By Mat LaBranche
At the Apr. 2-10 Hawke’s Bay Cup in New Zealand, Team Canada goalkeeper Rowan Harris stood tall against some of the world’s top women’s field hockey players. Half-a-decade ago, the Ottawa native could barely stand up.
That was the result of two concussions that brought an end to her soccer career.
“I was pretty much on bedrest for the next two or three years,” recalls Harris. “When I was in Grade 10 I still wasn’t able to do much running because of the headaches, which was driving me crazy.”
At her parents’ suggestion, Harris tried playing goalie in field hockey, since running was minimal and she could wear a helmet.
“Once my concussion symptoms started to go away, I just kind of stuck with it,” the Glebe Collegiate Institute grad adds. “I guess I wasn’t too bad at it and it really just took off from there.”
After touring three local field hockey clubs in Ottawa, Harris began travelling back-and-forth from Ottawa to Toronto almost every weekend for tournaments, practices and showcases. She would eventually become the provincial team’s starting goalie, earning the nod ahead of seven others.
Harris then moved on to the University of British Columbia, backstopping the Thunderbirds to a Canadian Interuniversity Sport national title this past fall.
With the national team training centre in Vancouver as well, the 19-year-old caught the eye of Team Canada coaches, initially earning a spot on the Canadian junior development squad and then getting the call from the senior side for a four-game series against USA in February, followed by the tournament in New Zealand.
“It’s a pretty big step-up in competition,” Harris indicates. “Everything is just so much faster and shots are coming in so much harder. It’s a totally different environment.
“You overthink how you’re playing against some of the top players in the world. You just have to simplify things and go in knowing your role: stop the ball and ignore everything else around you.”
The lowest-ranked participant in the eight-team event, Canada went winless at the Hawke’s Bay Cup to place 8th. The Canadians fell by four goals to Japan and Australia, but had a 2-1 contest with South Korea and 1-0 games against both India and world #5 China, in the quarter-final.
“We were kind of expecting to finish where we did,” Harris signals. “A couple years ago, we were losing to these same teams by scores of 6 or 7-0. But this year we showed a lot of improvement with much better performances and that’s all you can ask for is baby steps.
“From a No. 19 (world ranking), you can’t expect to jump up to No. 1 in the world right away, but it was nice to see that all of our hard work has paid off, as we’re slowly starting to catch up to these teams.”
For Harris, the opportunity to play for Canada in a top-flight international tournament was reason enough to celebrate.
“It’s a huge honour every single time you step on the field or put the jersey on,” she underlines. “This was my first time competing in a large tournament like this, and I was just so excited to play some of these top-10 teams, some of which will be heading to the Olympics.
“This is something you don’t take for granted. You work hard to earn your spot to get here, so once you do and get to play, it’s really something special.”
Nighthawks swoop to U.S. sweep
The Nepean Nighthawks Field Hockey Club – with whom Harris played during her final year of high school – enjoyed a breakthrough performance at a large tournament hosted by Syracuse University.
The Nighthawks under-14 girls went undefeated at the competition, allowing just one goal against in five victories.
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