Angels Fifth in BC

Little Flower Academy’s Senior Field Hockey Angels settle for fifth in British Columbia after a fantastic AA Provincial Championship, where they only lost a single game. The team came together at the right time, playing some truly inspired field hockey. The highlight of their tournament emerged in two truly astonishing games against JL Crowe, from Trail, BC.
On Day 1 of the Provincial Championship, fourth-ranked LFA came out firing on all cylinders against South Okanagan (SOSS) and GW Graham. Playing effective possession hockey, LFA simply overwhelmed each of them. There were a series of lovely goals, both from field play and short corners. Brooke Hamilton-Wong ’21, Catherine Blouin ’21 and Allison Kuzyk ’20 all had multi-goal performances while neither Athena Pucovsky ’19 or Hannah McGee ’20, our two goalkeepers who each started a game, were called into action.

We knew that we’d need traction on Day 2. Our last pool game was against JL Crowe. With a junior national development player running their offence and a seasoned coach, we anticipated our day would start with a challenge. The team came out and surged forward. We had Crowe hemmed in their half for the first five minutes, generating a couple of short corners and looking very much like we would own the game. Then, on a long ball forward, Crowe released a speedy forward, who beat our defenders and our goalie to touch it in the D and put them up 1-0. Unfazed, LFA dug in and moved back on the attack. Eleanor Morrison ’19 and Mikayla Stelling ’21 were able to dominate the middle of the pitch, getting all sorts of possession to our wide-side halfbacks. Yet, it was only moments later when another counter attack resulted in another Crowe goal. Then, taking the momentum, Crowe capitalized on a turn-over at the back on one of our swings and a lucky touch found its way into the back of our net. Only twenty minutes into a game where we controlled the majority of the possession, we found ourselves down 3-0.

It was, at this moment, where this team proved itself. They doubled down on their effort and refocused on their basics. JL Crowe would hardly touch the ball again for the rest of the half. Ava MacFarlane ’20 and Sara Dee ’20 proved dominant. Allison moved back into the middle of the pitch and elevated her game to a level we’ve not seen before. Mikayla and Gracie Korac’ 20 got shuffled into new positions as we tried to find our way to the net. Short corners quickly followed and, with a couple minutes left in the first half, the Angels finally broke through to score on an incredible tick-tack-toe passing play, where Gabriella (Gib) Lee ’19 deftly passed off to Francesca Yep ’20, making the most of a broken short corner.

Starting the second half down 3-1, LFA was in full fight mode. Wave after wave of attack went at the Crowe defenders. Gib was on the end of pass after pass, and looked like she might score nearly every time she was around the D. With Gib, Catherine and Gracie giving us astonishing speed up front, it was only a matter of time before results came our way. The goal to get us back 3-2 made the momentum on our side seem overwhelming. It was quickly 3-3. Then with about 10 minutes to go, and seemingly against all odds, LFA scored to go up 4-3. Then, like in the first half, it was a quick long-ball counter attack that released Crowe in on a partial break away. Hannah came out to challenge, but the defender got enough touch to slip it by her. With only two minutes left, the game concluded as a draw.

Normally pool play would finish as a draw, but the Crowe and LFA found themselves tied for first spot and needed to resolve the difference with penalty shots. After five rounds, both teams were able to pot 3 goals and it remained a draw. It took three more rounds of sudden death penalties to fall in Crowe’s favour, leaving LFA second in the pool and facing Crofton in the Quarter Finals.

The raw emotion of a mountainous comeback and the deflation of losing the penalty shots seemed to drain the team. We would also desperately miss Ava in the Quarters, who had to attend a family matter. Our game against Crofton in the afternoon never seemed to get off the ground. When Eleanor took a ball off the knee and was sidelined for most of the first half, a tough road got tougher. That said, Charlie Kan ’22 stepped into the midfield and played some really lovely minutes at a critical time. Amelia Wallace ’20 continued to be a rock in the backfield, as she played the entire tournament without a break. Athena also made some excellent saves to keep us in the game. Only down 1-0 with 10 minutes to play, the girls seemed to lag slightly. Against a top team like Crofton, it was too much. The game ended 3-0. It took a few moments to process that we had missed out on our goal to play in the finals.

