes Grade 12 Bulldog Karli Ryan, who doubles as a provincial ringette player along with her twin sister. “We want to get first or second. After getting bronze, we want to try to go farther.”
Coach Sandeep Chopra loves the look of his team that owns loads of experience beyond the high school level, including youth national championships competitors Halley Chopra and Caroline Rozon.
“Right now I have an embarrassment of riches. I’ve inherited 11 Grade 12s and I have likely the two best players in the city,” says Chopra, who’s also got several talented soccer players in his lineup. “The average level of athletic ability in those Grade 12s is through the roof.”
An experienced coach with his Nepean Nighthawks club, Chopra was “pressed into service” when his Grade 12 daughter came home “with tears shooting out” horizontally the day they’d been told there would be no team horizontally, he describes.
“I said, ‘I’m going to have to do something about this,’” he smiles.
Marauders also unbeaten
The Merivale Marauders were also thankful to have parents step up and fill their coaching void, although Cheryl Sevigny and Bill Osborne readily admit their field hockey knowledge is not extensive. The senior captains have provided much of the direction for the team.
“It’s hard,” explains Grade 11 player Megan MacPhee, who scored the lone goal in her team’s 1-0 victory over Ashbury. “The players don’t look up to them as much as they would the coaches. It’s not as intense in practice.”
Nonetheless, the Marauders are off to a perfect 4-0 start and are committed to a common cause.
“We’re really strong and I feel we can go far if we just push,” MacPhee adds. “Our goal is to get to OFSAA, and then once we’re there, our goal is to win OFSAA.
“I’d prefer for it to be away, but since it’s in Ottawa, we’ll have huge cheering fans, which will be motivating.”