By Jennifer Hoegg
Sunshine, team spirit and strong numbers are boosting an Acadia team to one of its best years yet.
Since 2002, students have run a field hockey club at the university, but aside from the occasional glimpse of a skort-clad young woman crossing Main Street carrying a curved stick over her shoulder, few people on or off campus know much about the team.
Ten years ago, three students who had competed in high school - Megan Armstrong, Rachel Mullen and Jen Braymer - missed the chance to play their sport.
“They sent around emails and they got 20 or 30 girls out,” coach Rob Oulton says. “They used to practice on the other Tower field and everybody would show up, light shirts and dark shirts, and they would just scrimmage.”
Since 2005, the team has competed in a six-university Maritime league, with three tournaments over a “brief, but intense” six-week season.
Oulton has been around since the beginning, when the Halifax resident offered the team’s first coach a ride to Wolfville.
“He quit and I stuck with it.”
Co-captain Marianna Chapman says Oulton’s dedication is one reason the club has made it to its 11th season.
“Most of us are only around for four years and I think we would be hard-pressed to find a coach with as much experience and knowledge as Rob that would be willing to coach a team that is different each year with a range of beginner to more experienced players,” the fourth year music composition student said.
The group has had some up and down years, Oulton said.
“Sometimes we struggle to get players. That’s why we’re so excited about 40 players this year,” he added.
This year’s team includes students from Windsor and Halifax, where there are junior high and a high school leagues, as well as indoor and outdoor recreational competition.
Good weather has also helped. The team practices two or three times a week, but struggle to find space when the campus’ grass fields are too wet to play on.
Leadership on the team is also strong this season, he said.
“Jaimee (Gillis) and Marianna and the other fourth year players have all been excellent this year, helping with organizing the team on and off the pitch,” he said. “Especially on the field, I've never had senior players step up the way they have.”
Mid-fielder Chapman played in high school in Calgary. She found the club a good way to meet students in her first year.
Sweeper Jaimee Gillis loves to stay active, but doesn’t want to play at a varsity level.
“A club sport is fun, varsity sport is a lifestyle,” the Summerside native said. “I like to be active and I miss being on a team… but I need to keep up my GPA.”
Many of the current players competed at the high school level, but the club welcomes beginners. Chapman said that’s a benefit to both the experienced players and rookies.
“It’s cool to be a part and feel like you’re representing the university,” she added, “and not feel like they should have started when they were five!”
Oulton said almost every year new players have ended up as starters.
“I think Rob embodies our team's attitude by making new field hockey players feel totally comfortable starting a new sport,” Chapman added. “And lets us have fun while still driving us to play hard in our games.”
Explaining the sport
Field hockey is played with 11 players per side; one-sided, J-shaped sticks; a hard, nine-inch ball and what Chapman calls “quirky rules.”
It’s kind of like soccer combined with golf. - Couch Rob Oulton
“It’s kind of like soccer combined with golf,” Oulton said. “You’re allowed to hit the ball with one side of the bat with what is similar to a golf swing.”
“But the ball can’t touch your feet, which is nothing like soccer,” Chapman laughed.
Gillis and Chapman say the mentality and positioning is similar to soccer and “very different than ice hockey.”
As opposed to its cold weather cousin, field hockey “is supposed to be a non-contact sport,” Oulton said, “and the sticks aren’t supposed to come together like they do in ice hockey and the fields we play on so the ball bounces - a lot. It can be intimidating.
The sticks swing high, too - up to the shoulder level.
However, “the balls are more worrisome than the sticks,” Gillis said.
“Yeah, we’ve had some good war wounds from this game,” Chapman agreed.
This year, after two tournaments in Antigonish and Halifax, their record is nine losses, one tie, but Gillis said they have been competitive in each match.
“We are in every game,” Oulton agreed.
“This is our year!” Gillis said with a grin.
Oct. 13 and 14, Acadia competes with St. Frances Xavier and University of New Brunswick’s club teams and UPEI, Dalhousie and Saint Mary’s University varsity teams at the playoff tournament in Charlottetown.