It should be no surprise that the UBC women’s field hockey team will travel to Calgary this weekend to play for the McCrae Cup in the CIS national championship.
Following their 9th consecutive Canada West title last weekend, the Thunderbirds (8-2-2) are heading to their 14th straight nationals. They’ve won a CIS record 12 titles, including 5 in the last 10 years.
Despite all this, the ‘Birds are not the tournament favourites. The University of Toronto Varsity Blues (11-1) have that honour. Last year they defeated UBC 2-1 in the final.
“I don’t think at the beginning of the year we think that it is a given [playing for the title] but we do the work and that gives us a chance,” said UBC head coach Hash Kanjee. “Whatever happens, happens.”
UBC’s title aspirations will be bolstered by the return of three players from national duty at the Pan Am Games: Natalie Sourisseau, Abigail Raye and Sara McManus. Joining these three will be the 2009 CIS tournament MVP Robyn Pendleton. Pendleton led the ‘Birds in scoring this season with six goals.
If UBC wants to win their 13th McCrae Cup, Kanjee said they will have to rely on more than just one or two of their stars. “The message I give the team is that when anybody is on the field, they need to contribute, and they need to contribute to the best of their ability,” he said.
“We have some talented players…but this is a team sport and if you have a team that defers to one or two players, that is a recipe for disaster.”
Along with Toronto, UBC will face the University of Guelph (11-1), the University of Calgary (5-3-4) and the University of Alberta (4-6-2). The tournament will begin on Thursday and teams will square off against each other in a round robin format. The top two teams will play for the championship on Sunday.
While Calgary and Alberta are familiar foes, Toronto and Guelph will pose unique challenges for the ‘Birds. Toronto enters the tournament on a wave of momentum after smashing the University of Western 7-1 in the Ontario University Association (OUA) semifinal. Toronto then dominated Guelph 6-0 in the conference final.
For their part, Guelph managed to upset Toronto 2-1 in the regular season final and are led by prolific forward Brittany Seidler. Seidler was the OUA player of the year and scored a ridiculous 26 goals in 12 games.
Yet Kanjee isn’t too concerned about the competition. He said his focus exclusively rests on his own team.
“I only think about my team. We have some good players struggling with a few injuries, but really it’s how we get them set up and pointed in the right direction,” he said. “That will determine how we do in the tournament.”
The ‘Birds begin the tournament Thursday at 9:30am Mountain Time against Toronto.