UVic, UBC renew field hockey rivalry

Both teams sport blue and gold colours, not to mention a legacy that includes the five colours of the Olympic rings.

The University of Victoria Vikes and UBC Thunderbirds, who between them have produced several women’s field hockey Olympians for Canada, continue their historic rivalry with Canada West openers this weekend in Vancouver.

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Field hockey and rugby are the oldest sports at UBC, both starting in 1908 at Point Grey, when the school was under the auspices of McGill. Even in that era, according to UBC sports historian Fred Hume, the field hockey weekend was called the “Victoria Invasion.”

That will continue 110 years later as the eight-time defending U Sports national champion Thunderbirds open conference play Saturday and Sunday against UVic at Wright Field on the UBC campus.

The return matchup during the season will be the UBC invasion of Victoria on Oct 6-7.

UBC has won 19 national titles in women’s field hockey and UVic 11. Both programs’ legacies are felt on the benches as former national teamers Lynne Beecroft and Poonam Sandhu coach the Vikes and Thunderbirds, respectively.

As a player, rookie UBC head coach and former captain Sandhu became that rare U Sports athlete to win the national title in their sport in all five seasons of eligibility. Beecroft is a former UVic star who went on to represent Canada at the Olympics and World Cup.

Beecroft played for Canada at the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Games, Sandhu as late as the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games. That speaks to the age difference as Sandhu is in her first season at the UBC helm and Beecroft is entering her 35th season of guiding the Vikes, with a record that boasts 13 Canada West championships and 11 U Sports national titles.

That continuity is underscored by UVic assistant coach Krista Thompson, entering her 22nd season with the program.

The legacy continues with the Vikes recording the recruiting coup of the year by landing striker Samantha McCrory from Kitchener, Ont. McCrory made her senior Canadian national team debut over the summer by scoring six goals in a Test match against Guatemala, and who could be heard from in qualifying play on the road to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

“[McCrory] puts fear in defences and goalies in the nine-metre area. But we have to get the ball up there,” Beecroft said.

McCrory joins fellow Canadian junior national team players Erin Dawson, another prize UVic freshman recruit, and sophomore and 2017 Canada West rookie of the year Anna Mollenhauer on the Vikes.

Mollenhauer is a St. Michaels University School graduate who continues a Vikes lineage as the daughter of former UVic legend and 1984 Los Angeles and 1988 Seoul Olympian Nancy Mollenhauer.

Another familial connection is Vikes freshman defender Judy Cristante, whose mother, Kolette, played for the 1987 and 1989 national champion UVic teams.

“Anna and Judy know what being a Vikes player is all about. It’s ingrained in them,” Beecroft said.

As befits such a rivalry, there’s a lot of mix-and-matching during recruiting. Junior national teammates Dawson from the Lower Mainland and Sara Goodman from Duncan crossed the strait in opposite directions — Dawson to join the Vikes, and Goodman to play for the Thunderbirds.

“It’s a kind of love-hate relationship because these players know each other so well from provincial and national teams,” Beecroft said. This is nothing new. Some of UBC’s biggest past stars, including Olympians Melanie Slade and Shelley Andrews, were from the Island.

Returning Vikes include 2016 Canada West rookie-of-the-year Emily Wong and fifth-year players Lindsay Cole, a 2017 Canada West all-star, Jenna Dhillon, Kristina Walters-Shumka, Stefanie Langkammer and Delaney Booker.

“With nine rookies, and 16 players in total with three years’ or less experience, our five fifth-year players have to be the glue that holds the kids together,” Beecroft said.

Newcomers patrolling the Vikes midfield will include Island recruits Cara Butler and Stefanie Sajko, along with Anne-Sophie Hannes from Cologne, Germany.

The Thunderbirds, meanwhile, boast a raft of junior national team players with Goodman, Hannah Eborail, Margaret Pham, Thora Rae and Jordyn Faiczak.

UBC could prove tough in goal this weekend. Thunderbirds goalkeeper and senior Canada team player Rowan Harris is expected to back up former UVic Vikes standout Kaitlyn Williams in Tokyo 2020 Olympic qualifying play.

“We have to bury the ball on our opportunities on [Harris],” Beecroft said.

The Vikes answer in goal with sophomore Robin Fleming.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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