With a scoreless tie in the last game of the Island AAA field hockey championship tournament at UVic last weekend, the Cowichan Secondary Thunderbirds held on to first place, a single point ahead of the Frances Kelsey Breakers.
Kelsey needed a win over Cowichan to vault into top spot, but the 0-0 draw secured first place for Cowichan, who will look to repeat as provincial champions.
“We had a lot of good chances,” Cowichan coach Perri Espeseth said. “Compared with how we’ve played against Kelsey lately, I thought it was a good game. We dominated play for the most part.”
The T-Birds opened the tournament with a 4-0 win over Shawnigan, a margin that neither team expected.
Cowichan went on to beat Mount Douglas and Oak Bay by identical 1-0 scores. Although the T-Birds were the better team in both games, the low scores created stressful situations.
“They weren’t necessarily close games, but it’s hard when they’re one-goal games and one goal can make all the difference,” Espeseth said.
Particularly nerve-wracking was the game against Oak Bay, which was still scoreless with less than 10 minutes to go. The T-Birds were awarded a penalty corner, and outside midfielder Jenna Berard insisted on which option to use. Berard then made sure that the play worked by scoring the eventual winning goal.
The T-Birds will lead a contingent of four Island teams to the provincial tournament that runs next Wednesday to Friday in Surrey. Joining Cowichan, Kelsey and third-place Mount Doug will be Oak Bay, who won a wildcard playoff game to get in.
The draw for the provincial tournament hasn’t been set yet, but after placing third at the Bridgman Cup tournament at Thanksgiving, and winning the regional tournament, the T-Birds should get a favourable ranking.
“Based on the result of the Bridgman Cup and Islands, we should be in the top three,” Espeseth said.
The Bridgman is considered a preview of provincials in that it features some of the top teams in B.C. and has a similar schedule of six games in three days, but the Bridgman is an invitational, while teams have to qualify for provincials.
“It’s different from the Bridgman in that everyone at provincials has beaten someone to get there,” Espeseth said. “There are no easy games.”
With many key players back from last year’s provincial championship squad, the T-Birds are hoping to repeat, and have a clear shot at achieving that aim.
“It’s definitely our goal, and after playing in the Bridgman, it’s definitely a possibility,” Espeseth said. “Based on our focus and dedication, it’s in our sights, and I think the girls want it.”