When the gold-medal game of the 2015 AAA provincial high school field hockey championships went to a shootout, few teams could have been better prepared for that situation than the Cowichan Secondary School Thunderbirds.
After all, the T-Birds had to win three consecutive shootout games when they claimed the Bridgman Cup title in October — including a semifinal victory over Handsworth, their opponent in the provincial championship game last Saturday.
While there were some justifiable nerves, the Cowichan players repeated their Bridgman Cup success, getting goals from Sophia Murray, Brittany Smith and Sarah Goodman while goalie Robin Fleming held fast, allowing just one ball to beat her, and the T-Birds brought home the championship banner for the first time since 2005, winning it as one of three host teams, along with Frances Kelsey and Shawnigan Lake School.
Fleming admitted she took some inspiration from her team’s domination at the Bridgman Cup as she went into the shootout for provincial gold.
“I just remembered how nice it was to win,” she said. “I wanted to do that again. Obviously, I was really nervous going in, but I had a lot of confidence in the girls on my team that we could do it.”
As much experience as Cowichan had with the shootout format this year, it is still something they have to get used to each time.
“It’s so different,” Murray said. “All it is is you and the goalie, and you only have eight seconds, so you have to pick something and go with it.”
Murray, also one of Cowichan’s captains, was thrilled to have been able to help her team return to the top of the game in B.C.
“It feels amazing,” she said. “It’s the best feeling all year. We had a perfect season, we won all our tournaments, but the banner was what we were looking for. I couldn’t be more proud of my team. I really feel we deserve it.”
While the players admitted to some nerves in the final, and particularly in the shootout, coach Perri Espeseth said her belief in the team was never shaken.
“I felt pretty good,” she said. “The whole tournament I felt pretty good. I was watching the CIS [Canadian university] championships in Victoria the week before. It’s a very tense tournament with a lot of things happening. After all that heightened anxiety and intensity, I went into the AAA tournament relaxed, confident and composed.”
Over their six games, the T-Birds didn’t allow a single goal in free play, a testament not only to Fleming but to the defenders in front of her. As well, Espeseth noted that several different players did the scoring for her team.
“It wasn’t just one or two or three people scoring our goals. Multiple people scored. We didn’t rely on one person.”
The T-Birds will lose six players, including captains Murray, Jenna Ellison and Brittany Smith, but will have a good foundation of returnees to build on.
“It’s exciting to know that we’ll be able to compete again next year,” Espeseth said.
Espeseth was a senior player on the last Cowichan team to win a provincial field hockey title, 10 years ago, and she was proud to give something back to the community that she came from.
“All my coaches brought me up to want to give back the way they gave back,” she said.