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Canada captain looks forward to Olympic women's field hockey qualifier

Nat Sourisseau has not forgotten the pain of missing out on the Tokyo Olympics after losing a penalty shootout 4-3 to Ireland in 2019.
Nat Sourisseau is shown in action for the Canadian women’s field hockey team at the 2023 Pan American Games in Santiago, Chile, in this 2023 handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO — Field Hockey Canada, Yan Huckendubler

Nat Sourisseau has not forgotten the pain of missing out on the Tokyo Olympics after losing a penalty shootout 4-3 to Ireland in 2019.

"It was definitely very difficult and I think it would be impossible for it not to stay with people," said the Canada field hockey captain. "To come so so close and then not make it there."

"But all of the lows and all of the hard times also cause you to grow quite a bit," she added. 

On Saturday, Sourisseau and the Canadian women open play in Valencia, Spain, in one of two Olympic women's last-chance qualifiers. The Canadian men start their qualifier on Monday in Oman.

The 16th-ranked Canadian women have sat out the last seven Olympics, last taking part in 1992 in Barcelona where they finished seventh. They were fifth in 1984 and sixth in 1988 before that. 

Sourisseau, in her fourth Olympic qualifying campaign, is looking forward to the challenge.

"I think there's a beautiful opportunity in front of us," said the 31-year-old midfielder from Kelowna, B.C., who now makes her home in Vancouver. "Especially at a high-stakes tournament like an Olympic qualifier.

"Crazy things always happen and weird things always happen. I think we just have to approach this tournament and give it everything that we have and appreciate what an opportunity it is."

The Canadians are in Pool B with No. 8 Spain, No. 18 Malaysia and Britain, which is unranked by the International Hockey Federation (FIH). England is ranked seventh, Scotland 17th and Wales 26th.

Pool A is made up of No. 4 Belgium, No. 12 South Korea, No. 13 Ireland and No. 28 Ukraine. 

The top three finishers at the tournament will go to Paris. That likely means notching two pool wins and one more in the knockout stage.

It won't be easy.

Britain won gold at the 2016 Olympics and bronze in Tokyo while Spain, which finished seventh in Tokyo, has missed out on qualifying for just one edition of the Games since 1992.

There is a simultaneous eight-team women's tournament in India with the identical format and qualification path.

Sourisseau, who made her senior international debut in 2011, has won 174 caps for Canada. The roster in Spain features two other players with 100-plus caps — defenders Sara McManus (211) and Karli Johansen (169) — as well as nine players with 25 or fewer.

Sourisseau, McManus, Johansen, Kat Leahy, Elise Wong and Rowan Harris all played in the 2019 Olympic qualifier in Ireland which went to a shootout after the two-legged series ended knotted at 0-0.

"It feels like a totally new adventure this time around," said Sourisseau. "The team is different, the coaching staff is different."

The Canadian women booked their ticket to Valencia in November by finishing fourth at the Pan American Games in Santiago. Canada lost 3-0 to eventual champion Argentina in the semifinal and 2-0 to Chile in the bronze-medal game.

The Pan Am Games title earned No. 3 Argentina direct qualification to the Paris Olympics.

The women ended an 28-year absence from the FIH Hockey World Cup when they qualified for the 2022 edition in Spain and the Netherlands, where they tied for 15th.

Danny Kerry, former coach of England and Britain, was named Canada women's coach in March. Kerry led Britain's women to bronze at the 2012 Olympics in London and gold in 2016 in Rio before taking over the British men in 2018.

Former Britain captain Kate Richardson-Walsh is an assistant coach under Kerry.

"It's been incredible," said Sourisseau. "They bring so much to our program and they've been able to work with us on some areas that we really needed serious development in. Even for someone who's been around for so long, it's been really really awesome to have people who are not only so experienced but so good at actually teaching."

The Canadian women had a month-long camp in Vancouver, toured the U.S. earlier this year and played three practice matches ahead of the Spain tournament. But funding remains tight.

On then coach Giles Bonnet’s suggestion, the women moved to Belgium in September 2018 to join club teams, giving them access to elite coaches and trainers while allowing the Amsterdam-based Bonnet to work with them regularly.

They had to turn to family, friends and supporters to fund their Tokyo Olympic qualifying campaign. 

"It definitely wasn't an easy period but it's almost never been easy. In the 13 years that I've been around there's always huge challenge," said Sourisseau, who spent seven years playing club hockey in the Netherlands and Belgium. "I think that's amateur sport in Canada but especially with our sport there's not a lot of funding and it takes a lot from the athletes and a lot of sacrificing.

"But I think that's also why it can be satisfying in the end when things do go your way after all you've been through."

Away from hockey, Sourisseau started medical school in the fall at UBC.

Canada Women

Goalkeeper: Rowan Harris, Ottawa; Marcia LaPlante, Wassis, N.B.

Defenders: Karli Johansen, North Vancouver; Sara Goodman, Duncan, B.C.; Kathleen Leahy, Victoria; Sara McManus, Tsawwassen, B.C.; Anna Mollenhauer, Victoria; Elise Wong, Lake Forest, Ill.

Midfielders: Grace Delmotte, North Vancouver; Jordyn Faiczak, Waterloo, Ont.; Kenzie Girgis, Ottawa; Audrey Sawers, North Vancouver; Melanie Scholz, Calgary; Natalie Sourisseau, Kelowna, B.C.

Forwards: Danielle Husar, Mississauga, Ont.; Thora Rae, Vancouver; Madison Thompson, Ridgeway, Ont.; Chloe Walton, North Vancouver.

Head Coach: Danny Kerry.


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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 12, 2024.

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press