Provincial Silver for LFA Field Hockey

After a "Cinderella" run in the Provincial Championships, LFA's senior field hockey team settles for silver.
This year's Senior Field Hockey team took on a very different look than last year's team, but will share a couple of key features in the memories the athletes take with them. They will share the emotional highs of climbing the mountain to make a provincial finals … and the disappointment of making it so close, but coming up just short. But most importantly, they each know that a cohesive team that plays for one another can accomplish great things.

The journey started back on the first day of school. With 14 athletes departing from last year's team, there were all sorts of new faces at tryouts. Many of the athletes were, in fact, just that--athletes... and not field hockey players per se. While a core group of six or seven girls play field hockey first, we had soccer, ice hockey, ringette, basketball and badminton players showing up at tryouts. Half a dozen players didn't own their own field hockey stick and had only really been introduced to field hockey through LFA's bantam and junior programs.

The group showed an immediate joy in coming together to train and play as they got to work learning a fairly ambitious system of play. While the team dropped its first league game to York House, there was some immensely positive outcomes from that game, which saw LFA work tenaciously to erase the lead YHS built up. With no time to dwell, the team was on the road for a first tournament in Oliver, BC. The four games they played were invaluable for the group. The system started to come together and we built our confidence as we discovered that we were quite potent at scoring goals. Four wins in four well contested matches and the casual observer could see the team showing signs of coming together. The team also used the weekend together to select our captains: seniors Shannon Stelling ’24, Gabby Collingwood ’24 and Christina Do ’24.

Returning to league play, it was a flood of goals against Crofton that gave LFA a league win and a real chance to get a good draw in Zones. The grit this team would continue to show was evident as, down three goals, we nearly clawed back against York in our subsequent league game. That grit would be on full display when the team got back on the road for the Bridgman tournament in Victoria, BC. After an initial win against Kelowna, LFA played two of the province’s best teams: Cowichan and Collingwood. In both instances, we found ourselves down by several goals. In both instances, this team refused to give up. They worked as hard to get all 11 players behind the ball in the last minute as the first minute. Our players were also starting to establish themselves in positions on the pitch and learn how the game can be played at an elite high school pace. By now, Shannon and sister Amy Stelling ’26 were solidified in the center of the pitch. Claire Cheng ’26, who—like Amy and Shannon—plays elite field hockey outside of school was the core of our central defense. While second year Senior A player Charlotte McKee ’25 was an obvious choice for outside defender, (elite basketball player) Bea Williscroft ’26 was a revelation and had claimed a starting role on the other side. Sofia Penalosa ’26 demonstrated that she could play valuable minutes in the back of the field as well as front. And while Christina and Gabby were gold with their wide-side half play, they offered the group the versatility to play multiple roles on the field, which meant that Abby Hui ’26 and Jess Bryde ’25 could take larger roles on the in midfield. While the complexity and fitness demands of forward line was still being sorted, those behind the forwards establishing their roles meant the forward unit were going to see a lot more of the ball.

In the playoff draw at Bridgman, an inspired win over SMUS in the grudge match from last year’s Provincial finals meant that LFA was suddenly playing for fifth at the prestigious Bridgman tournament. The game drew us against neighbour York House and LFA scrapped their way to a 1-0 win and a remarkable fifth place finish at one of North America’s most challenging high school tournaments. When we returned home to play Crofton in the final league game of the season, we knew that a “result” meant a better draw for Zones and a guaranteed spot at Provincials. It was, by our new standards, a sloppy game. We found ourselves down again but fought our way back to pull of the draw—a bare minimum, but enough to get ourselves into “Provies”.

At Zones, we put in an authoritative game against Sutherland, which showed some really lovely development by our forward unit. Our “baseline entries” had reached a new level that would be necessary for success in what was to come. This development only happens in time and with the full commitment of those in the forward roles. While Sienna Fabbro ’25 had staked a claim to the center froward role and showed remarkable consistency scoring goals, the winger combinations remained necessarily dynamic because of the sheer amount of running involved. It was a joy to see their perseverance pay off. Ice hockey converts (at least for 2 months) Kate Moorhouse ’25, Addie Hui ’25 and Mattea Ngui ‘26 now had weeks of dedicated field time (and shooting right): their skills were coming to the fore. Aynslie Burns ‘25 applied her basketball background by knowing and executing plays. Her routes in our system were near perfection and she was showing a genuine knack for knocking a loose ball into the net. Whether it was the hand-eye from badminton or her childhood field hockey, Ava MacNeil ’25 was showing she could turn a defender and, much like Nakita Sequeira '24, could find a lane for the next pass on. While the causal observer could see the forwards’ relentless running, the tell was seeing our high forward ready to receive on baseline in one moment and being back in our zone, defending a free hit at the other end of the field moments later.

