O’Hara exits university field hockey as Canada’s top player

For the second straight season, Oakville’s Cailie O’Hara is the top player in Canadian Interuniversity Sport women’s field hockey. O’Hara, a fifth-year forward for the University of Toronto, becomes the first double recipient of the Liz Hoffman Award since its inception in 1992. Other Varsity Blues to claim CIS MVP honours include Philippa Kedgley in 2003 and Deb Cuthbert in 1998.

The other CIS major award winners announced Wednesday night at the All-Canadian Banquet were Guelph’s Jessalyn Walkey of Rockwood, who captured the Joyce Slipp Award as the nation’s best rookie; UBC’s Tyla Flexman of Vancouver, who received the Gail Wilson Outstanding Contributor Award; and UBC’s Hash Kanjee, who was named coach of the year for the third time and received the Marina van der Merwe Award.

O’Hara tied for sixth in Ontario and seventh in the nation in the regular season with eight goals as she led the Varsity Blues to a sparkling 12-0-2 record and first place in the OUA standings. The 21-year-old criminology major followed up with a game-MVP performance in the conference final helping Toronto reclaim the OUA banner with a 2-1 win over Guelph.

One of the most distinguished careers in CIS women’s field hockey history will come to an end this week when the Blues try to defend their CIS title in B.C.’s capital. Since 2004, O’Hara has been named CIS and OUA player of the year twice, an all-Canadian four times, including three first-team nods, an OUA first-team all-star each of her five seasons and a CIS tournament all-star in 2007, in addition to guiding her team to the CIS podium on four occasions, including the 2007 McCrae Cup triumph.

O’Hara is a veteran of 31 international caps with the Canadian national team and has represented Canada at the 2008 Olympic Qualifier, the 2008 and 2007 South Africa Tours, and the 2007 Pan American Games.

“Cailie is a fierce competitor with an innate ability to raise the intensity of her teammates. Through her work ethic
and dedication to the game, Cailie has become a fierce competitor that always wants to win,” said U of T head coach John De Souza.

Walkey is the second Gryphon in four years and the third in history to claim CIS rookie-of-the-year honours. Current teammate Kristine Wishart won the Joyce Slipp Award in 2005, while Lindsay Trimble was a co-recipient in 2001.

The 5-foot-8 midfielder was the highest-scoring freshman in the nation this fall with eight goals in 13 conference outings, good for a tie for sixth in Ontario and seventh in the country. She was part of a Guelph side that led CIS with 65 goals in the regular season en route to a 10-1-3 mark, and reached the OUA final for the second straight year. Her performances earned her first-team all-star status in the OUA and a spot on the second all-Canadian squad.

Walkey, a human kinetics student, came to the Gryphons after guiding her high school team to back-to-back Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations’ titles. “Jessalyn bestows a speed, strength and explosiveness which make her a lethal threat to any opposition’s defence, not only from the forward position, but the midfield, as well,” said Guelph head coach Michelle Turley.

“She is a thrill to watch. Her stick handling and elimination skills are impressive as well as her ability to find an open teammate. She has the flexibility to play anywhere on the field.”

Flexman is the first Thunderbird to receive the Gail Wilson Outstanding Contributor Award since the trophy was first presented in 1995.

A Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) native, Kanjee was first named CIS coach of the year in 1998 after taking his team to its first national banner since 1990 and then again in 2003 after his squad brought home its fourth championship in six years.

In his 15th season at the helm of the UBC program, Kanjee led the Thunderbirds to an 8-2-2 record and a 10th Canada West title since his appointment in 1994. Under his guidance, the ‘Birds have missed the CIS championship only once and have captured six McCrae Cups and 10 national medals.

The all-Canadian teams were also announced.

The nine players joining O’Hara and Flexman on the first CIS squad are Western Ontario defender Lakae Dill of Hamilton Parish, Ont., UBC defender / midfielder Laura Dowling of Kanata, Ont., UPEI forward Mikaela Ellis of Sherwood, P.E.I., Alberta forward Bunny Hughes of Victoria, Victoria midfielder / defender Alexandra Lee of Victoria, UBC forward Kathryn MacPherson of New Westminster, B.C., York midfielder Effie Petrou of Oakville, Western Ontario forward Michelle Weber of Ilderton, Ont., as well as Guelph forward Kristine Wishart of Hamilton.

Lee was the CIS player of the year in 2005 and rookie of the year in 2004, while Petrou (2006) and Wishart (2005) are also former CIS rookies of the year.

Joining Walkey on the second CIS team are Saint Mary’s defender Maria Barreiro of Dartmouth, N.S., York goalkeeper Brittney Blount of Ottawa, Calgary midfielder Courtney Campbell of Calgary, Victoria midfielder / defender Perri Espeseth of Duncan, B.C., Guelph midfielder Angela Lancaster of Burlington, Alberta midfielder Erin Mason of Kelowna, B.C., Toronto defender Kristen Shier of North Vancouver, B.C., Guelph forward Brienne Stairs of Kitchener, Victoria defender Katie Tittler of Richmond, B.C., and Toronto defender Kaelan Watson of Richmond, B.C.