The Handsworth senior girls field hockey team won the Bridgman Cup tournament last weekend in Victoria, a prestigious event that features most of the top teams in the province and often foreshadows success at the ultimate goal, the provincial AAA championships.
That foreshadowing, however, has never followed through for the Royals - this was their third Bridgman win in the last seven years but the team has never won a provincial title. Handsworth's North Shore rivals West Van and Carson Graham have both turned Bridgman wins into B.C. gold in recent years, and Handsworth head coach Paul Winstanley is hoping that this will be the year the Royals follow that same path.
"We've never succeeded in following up a Bridgman win with an equally good performance at provincials," he said. "That's the challenge for us - doing well at provincials is our goal."
The Royals certainly showed their toughness at the Bridgman, beating Crofton House 4-1 in the quarters and Carson 2-1 in the semis to set up a final showdown against South Delta, the lone team that has shown that it can hang with the North Shore's lineup of powerhouse teams so far this season.
In the final, Handsworth took a 1-0 lead into halftime on a goal from Meghan Hayden, but South Delta tied it up early in the second. The winning goal came from Handsworth's Sophie Plasteras with less than five minutes left.
"It was a tough game, it was very high-paced and very intense as it always is at Bridgman," said Winstanley. "There was quite a big crowd of parents from both teams and lots of noise."
The Royals were led by co-captains Kendra Perrin and Kylie Nabata, two Grade 12 midfielders who took control of the game after South Delta tied the score.
"It just didn't faze them - they just put the ball down and got back to work and urged the team on," said Winstanley. "They give us tremendous leadership."
Even more encouraging for the Royals is that they were missing one of the best high school players in the country for the entire tournament. Grade 12 forward Hannah Haughn, the team's third co-captain, is currently in Guadalajara, Mexico with the Canadian senior national women's team vying for gold at the Pan American Games. She'll be back at school in time for the provincial championships next month and when she steps back on the field in Handsworth blue and gold she'll be a dominant force.
"She's just got amazing skills and tenacity," said Winstanley. "She's got all the tools physically and mentally. She's just a great player."
Haughn and Perrin have been on the team since Grade 9 and with Nabata and sweeper Amanda Watson they form a powerful Grade 12 core that the Royals are built around.
"It makes coaching a lot easier, having that quality to put on the field," said Winstanley.
The Royals finished second at the preseason UBC tournament, another event that includes most of the top teams in the province, and have 16 wins, three ties and no losses in their first 19 games this season.
It all points to a strong finish for Handsworth, but Winstanley is taking nothing for granted, particularly the upcoming playoff battles against West Van, Carson and Argyle. Carson beat West Van in last year's provincial final while Handsworth and Argyle both finished in the top eight.
"We're a good team but we're not even assured of getting off the North Shore yet," said Winstanley, adding that if they do reach provincials it is a grinding weekend of field hockey that takes a lot of physical and mental strength to win. "We have the skill and we're developing the heart. We'll need to play stronger, harder on the ball. It gets really tough in the quarters, semis and final at provincials.
"It just takes something special to win provincials. The final is always so pressure-packed. Usually the weather is bad so you have to be very mentally tough. I think we have it this year with our leadership with Hannah, Kendra and Kylie in terms of the leadership and the desire to win and the focus. But it is high school so it's not necessarily consistent. They're young."
Winstanley allowed that the Royals might be ranked No. 1 in B.C. right now but he would make no predictions on what's to come.
"I just don't want to jinx it," he said with a laugh. "We're going to work hard at our practices and remaining games and hope for the best."
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Handsworth will face West Van in a battle for first place in the North Shore AAA league in their final regular season game this Tuesday at 3: 30 p.m. at Rutledge Field. North Shore AAA playoffs will begin next week with the championship final currently scheduled for Oct. 31 at 3 p.m. at Rutledge.