After our 3-0 victory over Sutherland to book our ticket to Provincials, it was another shot at Collingwood, who had dismantled us at Bridgman. The team talked grit and, goodness: did they deliver. Though Collingwood quickly went up 1-0, LFA refused to go away. What also emerged was that our goalie, Kaelen Uy ’25 is not just a good goalie. Kaelen is an elite goalie. Certainly one of the best in BC high school field hockey. While we knew how good Kaelin is, this game might be where they put their notice to the wider community that they were the “real deal”. While out-chanced and out-skilled, LFA would not be out-worked. We clung to the game and counter-attacked whenever possible. We moved players into new roles. Amy showed she could give us a whole new look when she played center forward. Bea demonstrated she could play center defender against the best players in the province. Gabby was brilliant in defense despite playing midfield nearly all year. Jess and Abby solidified they could play at this level and now had experience doing so. Every player on the bench put in dogged minutes. Our forwards ran and ran and ran. We could hang… and then Collingwood gave up a corner to us and we scored. Six minutes left in the game and we were level 1-1 with AA’s most dominant team. We got caught almost surprised and a single Collingwood player ran through our team and scored on the ensuing whistle. An inexplicable penalty flick was called at the whistle and Collingwood made it 3-1. It looked much more comfortable than it was. The team congregated in the aftermath of the loss and there wasn’t an ounce of disappointment. There was only one feeling: belief. In the loss, not only did we learn so much about ourselves, but we learned what disrupted Collingwood.

The Zone bronze game was a bit of an anticlimax. Both LFA and Seycove had qualified for Provincials and both teams were missing key players. In that sort of scenario, it was no surprise that LFA’s gritty determination won the day and, with a closely fought 2-1 win, LFA secured third place at Zones and a good pool draw for Provincials. We followed up with a really good exhibition game and some much needed shoot-out practice at Tamanawis leading up to the big event.

AA Provincial Championships
This year’s Provincial Championships had a level of parody that hasn’t been in the case in decades. Though Collingwood are very much in a league of their own, there were easily 10 teams that could beat one another on any given day. While it meant the path through Provincials was fraught with nearly every game in question, it also meant that any team that remained focused, had a plan, and stayed in the moment could advance.

LFA 6 – 0 Byrne Creek
LFA started off the journey against Burnaby’s Byrne Creek. With many new players on Byrne Creek, we were too much for them. There were some very nice goals, including a beauty by Abby on a high ball she swatted home and a ripper by Claire on a short corner. While the result was never really in question as LFA cruised to a 6-0 win, the fourth quarter possession demonstrated that our business-like approach was on everyone’s mind. Byrne Creek had a few players who could break through. We did not give them the chance to do so in any way.

LFA 3 – 0 SOSS
With a win under our belt, news of upsets in other pools started to make the rounds. Our laser focus in game 2 against SOSS was on display. Having played SOSS in our early Oliver tournament, we knew them to be well coached and playing a solid system and a physical game. It took us nearly two quarters to break through, with Claire getting us on the board with a short corner goal to relieve some of the pressure. We came out of the gate in the third quarter with one of the most lovely sequences of hockey you’ll see at the high school level. Shannon took a quick free hit to swing the ball right, finding Jess who had her head up and hit Claire running to space. Claire ripped a pass to Sienna, who received in stride and slipped the ball to Amy, who with her head up, slotted the goal short-side. It was clinical. We knew that goal difference might be critically important. A three goal spread was important with how the pool was playing out. LFA poured on the pressure. SOSS defended wonderfully and it looked like we might not get the goal. A short corner at the final whistle had Shannon slip to Amy, who went back to Shannon. Her initial shot hit the goalie and a couple of defenders feet before Addie pounced on a rebound that was finally pushed home by Claire. Yet again, LFA managed to find a way to do what was needed.

LFA 2 – 0 GNS
Going into the final pool game, it was certain that LFA would move on to the championship bracket. Playing the early game against Glenlyon Norfolk School on day 2, we knew we were playing for top spot and because of the goal difference, a tie would be “enough” to win the pool. LFA was full value yet again. Clinical against a very good GNS team that would also progress to the final four. Two goals for the Angels and again Kaelen got the clean sheet in net. We wrapped up pool play with three wins, 11 goals for and none against.

