The Cowichan Secondary School Thunderbirds came within the smallest of margins of winning a medal as hosts of the provincial AAA field hockey championships last week.
The T-Birds were edged 1-0 by the Churchill Bulldogs in the bronze-medal match at the Cowichan Sportsplex last Friday, the lone goal coming late in the fourth quarter.
It wasn’t Cowichan’s lucky day, as the T-Birds had two goals called back: one on a beautiful effort by Grace Paddle in the first half, and another a short corner by Annika Renz. The T-Birds kept up the pressure throughout the game, but couldn’t secure a goal.
“The T-Birds played as a team the entire tournament,” said Caitlin Erickson, who coached the team along with Perri Espeseth and Amanda Burns. “They had exceptional ball movement, were always supporting each other defensively and offensively and scored many amazing goals. Everyone should be very proud of their performance over the entire season, and especially at the AAA provincials. We were thankful for all the fans cheering us on, especially in our final games.”
The T-Birds cruised through the opening games of the provincial tournament, beating G.W Graham 10-0, Gleneagle 9-0 and South Delta 4-0 before running into Handsworth, who came in as the top seed and defending champions. Cowichan came out flying, but a pair of quick short-corner goals in the first quarter held up as Handsworth won 2-0.
”In the second half, we had most of the possession with many opportunities in the circle but unfortunately, could not capitalize,” Erickson commented.
Placing second in their pool, the T-Birds next found themselves facing Island rivals Oak Bay in the semifinals. Cowichan had lost to Oak Bay in the final of the Friendship Cup and again in the Island championship game, and the T-Birds were hoping to turn the tables this time. The game remained scoreless well into the fourth quarter before Oak Bay finally struck, winning 2-0 to advance to the final, while the T-Birds went to the third-place game against Churchill.
”Oak Bay had a lot of pressure on us defensively for most of the game,” Erickson said. “Many amazing saves by our keepers [Casey Tucker and Clara Astheimer] and brilliant tackles defensively by the whole team. In the fourth quarter the play was back and forth but Oak Bay was able to get two goals in the final minutes.”
The T-Birds will lose nine Grade 12 players to graduation.
“Our Grade 12s were great leaders on and off the field, always worked hard, led by example and will be missed next year,” Erickson said.
That group includes the following players, with comments from Erickson:
Alyson Denis (captain and center back): “Excellent leadership the entire season. Controlled the play with great vision and passing. Strong on attack and defence.”
Isabella Green (captain and forward): “Excellent leadership the entire season. Is able to eliminate multiple people and attack the circle. Great first line of defence.”
Josephine Aguirre (defence): “Excellent skills and ability to tackle. Plays with her stick glued to the ground. Very difficult for attackers to get around her. Extremely fast and is able to move the ball quickly.”
Kylene Bhopal (forward): “Great speed and pressure. Excellent positioning on the field. Always cheering on teammates.”
Maya Doman (center back): “Phenomenal ball speed and vision. Kept the ball moving around the back field. Made endless tackles.”
Piper Douglas (midfield): “Very fast and excellent tackles. She always attacked the circle at full speed and provided us with many scoring opportunities.”
Madison Ketch (midfield: Always attacked with speed! Is able to eliminate and find her way into the circle. Strong defensive tackles.
Peyton Luxmoore (defence): “Amazing composure, always able to move the ball up the field under pressure. Tremendous growth over her three years as a T-Bird.”
Casey Tucker (goalie): “Amazing saves in all games and can be counted on to make big saves in high pressures moments.”