Elite Amateur Sport Field Hockey Universities

HIGH ACHIEVERS: Kenzie Girgis serving double duty with Canadian field hockey program

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By Martin Cleary

In Canada, it’s common to see backyard hockey rinks pop up on the winter landscape. They range from basic to grandiose.

But they all serve the same purpose: a great opportunity for young hockey players to spend as many hours on the ice as their schedule and weather permits to develop their skills in the game.

But ice hockey doesn’t have a full copyright on that mode of outdoor fun and practice.

During the COVID-19 pandemic sports shutdown, the Girgis family of Ottawa decided to install some artificial turf in their backyard so daughters Kenzie and Abrie could continue to develop their skills.

The hard work of preparing and levelling the backyard ground was well worth it as Kenzie, 19, and Abrie, 25, spent many hours practising on actual field hockey conditions to step up their games, which eventually led to assignments with Field Hockey Canada’s national junior and senior teams.

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“During COVID in 2020, we couldn’t always go to the field so we put down a small patch of artificial turf,” Kenzie Girgis, a member of the Outaouais Field Hockey Club, said in a recent phone interview from Vancouver.

Her family received a 200-square-foot patch of turf from another family, which was previously used as field hockey artificial turf.

“We tried our best to level the ground and remove the rocks for drainage,” she added. “It definitely helped because it was actual field hockey turf and not football turf. Depending on the week, we’d use it three to five times a week during COVID.”

It’s hard to say how much her training on the family’s backyard artificial turf played in her development, but it certainly was one of the pieces of the puzzle she snapped together during the pandemic to construct a rewarding 2022-23 season.

As a first-year player with the University of British Columbia, Girgis was a midfielder for the Thunderbirds, who finished second in the three-team Canada West conference at 4-3-1.

During her first year as an applied science student, Girgis also performed well enough during tryouts for the Canadian women’s junior team to make the final roster for the 2023 Pan-American junior championships in April in Barbados.

Four months earlier, Abrie played for Canada at the World Cup indoor field hockey championship in Pretoria, South Africa. Canada finished fourth in Pool B play at 1-3-1 and lost its quarterfinal to The Netherlands 6-1.

At the Pan-American junior championships, Canada lost the bronze-medal match 5-1 to host Chile, but still qualified for the Junior World Cup, which starts at the end of November in Chile. The top three Pan-Am countries advanced to the Junior World Cup, but since Chile was the host nation, Canada was able to be promoted to the third spot.

Girgis will join the Canadian team for the Junior World Cup in Chile for games against India on Nov. 29, Belgium on Nov. 30 and Germany on Dec. 2.

Kenzie Girgis. Photo provided

But before Girgis tackles that worldly assignment, she’s preparing for her first major assignment with the Canadian women’s team from Sept. 3-15. World No. 15 Canada will travel to Charlotte, North Carolina, for a training camp and five-game series against No. 16 United States. But only two games will be sanctioned by the international hockey federation.

For only the second time since the 1980s, the Canadian women’s field hockey team will have two Ottawa-trained players on the team. Goalkeeper Rowan Harris, a former UBC student-athlete, will be on Canada’s roster with 58 caps to her credit.

Girgis is looking forward to her first two international caps with the Canadian team.

“It means a lot to me,” said Girgis, who helped Glebe Collegiate Institute win the National Capital Secondary School Athletic Association championship and post a 6-0 record in 2021. “I’ve always wanted to play for Canada. This is special.”

By studying at UBC and being based in Vancouver, Girgis has had the opportunity to train with the national women’s team for several months.

“I don’t know how much I will play, but I will definitely get to play,” she continued.

Girgis was one of six players who missed a national women’s team tryout camp because of a scheduling conflict with the Pan-American junior championships. But new Canadian head coach Danny Kerry, who led Great Britain to the women’s Olympic gold medal in 2016 and the bronze in 2012, held a special tryout session for the half dozen players.

Kerry, who is assisted by Kate Richardson Walsh, was able to see Girgis’ speed on the field as well as her solid skills and vision.

“I’m calm on the ball and under pressure,” Girgis continued. “I’m also a good passer.”

In her short time with the national women’s team, she has developed plenty of confidence and feels part of the team.

“My first two games are special. I’m really excited and nervous to play,” Girgis explained. “I definitely feel comfortable on the team, especially with a new coach and assistant coach. I feel I fit in.”

Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.

When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.

Martin can be reached by e-mail at martincleary51@gmail.com and on Twitter @martincleary.

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