It’s pretty incredible what puppets can accomplish.
As part of a team-building exercise, each member of the Shawnigan Lake School senior girls field hockey team was randomly assigned the name of a teammate, and given the task of creating a puppet in that teammate’s image. Before the final of last week’s provincial AAA championship, the player had to tell the rest of the team why that teammate was important to her.
It just happened that backup goalie Holly Henderson was given the name of starter Leigh Campbell, someone with whom she was in direct competition all season. Nevertheless, Henderson came up with a long, sincere list of great things to say about Campbell, moving not only the rest of the team, but also the coaching staff.
"That really summed up what the girls had worked for," coach Kelly Koepp said. "They’re all in it together."
It was that kind of dedication to the team concept that allowed Shawnigan, who voluntarily moved up to AAA this year after winning two AA provincial titles in the previous three seasons, to unseat three-time defending champions Handsworth with a
4-0 victory and take home the AAA banner.
Shawnigan knew it was an ambitious move to step up and compete with the largest schools in the province, and hadn’t fully expected to bring home the banner. "In AA, we always felt confident we could get to the top floor," Koepp said. "In AAA, we thought we had a good chance, but we weren’t as confident because the competition has more depth."
The Shawnigan girls swept their way through pool play, beating South Kamloops 4-0, West Vancouver 4-1 and Heritage Woods 2-0 before knocking out Gleneagle 4-0 in the quarterfinal.
It took another degree of preparation to get the team ready for the semifinal against perennial power South Delta, Koepp admitted.
"It turned out to be one of those games," she said. "South Delta is a tough team to play; they’re a physical team, and they play a style that for whatever reason, our group finds challenging."
Shawnigan prevailed once again, winning 1-0 on a goal by Maria Lorenz-Meyer, and setting up the final with Handsworth.
"We knew when we got to the semifinal that the girls would play well if we got to the final, but they went above and beyond our expectations," Koepp said.
Shawnigan had faced Handsworth twice this fall, winning 1-0 on a late goal at the UBC tournament, and losing on penalty shots at the Bridgman Cup.
"It was a real testament to the girls that they came away with two really close scores against Handsworth, and then beat them 4-0 in the final," Koepp said. "In the four weeks since we last played Handsworth, they took a big step; they learned a lot in four weeks, and that’s tough to say about a high school team because the season is so compact.
"It was a tough loss at the Bridgman, and the girls didn’t want it to happen again. They all came together and did things in that game that they hadn’t done in the season."
Despite the score, Koepp said it was close between the teams, with Handsworth generating their share of chances and moving the ball well in the Shawnigan zone.
Paula Justice scored two penalty-corner goals in the final, and Caecilia von Georg also found the net twice.
Shawnigan will lose six graduates from this year’s team, including Casey Crowley, the captain for the last two years and a member of the junior national program.
"It will be hard to fill those shoes," Koepp admitted. "You notice on the field that she’s a good player, but because she just goes out there and does her job every day, you don’t always think about her; she’s such a well-oiled machine."
Also departing are Nicole Fredrickson, Tannis Potter, Jacqueline Self, Louica Unger and Arielle Fraser. Key returning players will include both goalies, as well as assistant captain Tai Williams and Maria Murray, both of whom will have increased roles on next year’s squad.
Shawnigan will have to compete at the AAA level for at least two more years, and has applied to host the 2015 provincial championships along with Cowichan Secondary and Frances Kelsey. Regardless of where the tournament is held, Shawnigan plans to be part of it.
"We fully intend to get there, but that’s the thing about high school sports: every year is a rebuilding year," Koepp said. "It remains to be seen what we have to work with."
Cowichan and Kelsey also competed at the provincial tournament last week, and ended up playing for ninth and 10th place, a game that Cow High won 1-0.
Cowichan had been in a threeway tie for first place in their pool, but the tiebreakers put Cowichan into third place and out of the championship bracket.