By Mark Colley
There are 16 countries competing at the women’s field hockey World Cup from July 1 to 17 in Spain and the Netherlands, but none have been through a journey like Canada’s.
The team, with 25-year-old Ottawa-native Rowan Harris as its goalkeeper, is making its first appearance at the World Cup in 28 years.
While the team is last in its pool and is expected be relegated to the bottom half of the bracket when pool play concludes on July 7, advancing to the World Cup represents a landmark moment for Canada’s program.
Backtrack to November 2019, when the team failed to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The athletes then spent 15 months without a coach, before having a new coach for a brief period of time — only to spend a few additional months coachless once again.
Through the COVID-19 pandemic, the team battled low funding, according to Harris. Until recently, they trained on frozen pitches and dealt with cancelled practices. And since the Pan American Cup in January, Canada has played little in the way of exhibition games. By comparison, other national teams have been playing pro league games every other week.
All this combines for a unique story: Canada, in the World Cup for the first time in nearly three decades, battling against the odds to make a name for itself on the global stage.
“We definitely recognize that we are the underdogs, but we also know within our team that we do always fight,” Harris told Sports Pages before the tournament began. “We belong here as much as anyone else. We made it. We believe that and we’re here to show that.”
Canada making its first appearance at the World Cup in more than a quarter century means that none of the team’s players have been at this stage before.
“I’m not really sure what to expect,” Harris said. “We’re kind of figuring it out as we go along but staying true to things that we know, which is how our team plays.”
Harris said the team would rely on its experience — including that of head coach Rob Short, who is the former captain of the Canada national team and two-time Olympian.
“We still have a very strong core group who are very experienced, so we can rely on those players to kind of steady the ship as we go through the rocky waters,” Harris said.
Harris is well-travelled herself. She competed with three local field hockey clubs in Ottawa before playing for the University of British Columbia, where she won two national championships.
She made her senior national team debut in 2016.
Harris is hoping to channel the excitement of the World Cup into game day performance. That means thinking less of the history of the moment as it gets closer to game time and “doing the same thing as every other game that I’ve played.”
The opposition for Canada is tough. So far, they’re 0-2. Canada lost its opener against No. 7-ranked Spain on Friday (4-1), as well as its second match against No. 10-ranked Korea on Sunday (3-2). Team Canada is on pace to finish last in its pool after the two losses.
But before the tournament, Harris was optimistic.
“Everybody knows the jobs that they need to do when they come to game time,” Harris said. “We’re gonna need to step up and show everybody that, as a Canadian team, we belong here. We are gonna be back.”
Canada’s last game of pool play is against Argentina on Thursday.
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