Inside Toronto’s first OUA Field Hockey title since 2016

TORONTO, ON  – Anna Costanzo has worn the Canadian shirt, representing the U21 Canadian Women’s Field Hockey Team. Yet, she had never played in front of a crowd like the one at Sunday’s OUA Championship. 

“This was the biggest, most supportive field hockey crowd, and I think it is a testament to the Varsity Blues community; having everyone come and support, it’s fantastic,” she said.  “The girls and I were lifted up by the fans, and we are so thankful for their support.”

On an unusually warm November day, hundreds of fans lined the sidelines at the University of Toronto as the Varsity Blues defeated the Guelph Gryphons 3-0 to win the OUA Championship in front of their home crowd. 

With OUA field hockey restructured into separate divisions for 2021, the Guelph Gryphons and Varsity Blues had not met in regular-season action. Toronto played in the East, Guelph in the West.  “We’ve never played so many home games in a season, and we never really knew how Guelph was playing this year because we were in different regions,” said Toronto Head Coach Cassius Mendonça.

Anna Costanzo (Ben Steiner)

Despite not meeting in the regular season, the two programs have a rich history in the championship match battling in 10 of the last 15 finals, including 2019 when Guelph prevailed 1-0 over Toronto on their home pitch. 

“Bringing the banner home today is really special; two years go, we lost it to Guelph; it was one goal,” Mendonça said. “I think it was a collective win for us as the team, the coaching staff, the facilities; it’s great to be a Varsity Blue today.”

The Varsity Blues got out to a quick start against Guelph and never looked back. Canadian Senior National Team member and OUA leading goalscorer Sam McCrory opened the scoring less than four minutes in, and second-year forward Molly Koop added a second before the half. 

With the home side leading at half-time, the sun began to set, beaming off the university’s buildings and the medals sitting on a table behind the scorer’s tent. For the two teams, however, nothing was close to finished. 

(Ben Steiner)

Full of energy, the Varsity Blues continued attacking, adding a third goal off a penalty corner from Katie Lynes in the 45th minute, bringing bedlam to the parents, friends, fans and fellow student-athletes surrounding the pitch. 

Even with the lead in the waning moments, Toronto’s coaches and athletes stood by their bench, some covering their faces, others standing stoic as the minutes ticked off the clock. Finally, with five seconds to go, the crowd counted down, and the Varsity Blues sprinted onto the field in euphoria. 

“I’m super proud of this team, how far we’ve come, putting in the work during the pandemic when no one is watching,” said Costanzo.”This year we really stuck together as a family, and that carried us through lots of tough games, and we just put in as a team, and we are so happy to be a family and get this win.”

On Sunday, the Varsity Blues completed a perfect OUA season, with six regular-season wins, two draws, and the OUA Championship victory to top it all off. However, despite the gold medals hanging around their necks, the 2021 OUA Champions did not look completely satisfied. 

As the dusk’s sun sparkled off the medals and OUA Championship trophy, the Varsity Blues knew that their season was far from over and that beating the Victoria Vikes for the U SPORTS Championship is still the end goal. 

(Ben Steiner)

“It’s amazing; you don’t get that opportunity often. I’ve been around for five years, and this is the first time that we’ve had a U SPORTS  championship at home,” said Costanzo, as U of T gets set to host their first Championship since 2016. “To play the [Victoria] Vikes, who are coming in hot, it will be great to have our home field advantage and have the community behind us.”

When Toronto hosts Victoria, it will be a reunion of sorts for many on both rosters, with the Varsity Blues featuring 12 student-athletes from BC, including McCrory, who transferred to U of T after beginning her undergraduate degree at UVic and playing with the Vikes. 

“We wanted to come out and play Varsity Blues hockey, and it showed today,” said Mendonça. With a 3-0 win against a challenging Guelph side, the Varsity Blues will look to do the same in front of a Canada-wide audience on CBC Sports when they host the Vikes for a best of three series from Nov. 12-14.

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