Vikes, Thunderbirds renew field hockey rivalry

The shifting dynamic of the UVic Vikes women’s field hockey season returns to normal this weekend as the UBC Thunderbirds visit

Kathleen Leahy fires a pass against Mexico during the 2012 Junior PanAm championships in Mexico last week. Canada won silver. Leahy returns to the Vikes against UBC this weekend.

The shifting dynamic of the UVic Vikes women’s field hockey season returns to normal this weekend as the UBC Thunderbirds visit for two games.

Start time is 11 a.m. Saturday and Sunday at the UVic field hockey turf.

It’s the first meeting between the Vikes and T-Birds, who have each swept the Calgary Dinos for two wins.

Without the Alberta Pandas this year, the Canada West conference is limited to the Vikes (2-0), Thunderbirds (2-0) and Dinos (0-4).

“It’s a tough matchup this weekend,” said Vikes assistant coach Krista Thompson. “UBC is very strong.”

The Vikes will benefit wit the return of Oak Bay High grad Kathleen Leahy, who helped the junior national team win silver at the Junior Pan American Championships and qualify Canada to the 2013 Junior World Cup last week.

The Thunderbirds, however, have seven players returning from the junior national team. UBC is the Canada West

favourite with senior national team midfielders Poonam Sandhu and Natalie Sourisseau.

The top two teams will advance from Canada West to the CIS nationals in Ontario this year, which is good news for the Vikes, who hold a two-game lead on the Dinos.

“We still have to do our job against Calgary,” Thompson said. “They’re similar to us in that they are young.”

The Vikes have 11 new players, while Calgary lost eight from their silver-medal team that made the national finals last year. One of those new Vikes, incidentally, is second-year player Alanna MacDonald of Coquitlam, who was orphaned from the Alberta Pandas. The rest are rookies.

So to further develop the young core of players and keep the team on the field, the Vikes are competing in the premier division of the Vancouver Women’s Field Hockey Association.

It adds seven games and means the Vikes will be playing beyond Christmas, well past the usual end date. And that doesn’t include the Vikes weekly exhibition matches against the Island Wildcats, Victoria’s 2012 entry into the premier league.

UBC also plays in the Vancouver premier league, which boasts ex-CIS players, as well as junior and senior national players past, present and future. But the Vikes preference is to play CIS first, Thompson said.

“The premier league games are tough, and the Wildcats give us a very difficult game every Wednesday to help us develop,” Thompson said.

Later this fall, CIS and Field Hockey Canada will meet with the goal of preserving women’s field hockey as a Canada West sport.

“They would like to come up with a proposal to keep it healthy in Canada, as Field Hockey Canada would like to maintain their relationship with the CIS,” Thompson said.

The hope for the Vikes is to stay in the CIS, and use the premier league as a complementary resource. There’s no obvious answer to how that will shake out, except that the format of the nationals will probably change, Thompson added.

A secondary option could see the Vikes enter the premier league full time, but that is a less desirable fallback at this point.

“There’s a few models where teams aren’t in the CIS but are playing in the championships, such as UVic rowing,” Thompson said.

The Vikes annual Ivy League tour taken in August is also an important part of the schedule. This year the Vikes beat Harvard and Brown universities, but lost to Dartmouth and Yale.

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