TORONTO, ON – There is a highway to the U SPORTS Championship, and it’s BC 1 from Duncan to Victoria. For the Victoria Vikes, who captured the 2021 U SPORTS Field Hockey Championship in Toronto on Sunday, it doesn’t get much more complicated than that.
Chloe Langkammer did not have any in-person classes as a first-year student at Uvic in 2020. Still, she made the 45 minute trip from Duncan to Victoria three times a week to train with her Vikes teammates. As a second-year student in 2021, she finally got to play her delayed rookie season.
In the biggest game of her career, Game 3 of a U SPORTS Championship series, she scored Victoria’s two goals to force the game to a shootout, where Victoria took gold. “She learned to grow and grow, she has a knack for scoring, and she is comfortable with this team,” said Vikes Head Coach Lynne Beecroft.
The Vikes made the trip to Toronto to take on the University of Toronto Varsity Blues in the National Championship final, a best of three series pitting the OUA Champion against the Canada West first-place finisher.
Despite the Vikes looking for their third consecutive title, and Toronto seeking their first gold medal since 2010, the two programs were locked throughout the weekend. Each of the three games went to a shoutout, with Toronto coming back in the first two to force the dramatic finales.
The Varsity Blues won the first game 4-3, and Victoria picked up their first of two wins in Game 2, winning 2-1, before taking the decisive third game 3-2, also in a shootout.
While Toronto’s opportunity to win the title on Saturday came under the brisk, early setting, November sun, the conditions could not have been more different on Sunday for the third game.
On Sunday, the ball splashed every time a player hit it along the artificial playing surface, and by the end of warmups, the torrential and cold downpour had drenched every athlete. Although the game was in Toronto, the cold, wet weather was reminiscent of a typical fall day on Vancouver Island.
With fans and fellow student-athletes lining the pitch, the Varsity Blues gave them something to cheer for early, when McKinley Kennedy scored to make it 1-0 less than five minutes in. For the first time in the series, Toronto led the Vikes.
However, that lead did not stand for long as Langkammer scored her first of two less than 12 minutes later. Toronto grabbed another just before half-time, but a late goal from Langkammer forced the match to a shootout.
For Victoria, playing a third game in as many days might have been challenging in years past, but not in 2021. Their Canada West season featured tournament-style weekends, with UBC, Calgary and Victoria playing four times in three days twice.
“It was a bonus,” said Beecroft of the 2021 season structure. “We told our athletes that ‘We don’t have to play four, we only have to play three,’ so it actually helped us a lot because we knew we had the energy to play four and only needed three.”
While the three games in three days did not challenge the Vikes, they had to rely on their team’s chemistry throughout the series. Rather than putting their golden hopes all on three-time Canada West Player of the Year Anna Mollenhauer, they took advantage of a close-knit group, albeit led by Mollenhauer.
“She always wants to make others around her better, and you can’t ask for a better leader than that,” said Beecroft on the Canadian Senior National Team player. “When we walk here, if someone missed a light, the rest of the group would wait for that person to catch the next light and walk, so it’s quite a cohesive group.”
Even with a tight-knit team forging their way through difficult opponents, it took everything they had to get past the Varsity Blues, including dominant performances from goaltender Robin Fleming, whose previous three shootout series came over half a decade ago at Cowichan Secondary. “I’m not a fan of shootouts,” she chuckled, having won two of them under must-win pressure.
With a gold medal around their neck, the Vikes firmly established themselves as a dynasty, winning their third straight title and the 14th of Beecroft’s 36-year coaching career. At the same, Toronto’s athletes accepted their silver medals, many in tears, others smiling, knowing their program’s championship drought had just been extended to at least 12 years.
“We feel pretty happy, we put in a lot of work to get here, and we didn’t give up the whole time, and I’m so proud of every one of my teammates,” said Fleming with a beaming smile.
It takes more than just hopping in a car and driving down BC Highway 1 from Duncan to Victoria, but without Langkammer making that drive three times a week last year, Sunday’s result could have looked very different.