T-Birds bring home provincial bronze

KEVIN ROTHBAUER

Cowichan Valley Citizen

One team seemed to haunt the Cowichan Secondary School Thunderbirds throughout the 2017 field hockey season: the Mount Douglas Rams.

The T-Birds lost to the Rams both times the teams met at tournaments during the fall. So of course they ended up squaring off again in the bronze-medal game at the AAA provincial championships in Richmond last week.

“It’s kind of funny we ended up playing them,” Cowichan coach Caitlin Erickson admitted.

The T-Birds went into provincials as Island champs, and they were happy to get another shot at the only team to beat them at the Island tournament.

“We knew we could beat them,” Erickson said. “And this was the game to do it in.”

Mount Doug opened the scoring in the first half of the bronze-medal game. It wasn’t until late in the match that Cowichan struck back.

“In the last kinda 15 minutes, we put a lot more pressure on them,” Erickson said. “We needed a goal, and you could tell the girls really wanted it.”

With less than five minutes left to play, the ball went across the top of the circle, and co-captain Hanna Murray one-timed it into the top corner to tie the score. Erickson described it as “a beautiful goal.”

“The entire team was up on their feet,” she said. “All the fans were screaming.”

Murray’s goal sent the game to a shootout. Under immense pressure, Cowichan keeper Emily Chernoff made a ton of saves, and the Cowichan shooters put the ball in the net enough times to secure the win and the bronze medal.

“It’s always interesting to win in a shootout,” Erickson. “It can go either way.”

Cowichan ended up playing for bronze after a shootout loss to Kelowna in the semifinals. That game was also tied 1-1 after regulation. Kelowna scored first, but another T-Birds co-captain, Jenna Berard, scored on a stroke to even it up before the Owls won in the shootout. Kelowna went to the final, where they lost to Handsworth in a shootout.

Both semifinals and both medal games went to shootouts, showing just how close it was between the best teams in B.C.

“It could have gone any way with the top four teams,” Erickson noted.

Cowichan went unbeaten in pool play. The T-Birds beat Eric Hamber 4-0 and Charles Best 5-0, and tied South Delta 0-0, taking top spot in the group because they scored more goals. They beat West Vancouver 2-0 in the quarterfinal to make the final four.

Although they were the two-time defending provincial champions, the T-Birds weren’t expected to contend this year after losing nine players to graduation and two more to other reasons — essentially a whole team.

“Going in, we were thinking this would be a rebuilding year,” Erickson admitted. “But once we got the group together, from the beginning they impressed us with how they came together as a group.”

Co-captains Berard, Murray and Jillian Wallace, all midfielders and the only Grade 12 players on the roster, were instrumental in keeping the team united this season.

“They were phenomenal leaders, on and off the field, especially at provincials,” Erickson said. “This was a young team with a lot of new players, and they kept them together and got them excited for games.”

Other standout players at provincials included Chernoff, who only allowed two goals in regulation play during the entire tournament, the backline of Jenna Goodman, Melanie Robertson and Anya Hermant, who remained solid and composed throughout, and Chloe Langkammer and Erica Windsor, who put a lot of pressure on the other teams up front.

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