By Darren Lum
Published Nov. 1 2016
About the only warm thing on the wet and windswept artificial turf pitch at Thomas A. Stewart Secondary in Peterborough on Thursday Oct. 27 were the bright smiles that shone through the chattering teeth of the members of the Red Hawks varsity girls field hockey team.
They had arms and sticks held high above their heads after they just edged out the North Hastings High School Huskies 3-2 in the Central Ontario Secondary School Athletics championship final to earn a second consecutive berth to the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations championship tournament. Besides the tough and capable competition of their perennial COSSA final opponents from Bancroft the Hawks also contended with bone-chilling winds and sub-zero temperatures forcing them to don toques gloves and long sleeves and tights worn under their short-sleeved shirts socks and skirts. In four years the two teams have each won two finals. Last year both teams advanced to the all-provincials because Bancroft earned its berth as host of the tournament.
Coach Steve Smith deflected any personal praise for the team’s success this year which included an undefeated Kawartha Field Hockey League season.
“I just picked up where these guys left off” he said pointing to the players around him. “The coaching staff we’ve had has been great so it’s easy when you come back … they know the system. They know everything. It’s easy to step in that coaching role and take the accolades. It’s all these guys.”
Smith did not coach for two years and continued to follow the team and hold a special place for the progam.
The COSSA final didn’t start well for the Hawks.
To the shock of the Red Hawks’ supporters covered in blankets or standing and sitting behind any type of wind blocking feature at the stadium their team was down two goals within minutes of the start to the final.
Down 2-0 Hawks captain Jamie Little said the team kept its focus.
“It was really stressful but we all knew what we wanted our goal to be today. We just worked really hard and ran as fast as we could. It ended up working for us” she said.
She said this team is quite similar to last year’s in terms of speed and skill.
First year varsity goalkeeper Sonya Flatman who played three games at OFSAA for the team told her
coach she should have stopped those two goals in the first half.
Smith said not only did Flatman find her focus to keep the game within reach but her team rallied behind her to win backed by three unanswered goals
Minutes after the second Huskies’ goal the Hawks captain Kenndal Marsden scored a momentum shifting goal from a shot in front of the net after stick handling past a defender for the open look.
Marsden has shown her on-field leadership with timely goals like this one.
Before the first half Hawks rookie Paige Billings who has shown a maturity that belies her experience scored the equalizer to tie it up at 2-2.
As the game wore on both teams battled working hard for every possession and foray into each other’s end. However the Hawks’ defence started to join the offensive attack to keep greater possession on the Huskies looking to break out of their end. The sustained pressure led to several short corners. Short corners were favouring the Hawks. The tide of momentum had definitely shifted.
Late in the second half veteran Hawks player Rebecca Hamilton came through in the clutch as she scored the eventual game-winner. She was left undefended in front of a gaping net after backhand cross net pass by Abby Gordon rolled past the Huskies netminder and then eluded a pair of defenders to strike her stick for the tap in.
Hamilton said she’s scored a few this season but she admitted it was the most significant in her three years since she joined the program as a Grade 10 student.
“I was pretty excited that I was able to get our team to OFSAA because I didn’t think I would have got a goal at all today” she said.
Initially the petite player admitted she usually misses the shot at the side closest to the post.
“Sometimes when you need it that’s what happens” coach Smith explained.
Smith said the comeback was within the team’s capability.
Nothing needed to be said when the girls were down a pair after just a few minutes into the final.
“I don’t need to talk to these girls. They know what they need to do. We had that conservation on the bus before we got off. If you want to go to OFSAA you know what you need to do. Kudos to them” he said. “The girls battled back as I knew they could and proof is the pudding” he said.
The back field was solid and included offensive pressure from Emily Klose.
“She just kept pushing the envelope for them and kind of shut down their offensive strike every time they moved the ball down the one side” he said.
Klose has a souvenir from an errant stick that struck her in the cheek. It slowed her down but didn’t stop her from playing to the delight of Smith.
“She’s tough. She was like get me back in” he said.
The final against the perennial rival of Haliburton wouldn’t have even been possible without the gusty team effort in the COSSA semi-final game that came close to two hours before against the Crestwood Secondary School Mustangs who proved to be a serious challenge.
“Not only not easy team wise I mean the other team was an excellent team and they came to play but the weather conditions were just horrendous. I think it actually made them think this wasn’t going to be a cake walk so it was good to prepare them and it was good to prepare them for OFSAA” he said.
The Mustangs pushed the Hawks into over time (15 minutes divided into two 7.5 minute halves). With two disallowed goals in regulation the red and white faithful were for the most part bewildered and a few enraged. The Hawks though did not lose their composure and took a 1-nil lead early in the first overtime half when veteran Abby Gordon scored in close at the front of the net. The goal held up for the win.
Billings who controlled the midfield and even scored an important goal to tie the game is the sign of things to come for the future of the program.
“We’ve got good years ahead if we can some more [players] like that. Her [ice] hockey background has helped” he said.
There will be close to eight players leaving so next year will require some players to step up and assume the core positions. He doesn’t see any issues with that
“You known what? The heart’s there. The girls are wanting and desiring to represent Haliburton” he said.
Haliburton will now play OFSAA (Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations) in Kitchener-Waterloo this week from Nov. 3 to 5.
Little wants to win one game there. However she knows there are more important things to concentrate on for a satisfying experience at the upcoming all-provincial tournament that will showcase the best teams in Ontario.
“As long as we’re having fun and doing our best is what matters” she said.