Saying that the Thunderbirds women’s field hockey team had a good season last year is a big understatement — they had a stellar, record breaking season. Not only did the ’Birds win an unprecedented sixth straight McCrae Cup and U Sports title, they went undefeated throughout the entire season going 9-0-3.
The 2016/17 Championship the ’Birds won in Toronto was their 18th since 1975, cementing them as the most successful field hockey program in Canadian university history. Now the real question is how will the ’Birds build off their last season?
The biggest problem a multi-championship team like the ’Birds would normally face is the loss of veteran players. Yet, only forwards Gabby Jayme, Hannah Haughn and midfielder Caitlin Gordon were playing in their fifth and final year of U Sports eligibility last season. The rest of the team mostly consisted of players in their second to fourth years of U Sports eligibility, meaning that there should be a strong veteran backbone to help this year’s five rookies — Thora Rae, Kaitlin Chow, Hanaa Punja, Jordyn Faiczak and Sara Goodman —grow as players and get used to Canada West competition.
The other problem that the T-Birds could face comes in the form of the University of Victoria (UVic) Vikes. The ’Birds may have gone undefeated last year but they were still forced to settle for three ties — all of which came at the hands of UVic. However, the Vikes are fielding a young roster this season, with just over a third of their players in their first season of U Sports eligibility.
An inexperienced team in Victoria could make a difference and allow the ’Birds to have an easier run against their rivals from across the Georgia Straight. That theory will be tested in the first two games of the season, as UBC faces the Vikes this Saturday, September 16 and Sunday, September 17, allowing the Thunderbirds a chance to take advantage of the rival rookie team right out the gate.
So, the ’Birds are left with most of their winning team from the previous season and a rival in the process of rebuilding. That’s more than just a recipe for success, it’s grounds for what could be a legendary season. As long as the ’Birds keep it together and stick to what seems to have worked for the past six years, there’s no doubt that they could repeat as undefeated champions once more in 2017.