LFA 0 (1) – 0 (0) SMUS
If we were hoping that our quarter final game would give us an easy path to semis, the upsets in Group A ensured that would not be the case. Instead, it was a rematch of last year’s Provincial Championship gold medal final against St Michael’s University School. We’d lost in a shoot-out in last year’s finals and earned a 1-0 win against them at Bridgman. This was a team that was every much our equal. The game was quite literally end to end. Amy and Claire really owned the center of the pitch while Bea was a steady force at center back. Jess’ time on the right half showed it might be time to consider whether field hockey should factor in with the ice hockey and soccer. Abby nearly got herself a goal late in the first quarter. But, really, Shannon was our force in this game.
Last year’s final loss almost seemed personal and Shannon was everywhere—attacking and defending and very nearly scoring on a couple of short corners. While the edge in play may have been in LFA’s favour ever so slightly, especially after a string of short corners in the second quarter, a regulation time draw wouldn’t have raised eyebrows and, just like last year, we were back to a shoot-out. Enter Kaelen. While our shooters did their best and Charlotte nearly sealed things a shot earlier when she hit the post (and then the ball rolled along nearly the full length of the goal line), Kaelen was simply stunning. Aggressive and nimble, they smothered every chance. All of which set up Sienna for a final shot, which she took with poise and purpose. She simply walked in, spotted the open corner and ripped a low shot perfectly to the side board. The celebration was on and a semi-final berth with Collingwood was the reward.

LFA 1 (4) – 1 (3) Collingwood
The preparation for our semi final match was unprecedented this season. Teammates from last year’s team (now at university) put together a lovely video to encourage the girls. Our hosts, the Burns family, had a wonderful breakfast prepared. Every player had a role and knew it. Every player was fully committed to being the best they could be in their role. And only a season of dedicated commitment allowed for the complexity of our system preparation.

From the first whistle, you could see the Angels commitment to both our plan and for leaving it all on the field. Collingwood was uncharacteristically on their heals in the first two minutes. Our press was smothering and our marking genuinely disquieting. Still, Collingwood were the elite of high school field hockey and in their first entry to our D, won a corner and scored. Thee minutes in and the Angels were down. One might imagine their heads falling, but that couldn’t be further from what happened. While the play shifted to Collingwood control, they never had a moment without being doggedly pressured. Defenders Bea, Charlotte and Gabby may have bended under the pressure, but there was no break. Just harder work, closing the gaps faster and relentless backcheck. All of which did result in turn-overs for us.

The question soon became: could LFA find something on the counterattack? Flipping between half court press and a full overload, Shannon created a lovely turn-over and drove the D. The slip to Amy produced a brilliant opportunity and LFA was rewarded a penalty flick. Perhaps our moment? Sadly the flick was saved. Again, rather than hang our heads, LFA pressed forward. Bea moved into the midfield and added a new energy as Shannon caught her breath. Claire stepped up her game. Abby was relentless in her checking. Our forwards, in cycle, came in so the level of relentless sprint didn’t wane. Ava, Nakita, Aynslie, Mattea, Kate, Addie… even Christina moved up to give us something different. Sienna stepped into center forward to spell off Amy. Sophia stepped into relief Gabby. As was the plan, we needed everyone. And, of course, none more so than Kaelen. Save after save on short corner defense where Shannon endlessly ran #1. After one diving save, the attacker assumed she had a goal on a free shot at an empty net—only to have Kaelen dive a second time to get her. The ball harmlessly out, it was telling that three of our defenders were on the ground, having lunged for what seemed a certain shot to an empty net.

And yet our plan was not to be “too” defensive. Every possible counter attack, it was a full commitment. We expertly swung the ball to try and move ourselves around and go forward. With 30 seconds to go in the half, Shannon ripped a quick free hit long to a streaking Kate. Though she narrowly missed it, her pressure caused the defender mis-trap and we had a long corner. Shannon, having sprinted the field, quickly took the corner, forcing the failure to give 5m, and we had a corner with no time left. Everyone forward. Amy took the first shortie on a slip and got a foot. Another corner was given and the ensuing scramble was frenetic. The Collingwood defender pushed the ball high off the backline and though it might have been another corner, it hit the umpire as she tried to jump out of the way and landed at Amy’s stick. She spotted Aynslie on the far side and pushed it hard to her… only for her pass to hit the defenders foot and go in. Suddenly, and against the run of play, we were dead even.

The second half, Collingwood raised their intensity. We tired but somehow found another reserve. We countered. Aynslie got a lovely chance at the beginning of the third quarter but couldn’t quite get to the  ball. Collingwood seemed to get frustrated with our short corner defending and relied increasingly on a big hit from top, center… which played to our strength with Kaelen in goal. When they sought D entries, we consistently had 11 behind the ball and Kaelen aggressively challenged out. That said, Collingwood was now coming at LFA in waves. We struggled to break out and found ourselves pinned in our own end. Perhaps it became a battle of wills: Collingwood attack vs. Little Flower defending.

