North Shore field hockey fans could get a good workout in this Tuesday afternoon running around Ambleside Park to catch all the action as four of the best teams in the province square off at the same time on two different fields.
On Ambleside's Rutledge Field, West Vancouver will take on defending provincial champions Handsworth in an important AAA matchup while a wind sprint away, on Ambleside E, Sentinel will meet the defending provincial AA champions from Collingwood. Both matches start at 3:30 p.m. "There'll be two big, competitive games," said Handsworth head coach Paul Winstanley. "Both those games will go a long way towards determining the league this year and provincial placings. It's a big day."
All four teams have shown well in early season play. West Vancouver and Handsworth are tied for first in the tiny AAA league (Argyle is the other leg of this three-legged race) while Collingwood and Sentinel are both undefeated in the more robust AA league.
"There'll be a lot of provincial players out there - could be as many as 25 maybe," said Winstanley. "There's a lot of good players amongst the four teams."
The Royals are trying for their third AAA provincial title in a row but Winstanley reckons West Van will be one of the biggest obstacles blocking their path.
"They're well coached," he said. "They were a younger team last year - they lost some players but they've got some good returning players and they're very keen and motivated. They'll be very competitive this year and a good team. It'll be a tough game."
West Van, in fact, beat Argyle 5-1 to open the season while Handsworth topped the Pipers by a closer score of 2-0. In the tiny AAA league - each team will only play four games before playoffs start - every game matters because you don't get many chances.
"The game on Tuesday is a big game," said Winstanley. "Whoever wins Tuesday, that's already half the league games done. There's no potential to recover if you lose."
The Royals have seven returning and 11 new players from last year's championship team. Their goal is to win again but they've got a lot of work to do, said Winstanley.
"We've got some talent but I think we need to gel as a team and learn to work hard. We're not working hard enough. We've got 11 new players so they're not used to the senior high school level of competition."
Down in AA Collingwood also returns seven players from last year's championship winning team, losing a few superstars who led them to the title. The players have responded by spreading the responsibility around this season, said co-head coach Ashleigh Gold.
"Our team has totally stepped up and learned how to play as a team and not rely on individuals," she said. "It's very much a different team but it's almost more cohesive as a team."
Collingwood has the added incentive this year of hosting the AA championships. That gives them an automatic berth - they know they'll be there at the end of the season but they'll be looking for more than participation ribbons.
"The girls have big goals for themselves," said Gold. "We're building momentum and every game we play we learn something from it.. .. The hope is that they peak at the right time."
The hard slogging begins Tuesday against a tough Sentinel team and it won't stop until the provincial trophy is awarded. It's a wide open field this year at the AA level, said Gold.
"At this point it's anybody's game for the province," she said. "We've seen a lot of the top AA teams in the province and all the games have been 1-0, 2-1. It's a very cool season - going into provincials there'll be 12 teams going in and it's anybody's to take. There's no clear leader.. .. It's cool to go into provincials knowing that it's up for grabs. Our girls are fighting hard, training hard to make it happen."
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