The Cowichan Secondary School Thunderbirds played to a fifth-place finish at the provincial AAA field hockey championships in Burnaby last weekend, suffering just one loss — in a shootout — along the way.
“Provincials didn’t end the way the girls had hoped or deserved,” T-Birds coach Perri Espeseth said. “However, they showed great courage and ended on a positive note to give them a fifth-place finish in the province.”
Like all teams at the tournament, the T-Birds had to go back and forth from water-based and rubber surfaces, something some squads did better with than others.
“This tournament was the battle of adaptability as each team had to jump from different playing surfaces hoping to catch the lucky bounces,” Espeseth related. “At times successfully capitalizing, and at others suffering.”
The T-Birds got off to a great start last Wednesday with decisive wins over Port Moody and Sardis, setting them up for a showdown with South Delta on Thursday that would decide first place in the pool.
“We were lucky to play that game on water,” Espeseth said, “hoping that the familiar surface would benefit us, and speed up and increase the level of play.”
South Delta came out strong and put Cowichan under pressure, but the T-Birds held a 2-0 lead at halftime. Just 10 minutes into the second half, however, South Delta had knotted the score at 2-2. Cowichan captain Jenna Goodman found the net on a penalty corner to give the T-Birds the win and first place in the pool.
That set up a quarter-final showdown against the Kelowna Owls, a team Cowichan seems to meet in the provincial playoffs every year. Playing on rubber, the T-Birds held the majority of possession and generated penalty corner after penalty corner, but couldn’t beat the Kelowna goalie. Scoreless through regulation, the game went to a shootout, and despite a great performance by their own goalie, Casey Tucker, the T-Birds still couldn’t solve the Owls’ keeper and were knocked out of the top four.
“The best we could do would be fifth,” Espeseth said. “So our goal had now shifted.”
The T-Birds faced familiar foes from Oak Bay on Friday morning in the match to decide who would fifth-place match. Deadlocked again after regulation, this time 1-1, the teams headed for another shootout.
“This time we found the back of the net and Casey did an excellent job controlling the shooters and directing them where she wanted them to go,” Espeseth reported. “Anya Hermant sealed the deal with the game winner in sudden death, and we would be playing for fifth that afternoon.”
The T-Birds returned to their dominant form and defeated Kitsilano 4-1 in their last game of the tournament.
“It is unfortunate that losing one game can change your fate, but that is the reality of playoffs in any sport,” Espeseth commented. “The character that this team showed in their ability to bounce back and play some outstanding hockey after a devastating loss was very uplifting and rewarding.”
Provincials marked the last games for team captains Goodman and Chloe Langkammer, and for fellow Grade 12s Hermant, Sage Nowzek, Mady Styba and Ava Smith.