As the game wore on, it almost felt like Collingwood ran out of ideas. Their pressure was purposeful but there weren’t many grade A chances for all the possession… though (to be fair) a cross-D, top corner, one-timer, with a diving save by Kaelen with 7 minutes to go probably counts as grade A. We still had the occasional counterattack, like when Amy took a quick swing and hit Kate in perfect position on the baseline 70m away. As a coach, I was enthralled how committed our group was to the counterattack: it can be demoralizing to have counter after counter rebuffed and it is exhausting to sprint forward and back full field lengths. And yet, there wasn’t a single moment in this game where we didn’t have a full team doing it. This script played out until the final seconds when a moment of individual skill broke free for a Collingwood break-away. It was, perhaps, the only moment where the LFA defense completely crumbled. Though doubtful they could have scored before time ran out, Kaelen left no doubt as they slid out and calmly stopped the opportunity in its tracks.

They we were. Against all odds, we’d taken the best team in high school field hockey to a draw when it mattered most in a Provincial Championship semifinal. For all the game preparation, now everything was to be decided in a best-of-five shoot out.

Shooting second, Kaelen would be facing five of our provinces best shooters. The first shooter was a lesson in patience and a nice goal on the curl. Claire responded for LFA with a little left and right, before slotting home a calm shot. 1-1. The second shooter pulled a similar move with the left and right and found a seam for a goal. Shannon responded with a patient curl and a shot that ticked the inside of the post for a goal. 2-2. What followed was an elite save at any level: the third shooter pulled right and wide, confidently creating space and ripped a low shot. Kaelen stretched out in a full dive to somehow get a finger on it. It was shocking. You could feel the momentum from the save in the moment. Queue Amy, who patiently pulled right and hung on and hung on, slipping it in from an impossible angle for the goal. 3-2 for LFA. Collingwood came up and the shooter pulled left and lost control—Kalen pounced and cleared the ball. Charlotte came up with the game on the line and pulled right; then left; then attempted the backhand sweep which grazed the outside of the post and went wide. Still 3-2 for LFA. The final Collingwood shooter came in and made a nice curl strong to score. LFA had one more shot, which went to Sienna. The same Sienna who had delivered the shoot-out goal over SMUS. Sienna calmly ran in with her head up and simply pushed the ball to the empty short side. Goal! 4-3 LFA and the celebration was on!
With past teammates, current students, family, and friends watching it all unfold online and in person, LFA had just pulled off one of the most stunning upsets in recent high school sport memory. It was an incredible moment for all who got to be a part of it. And yet, it wasn’t the final. Having spent everything pulling off the impossible, there was still one more step.

LFA 1 – 2 Seycove
There was a lot of joy in the warm up. Laughter and excitement, but a real sense of accomplishment. We talked about having one more thing to do, but from the very first moments of the final you could sense we weren’t as crisp as we’d been in our game against Collingwood. Passes were bobbled. Marking assignments missed. The work ethic, as ever, was not in doubt. We were just consistently a second late in decision making. Perhaps an exhausted team. Everyone cycled in and we tried to push.

The game was largely back and forth. Sienna had a shot saved 3 minutes in. On the ensuing short corner, Shannon dribbled in deep and had her shot deflected, but it landed at Claire who whistled a shot just wide and, unlike the previous game, heads fell when we missed. We stopped looking to transfer the ball to the help side like we had been doing. There was no sign of less effort, just tired decisions. Some players managed to play their very best games of the year in the final. Christina stood out from the first moments of the game, relentless and focused. Abby continued her crazy rise in effectiveness. Kaelen was reliable as ever. Shannon seems to have motor that never stops. Claire and Amy carry a heap of responsibility for grade 10 players. But things just wouldn’t gel.

A turn-over for LFA led to Seycove’s first goal. And then play largely returned to back and forth. Our free hits were a little slower than past games and we struggled to penetrate the D when we had our possession in their 25. But the team continued to push. If there was a solution, it was surely to dig deeper. But even with deeper, a missed marking assignment with a player carded allowed for a 2v1 that Kaelen stood no chance of getting. Down 2-0. And, so we dug deeper again. A lovely drive by Shannon resulted in a short corner with lots of time left in the third. Shannon attempted a give and go with Amy at the top but it was broken up. Christina alertly stepped up and stole back the ball, getting it to Shannon who ripped it home. 2-1. With lots of time to go.

Apart from the initial surge after the goal, it felt like we’d run out of gas. Seycove pushed forward; then we pushed forward. Their central midfield had upper hand at times and at other times it was LFA. We just couldn’t find a way in to their D. As the time wound down, the attack was more frenetic and relentless, as the athletes reached into some sort of unfathomable reserve tank. But Seycove was cagey and clever in defense. Long balls out ate time. And time just kind of ran out.

While in the moment it was hard to swallow a second silver in two years, it can only be regarded as a truly extraordinary accomplishment. More than just a medal won, the final result reflects a very special team. One that came together and worked relentlessly for one another. A team that was committed to training and putting in the extra hours. A team that was kind to each other and built one another up. A team that won and lost with grace. And in that, really, from a coaching perspective: what else can you hope for?

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