The names on the back of the jerseys may change but the goal remains the same for head coach Lynne Beecroft in her 35th season in charge of the UVic Vikes women’s field hockey team; mould a group of young athletes into a cohesive unit that can once again mount a challenge for Canadian university field hockey supremacy.
“Everybody has to shine brightly, if only one star in the sky is shining it’s not very bright but if everybody is shining then we will have bright lights all over,” said Beecroft. “It’s not going to be on one players shoulders to carry this team because that’s not going to work.”
With eleven athletes in their first or second years of eligibility and just seven players in their third-year or above, it will be a young Vikes roster that takes to the field trying to capture the program’s fifth national medal in as many years.
“It’s a good mix of experience and youth and I think sometimes that’s quite exciting because there are less expectations,” said Beecroft. “They are coming in bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and want to just do their best.”
The Vikes most experienced player and lone fifth-year, Larissa Piva, is back and looking stronger than ever between the goalposts. The goalie from Kamloops, B.C. performed well during the Vikes preseason tour to Boston where the team went 2-1 against Ivy League competition.
“Her clears are a lot stronger than in the past and she competes hard on every shot in every practice and that’s the way she’ll play in the games,” said Beecroft.
A mixture of youth and experience will lead the team from the back, as Beecroft pointed to fourth-year Kristina Walters-Shumka and rookie Anna Mollenhauer as two players that will be key if the Vikes are to shut down opposing offences.
Walters-Shumka, a two-time Canada West all-star and member of the National Championship all-star team last year will provide the experience.
“(She) is probably our smartest player in the backfield and she has a very good skill-set so she will certainly shore up the backline,” said Beecroft.
While Mollenhauer, a member of the Canadian National Team Junior Development Squad has impressed the coaching staff with her versatility.
“Anna has been our key player in all of our games so far,” said Beecroft. “She just seems to be comfortable in whatever role we put her in.”
Veterans Lindsay Cole and Jenna Dhillon will be relied upon in the midfield with Cole, who scored four goals in the regular season last year providing offence, while Dhillon acts as a shield in front of the defence.
“Lindsay’s ability to create scoring opportunities will be huge for us and Jenna is a dogged, determined defender that does a great job of keeping the ball away from the other team as well as being a strong tackler,” said Beecroft.
The youth movement will see the most change in the roster up front for the Vikes, as 17 of the teams 23 regular season goals scored last season were put into the net by players no longer with the program.
To replace all of that production Beecroft is planning on going with a scoring by committee approach that will see multiple players given the chance to get their names on the score sheet.
“If we can get shots on net then our forwards can pop-in rebounds, but I think it will have to be scoring by committee, that’s how we did it in Boston, there was never one individual.”
A familiar opponent will come to Victoria to greet the new-look Vikes roster into Canada West regular season play. The defending national champion UBC T-Birds will play the Vikes on Sep. 16 and 17, with both games slated for an 11 a.m. start.
Defeating the Vikes in a shootout to win the national title for the past two years, the T-Birds will also be bringing a revamped roster into the season with eight players in their first or second year.
While games against the T-Birds are always crucial, the matches this season will take on an added level of importance with a new U SPORTS National Championship format meaning that only one team from the Canada West conference will make it to the championship tournament taking place from Nov. 2-5.
“The biggest thing for us is to make sure that the connection between the youth and the veterans continues to grow,” said Beecroft. “We need to make sure that the connection is there so that they trust each other and support each other on and off the field.”
Saturday, Sep. 16 – 11:00 a.m. – vs. UBC Thunderbirds
Buy tickets at govikesgo.com
Sunday, Sep. 16 – 11:00 a.m. – vs. UBC Thunderbirds
Buy tickets at govikesgo.com