ANY time you field a provincial championship winning high school team with only four Grade 12 players, things likely look good for a repeat performance the following year.
But what if those four players were all university-bound stars? Does the math still work?
It certainly has so far for the Handsworth Royals senior girls field hockey team.
Last season the Royals won the first AAA provincial title in team history thanks in large part to a quartet of stellar Grade 12s, including Hannah Haughn, who in her spare time last year helped Canada's senior women's national team to a fourth place finish at the Pan American Games. Haughn just wrapped up her first season at the University of British Columbia where she was named the Canada West Rookie of the Year. The other three grads were Amanda Watson who is now at the University of Victoria, Kylie Nabata who went to McGill and Kendra Perrin at Duke.
That's some high-powered talent to replace but it seems there was plenty of skill and experience left over to keep the ball rolling this year. Fourteen players from last year's team are back and they haven't missed a beat, winning every game so far this season heading into the North Shore playoffs which begin tomorrow.
The Royals staked their claim as this year's team to beat at the Bridgman Cup, winning the prestigious Victoria-based tournament over the Thanksgiving weekend. Handsworth scored 26 goals and allowed only one against many of the top teams in the province, beating West Van 3-0 in the semifinals and South Delta 3-1 in the final to win their second straight Bridgman.
The tournament was also a showcase for Haughn's replacement as the team's top gunner. Centre forward and co-captain Stephanie Norlander, a player who has also worked with the national junior and senior teams, lit up opponents throughout the tournament. Norlander notched 14 of the team's 26 goals at the Bridgman, including five of the six goals that Handsworth scored in the semifinal and final.
Royals head coach Paul Winstanley said that while Haughn and Norlander both know how to get great results, they do it in very different ways.
"Hannah was very skilled and quick, Steph is more of a goal scorer," he said. "She drives to the net and she's just so determined to score. She's just very difficult to stop, very skilled in the circle."
Norlander has joined with co-captain Sophie Plasteras, a centre midfielder, to take over the leadership of the team, said Winstanley. "They've really stepped it up."
It doesn't hurt that they're leading a group that includes 14 players who won last year.
"They know what it takes to win and they work hard and play for each other," said Winstanley, adding that he gets production from each of the 18 players on his roster.
The Royals finished first in North Shore league play and will take on West Vancouver to start the playoffs on Monday at 3 p.m. at Rutledge Field.
Handsworth beat West Van 6-0 on Oct. 23 but that was a relatively meaningless game with playoff positions and provincial berths already decided. Tomorrow will be a lot tougher, said Winstanley.
"Because it's do-or-die now it's going to be tough," he said. "They're a good team so we're just going to have to work hard. Every game now we're going to have to work really hard and outwork the other team. It doesn't really matter how much talent you have, you have to put in the work."
The other North Shore semifinal also has some interesting storylines. Collingwood, last year's silver medalists at the AA provincials, played against the big AAA North Shore squads this season and finished second behind Handsworth. The Cavaliers will take on the Argyle Pipers, a team coming off of a huge 4-3 win over Carson Graham Oct. 22. The Pipers came into their matchup against Carson trailing the Eagles by one and needing a win to make the playoffs and the provincial AAA championships. They got their win, leapfrogging both Carson and West Van to finish in third place.
"Argyle has a lot of grit and determination and work hard," said Winstanley. "They've hung in there and managed to beat Carson Graham in the league which was a great win to get into provincials and eliminate Carson."
Collingwood and Argyle will play Tuesday at 3 p.m. at Rutledge Field. The North Shore final will be played Thursday at 3 p.m. at Rutledge.
Once North Shore bragging rights are settled the teams will focus on provincials with Handsworth, Argyle and West Van all headed to the AAA championships. Now that Handsworth finally won its first championship, it'll be interesting to see if the titles keep coming.
"I hope so - 14 of them know what it takes and how hard it is to win at provincials," said Winstanley. "I think that's going to hold us in good stead. They know that once you get to quarterfinals it's just very tough."