Guelph Gryphons are OUA field hockey’s golden girls

GUELPH – The Guelph Gryphons ended their OUA field hockey championship drought with a 1-0 win over the Toronto Varsity Blues in Sunday’s gold-medal game on their own Varsity Field.

“This has been a long time coming,” Gryphon coach Michelle Turley said. “None of these guys have won a gold until this year.”

The Gryphs hadn’t won the league title since 2013, although they’d been in every final since then. In fact, Sunday’s championship win was in a way Lucky 13 for the Gryphs as it was in their 13th consecutive appearance in the league final.

“It used to be five teams would go to national championships and after that it was four,” Turley said. “I think we probably thought it was amazing to get to the gold-medal game. It’s not that we didn’t want to win the gold, but we maybe settled for going to the national championship because then we would go to the national championships and fare even better than the team that beat us in the OUs. We’d beat Toronto or whoever and win the bronze at CIs, which is now U Sports.”

Guelph’s first appearance in the league final in 2007 resulted in their very first OUA field hockey championship win. Sunday’s title victory was their fifth.

Katherine MacMillan’s goal 10 and a half minutes into the second half proved to be the winner.

“It happened really quickly,” MacMillan said. “There was a lot going on in the circle and the ball just kind of shot out and I had some room so I turned and just hit it on reverse, just like we’d do in practice.”

MacMillan had started the play when she knocked down a high pass by the Varsity Blues on a play that would’ve been stopped for a high stick in ice hockey.

“That was exciting,” she said. “I always jump for them, but I never actually get them so that was a good one.”

The Gryphs felt fortunate to escape the first half in a scoreless tie as Toronto had dominated play, outshooting the locals 5-0 and taking all four penalty corners awarded in the half. In the end, Toronto outshot Guelph 8-3 and also took the only two penalty corners awarded in the second half.

“We did not come out well at all,” Turley said. “We had a game plan and the game plan was to shut down the two twins (midfielder Emily Ziraldo and forward Hilary Ziraldo) and (defender) Katie Lynes.”

Those three had combined for 27 of the 53 goals the Varsity Blues scored in the regular season and five of the nine goals Toronto scored earlier in the tournament.

“Whatever we did, we were going to mark those three,” Turley said. “If anybody else ended up scoring that wasn’t one of them, then so be it. We just had to shut those three down because it was going to come from one of those three in the first place.”

The Gryphs also felt they were a little nervous at the start of the game because of their desire to finally end their losing streak in championship games.

“I think nerves and wanting it so badly that it almost makes you nervous wanting it so badly,” Turley said. “But you have to make it happen, you can’t just want it to happen. You can’t say you deserve because we’ve been here so many times, you have to make it happen. Today we made it happen.”

Amanda Hodgert picked up the shutout in the Guelph net while Elizabeth O’Hara was in net for the Varsity Blues.

For the Gryphs, the win was their second consecutive 1-0 win over the Varsity Blues as they had defeated Toronto in Waterloo a week earlier in the final game of the league’s regular season. That result gave Guelph a first-place finish and the honour of hosting the championship tournament. It also left the Gryphs as top seeds and Toronto as second seeds in the OUA tournament. Had Toronto won the game in Waterloo, the Varsity Blues would’ve been top seeds and Guelph second and the championship tournament would’ve been held in Toronto.

“Last week was really good as we could kind of see into this game,” MacMillan said. “We were able to work on some stuff that we could see were happening in that game that we thought would happen today. I thought it was an even game both days and whoever got the first goal, really.”

By being the top seeds, the Gryphs had a relatively easy path to the final. They beat eighth-seed McMaster Marauders 8-0 Friday in the quarter-finals and fifth-seed Waterloo Warriors 7-2 Saturday in the semifinals.

“Everything just fell in place this year,” Turley said. “The kids are really well connected on the field, off the field.”

Things have changed at the national level since Guelph’s last OUA championship win. Now the U Sports final is a best-of-three affair involving the OUA and Canada West champions and the site of the final rotates back and forth between the associations.

This year is Canada West’s turn to host meaning the Gryphs will be flying to Victoria to take on the host Victoria Vikings. Games are set for Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday at 7 p.m. and, if necessary, Sunday at 5 p.m. The times are Eastern times.

“The teams out west, they play really quick and they play on a different surface,” MacMillan said. “(We’ve got to) just make sure that we have quick balls, work on our set plays and work on our first touches to just get ready for more high-intensity games. It’ll be games just like this.”

“We’ll see what happens. I think we have a good shot out there,” Turley said.

And she doesn’t really have any idea of what to expect in a best-of-three series.

“I honestly can’t say,” she said. “We’ve never been in this situation before. I know it’s like that in ice hockey and things like that, but field hockey never did that (until two years ago). Hopefully the weather’s good.”


Gryphons 1 Varsity Blues 0
Toronto     0-0-0-0–0
Guelph     0-0-1-0–1
Click here for boxscore
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