Photo from left to right: Thea Culley, Abigail Raye, and Kate Gillis. Credit to Shaheed Devji and Yan Huckendubler.
It’s only been done twice before. Playing 150 international matches for Canada’s senior women’s field hockey team is a rare feat. But if all goes as planned on the Women’s National Team’s current trip to New Zealand, three more women will join the exclusive 150 club.
With two test matches against the New Zealand Blacksticks beginning this weekend, followed by the Hawke’s Bay Cup tournament in April, Canada’s women have eight games ahead of them. And in the span of those games – barring injury – veterans Abigail Raye (143 games played), Kate Gillis (143), and Thea Culley (145) will all hit the 150-game mark.
It’s a big milestone, but not one that has been a point of focus for the women.
“We’ve been so focused on improving our team performance since [the recent series against the United States in] San Diego,” Culley says. “That’s really been at the forefront in each training.”
“But it’s an exciting milestone to hit. I didn’t know that there were only a couple others who have done that.”
Stephanie Jameson (168) and Laurelee Kopeck (163) are the only two women on record to have reached and eclipsed 150 matches. That Raye, Gillis, and Culley will all soon join them is a yet another testament to the health of the Women’s National Program.
“I think through my career, building on those milestones, we’ve come a long way,” says Gillis, who – in recent years – has served as the team’s captain. “I think that’s what’s most important. Not the number of caps, but how far our team has come and how important it is for us to stick together through this process and make it to those Olympic Games.”
With the team goal of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup and the 2020 Olympic Games and a core group of athletes committed to seeing it through, it is conceivable that the trio of women, who will all likely be at the top of the Canadian women’s all-time caps list by this time next year, could also be joined by others who are currently on the team.
Defender Sara McManus is expected to hit 100 games in New Zealand. By doing so, she will join Raye, Gillis, Culley, Hannah Haughn, who recently became the youngest Canadian woman on record to hit 100 games, and Danielle Hennig (107), as the six active Women’s National Team members of the century club.
But for this group, it’s not all about milestones. It’s about improvement and achieving tangible success on the field. Something which the team did last year at the 2015 Pan American Games by winning a bronze medal – the first time the Canadian women have done that in 16 years.
It stands out as a highlight for both Culley and Gillis.
“That was so special for us,” Gillis says. “And also my 100th cap. We tied England, which was really such a great game for us.”
And throughout it all, having teammates to share the milestones and the successes on the field with is what is most important to the women.
“It’s the girls on the team that make it worthwhile to play, and to continue to play,” Culley adds. “So it’s great to be able to celebrate it with people that you’ve played with for the last eight or nine years.”
The Canadian Women’s National Team faces the Blacksticks in two test matches on March 27 and 28 before opening the Hawke’s Bay Cup against Korea on April 2.