By Dan Plouffe
Girls’ high school field hockey was back in full bloom with spectacular summer-like weather as a dozen teams took part in the Nepean Nighthawks Field Hockey Club’s high school tournament on Sept. 27 and 28 at the Nepean Sportsplex.
“It’s going super well. Everyone’s excited to be here. The kids are having a lot of fun. I mean, the weather helps – it’s fantastic right now,” reports Nepean Nighthawks club president Halley Chopra during a quick break from her sidelines duties running the event.
The Nepean tournament organizers were particularly pleased to welcome back Longfields-Davidson Heights and John McCrae to the fold. Previously powerhouses in the national capital league, both programs were absent from the local loop in the two seasons following the COVID-cancelled 2020 season.
“Some teams are kind of rebuilding now, but we’re just really glad they’re here,” underlines Chopra, a John McCrae alum herself.
The Nighthawks’ tournament featured larger rosters so more players can participate on each team, and since results don’t count in league standings, it offers a “safe environment” for younger or less experienced players to get into some game action.
“It’s beneficial for their development,” notes Chopra. “And it’s such a short season for the high school girls. The more games they can get in, the better.”
The Nighthawks offered reduced tournament registration fees to teams that sent at least one representative to their rules and umpire clinic, held the weekend before the tournament.
It’s somewhat unusual for a community sports group to put on an event for school teams, but “it’s all for the greater field hockey community,” says Chopra, “and the high school league is an entry point for so many athletes in Ottawa.”
Numerous past Nighthawks players now coach local high school teams, including Allison Hatcher, an assistant with the John McCrae Bulldogs alongside Nighthawks club founder Sandeep Chopra.
Hatcher started playing field hockey in Grade 9 at John McCrae, joined the Nighthawks the next season, and wound up competing at Ontario Summer Games, Canadian championships and for Acadia University.
“It’s fun being able to be part of it as a coach now,” highlights Hatcher. “The field hockey team at John McCrae was always a big deal, so it’s really great to see it come back after COVID, and having these great girls who are really excited.”
Before the start of this season, only one current Bulldog had previously played in a field hockey game.
“They’ve come a long way,” indicates Hatcher. “I think that’s my favourite part when they’re just starting off and learning. They’ve picked up a lot in a really short period of time.”
Hatcher adds that field hockey is “a really unique sport because the girls are mostly starting out when they get to high school, so it’s kind of an even playing field,” in contrast to sports that are difficult to jump into when most others have been playing since a young age.
It can be challenging for players to continue raising their games since most high school programs only operate during a condensed fall season that barely stretches two months, though the Nighthawks take the show indoors to Carleton University with a juniors program that begins at the end of the high school season in November.
“Our doors are wide open,” smiles Chopra.
The Nighthawks had originally eyed Sept. 28 and 29 to hold the tournament, but many schools had planned assemblies for Sept. 29 on the final school day before Saturday’s National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, so they shifted it a day earlier since those efforts are particularly important to Nighthawks.
The Nighthawks have a Stick Together program that provides free registration and transportation to local Indigenous youth in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s call to action to support reconciliation by reducing barriers to sport participation.
The local high school field hockey season is young, but the defending national capital-champion Merivale Marauders are showing they’ll be strong contenders again, having posted 5-0 and 7-0 victories in their first two games. Sixteen local schools are competing this year across the OFSAA and Tier 1/2 divisions.
The Nighthawks’ tournament included the opportunity for Ottawa teams to test themselves against Gatineau’s Philemon Wright, which features numerous players from the Chelsea Phoenix Field Hockey Club. Six schools competed on the first day of the tournament and six more on the second.
Merivale topped South Carleton 2-0 to win the title on Day 2, while St. Mother Teresa earned the Day 1 crown over Nepean on sudden death strokes.
The champion teams won a one-hour skills clinic put on by leaders of the Carleton University field hockey club, while team MVPs received a plant.
One individual who loudly announced her MVP candidature was the John McCrae player who produced a dazzling drive down two-thirds of the field and through a whole team of opponents. Check out that sequence as well other photos from the Merivale vs St. Joseph and John McCrae vs Glebe matches below.