Three girls from B.C. town make the move to play field hockey at U of C
The small town of Rossland, located in the south of B.C. in the West Kootenays, has been known to produce many athletes at all sorts of levels. Nancy Greene, Kerrin Lee-Gartner, both ski racers, and Dallas Drake (NHL retiree), are notables to hail from there.
There are three more names who are proving the athletic reputation of the town to be true by playing sport in Calgary.
Brenna Mackay, Jessica Britton and Sydney Hamm are all from Rossland and are now playing field hockey at the University of Calgary. The three girls are all starters on the team, but did not anticipate it.
“We knew lots of players weren’t returning but we didn’t think we’d be playing right away,” Britton said.
Photo by Neil Hilts
Britton is the starting right back on defense for the team, and is studying health sciences. Mackay is a starting forward and also taking health sciences, while Hamm is the only goalie on the team playing every game and studying nursing.
The girls were not considering field hockey until they went to the recruitment camp at U of C in the spring. The programs and chance to play a varsity sport drew them in, they said.
The transition to live away from home has been a new experience, but a little tougher for Mackay, who is experiencing some homesickness.
Rossland’s rich athlete history
The players suggested Rossland produces so many talented athletes because it’s what all kids do there for hobbies.
Hamm said, “Maybe because it’s such an outdoorsy town and has nothing else to do. Sports are the only option. I feel like I’ve played every single sport when I was younger because that’s all there was to do; no malls or anything.”
“It was really welcoming and nice to come to a team where you already felt like you were supported in a place without your family.”
-Jessica Britton, U of C women’s field hockey defenceman.Britton added: “I think a lot of it is that we play every sport on the same team together and I think we bond easier as teams which helps a lot. Just the lifestyle.”
Head coach’s thoughts
Jenn Swagar, head coach of the team, and the three friends know the team is in a rebuilding year, so developing chemistry and familiarity with the game is important for the future.
Swagar said: “For me this year is not about the record. My markers are, can they maintain the game plan, can they play 70 minutes. Are they playing well as a team together and are they learning to understand speed, and how to talk to one another?”
Donna Hebert, the high school coach for Britton and Mackay until graduation, and for Hamm until Grade 10, played a big role in developing the players, and Swagar is thankful for that.
Swagar said: “She’ll come and watch the girls when they play Canada West and it’s been a good relationship with her. It depends on the program and coaches. It all comes down to the grassroots and these ladies are good little athletes and they aren’t just good field hockey players.”
Photo by Neil HiltsSam Spearn, also from Rossland, played field hockey at U of C last year and talked to the girls as they were considering it and certainly helped sell the program. Spearn would have been a valuable mentor for the girls but left Calgary due to personal reasons. They hope she can return in the future.
The loss of Spearn was hard for Swagar, as she thought Spearn would be a fixture and leader on the team for her field hockey career.
“It is very hard for people coming in their first year and they have this big time commitment. She would’ve been an important player for us,” Swagar said.
Welcomed to the team
Despite being first years on the team, the girls felt like they belonged right away, something that they weren’t expecting.
“It was definitely nerve-wracking because it was a lot,” Britton said. “Everyone on the team was so nice and open. It was really welcoming and nice to come to a team where you already felt like you were supported in a place without your family.”
A big challenge and adaption for the girls was playing on turf, because they had only played on it once before.
“We don’t play on turf, so it was a lot different playing here. The ball moves a lot faster and the game is quicker. It was a shock. The first practice was a rough one,” Mackay said.
Hamm was recently named the Canada West Goaltender of the Year, while Swagar was named Head Coach of the Year.
If Swagar could have more Rossland players, she would be thrilled. There are two possibly considering playing next year, and Spearn could possibly return in the future as well, the girls mentioned.
“I would love to have more kids from Rossland. The families are very supportive. They are great athletes,” Swagar said.
Note: Reporter Neil Hilts grew up in Rossland and went to the same high school as Britton, Hamm, Mackay and Spearn.