Having set a goal of being in the final, playing for fifth felt strangely unfulfilling at first. That was quickly replaced by pride and determination. Resiliency is also very much the modus operandi of this team, as displayed in their game against JL Crowe. They had to draw on all of this, realizing we had drawn our playoff game with cross-street rival York House. Having already played York House four times this year, we knew two things. One, we could beat them if we played well (we won 3 and tied 1 already). Two, York House is a very good team and winning would require us to be at our best.

True to form, LFA was full value from the opening push-back. Structure and sophisticated team play and controlled development were on full display, despite Trillium’s slow soccer turf. Our forwards have an incredible expectation of running placed on them to be in position both on the attack and the defence. Mackenzie Chisholm ’21 and Gib started up front and immediately influenced the pace and play of our attack. Alexa Dodds ’20, Catherine and Brooke all spelled in, giving us fresh legs—five games into the tournament. Maddie Luft ’20 and Stephanie Non ’20 were also called upon at the back to take on bigger minutes and delivered in spades. Short corners came, but York’s defenders and the slow turf were too much to overcome. Allison did have a rocket of a shot off one corner, but the YHS keeper managed to keep it out with a good save. Eleanor, Mikayla and Allison were able to control the middle of the pitch, and continued to create dangerous opportunities around their D. In the end, however, it was Gib who would not be denied. Collecting the ball off some great movement from Eleanor out to Mikayla, Gib fought off some cynical tackles and beat the goalie in close to put us up 1-0. York countered with long, searching balls and big runs from a couple of their speediest wingers. Hannah was called upon to make a couple of good saves and our defenders provided stoic coverage that really smothered everything York could generate. The 1-0 victory was a fair reflection of a genuinely closely fought game—and, by far, the best we’ve seen of York this season.

The 5/6 final would see us in a rematch with JL Crowe. The same Crowe team that had bested us in the shoot-out, giving us the toughest possible draw in the Quarters. Full of excitement from the win over York House, LFA was looking for a measure of revenge and came out flying. It was only a matter of minutes before LFA was up by one. And then quickly up 2-0. That said, if there was any hope we might go on a run, Crowe had other plans. It was our control and build matched evenly with their speed and counter attack. Amelia was gold in nullifying a number of the attacks. Stephanie played her best hockey of the year, stopping Crowe attacks and finding Sara on the wide side with regularity. Indeed, Sara also delivered a game to be remembered. On a couple of occasions, she pulled out moves that were simply outrageous—one spin in front of the benches even drew begrudging applause from the other coach.

Crowe, however, wasn’t done. Their key midfielder had an astonishing run of her own. While Athena would make several key saves, there was no denying the first Crowe goal. Carrying the momentum, Crowe clawed their way back to 2-2. Through a game and a half between our two teams, the score was deadlocked. Where Allison had taken over the first game against Crowe, it would be Eleanor—in her last game of high school field hockey—who would take over this game. She simply willed our possession: tenacious and untiring in defending and creative and unselfish in the attack. She and Allison were a constant threat to break into the Crowe D. As they distributed, Sara and Ava and Mikayla and Gracie and Gib and Catherine were working to make the most of the opportunities. Still, it was a lovely move by Allison that gave her the space to release a rocket of a tomahawk that hit the post with such force that the ball lurched to the top of the D. Eleanor calmly collected the rebound, got low, and rifled a low flick from the very top of the circle. The thump of the backboard echoed as the girls swarmed Eleanor in delight. The final 10 minutes were played at a frenetic pace, but LFA’s ball control and distribution were simply too much.

In the end, the win over such a closely matched opposition who played the game so well was a delight. Youth sport is seldom so well served as it was this past week. Our thanks go out to our tournament host, Crofton House; to umpires; to the amazing parents who drive and support their daughters as they do; to Eleanor’s parents for having all the girls stay at their house; and, especially, to the girls on this team who represented LFA with dignity, class and sportsmanship throughout. This was a special team and, on behalf of all the coaches, we trust the memories of this season will be cherished for a lifetime.
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