Culley leads Canada to berth in Olympic qualifier

Rossland native Thea Culley and Team Canada’s women’s field hockey team are one step closer to the 2016 Olympic Summer Games.

Rossland native Thea Culley and Team Canada’s women’s field hockey team are one step closer to the 2016 Olympic Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The Canadians advanced to the World League Round 3 tournament in Valencia, Spain in June, which will decide the final Olympic competitors, by making it to the final of the World League Round 2 tournament in Dublin, Ireland on Sunday.

After beating Austria 5-2 Friday on the strength of veteran Culley’s two-goal performance, Canada faced Chile in the semifinal. The game remained scoreless after 60 minutes, before the Canadians won it 4-3 in a sudden-death shootout, and advanced to the final against host Ireland.

“It was pretty back and forth with most of the play being in the middle of the pitch” said Canadian goalkeeper Kaitlyn Williams, who later in the match would play hero. “Whenever we play Chile it ends up being a battle to the last minute and tonight was no exception. “

In the final match against Ireland on Sunday, the game went to another shoot out after finishing in a 1-1 tie. However, this time Ireland would prevail in a 5-4 shootout and Canada settle for second at Women’s World League 2.

The game, not surprisingly, began with Ireland taking advantage of home field, feeding off the energy of the crowd and owning   possession early.

Canada settled in well after that, controlling the midfield and slowly pushing back. The play stayed level through the end of the first quarter ends with the teams tied nil-nil.

In the second quarter, Canada began to mount the offensive as strong play in the midfield from Natalie Sourisseau began to push the Irish defense back.

Their first good chance came after Abigail Raye made a nice flip along the right line, fed the ball to the top of the circle where it was heavily played into the middle and Alex Thicke deflected it on goal. Irish keeper Emma Gray was in perfect position, however, to turn the redirect aside.

The second half began like the first did, with Ireland earning penalty corner in the first minute after a strong challenge in the circle. A heavy hit from Cliodhna Sargent was kicked out by Williams, but Evans was quick on the rebound and put it by the Canadian keeper to give Ireland the 1-0 lead in the thirty-first minute.

Minutes later, Canada went back on the front foot, once again thanks to Sourisseau who navigated her way through the circle and earned a penalty corner for Canada.

On the ensuing corner, the ball was played to Holly Stewart who, while sliding on her knees into the back post, deflected it past Gray for Canada’s first goal and to tie the game at one in the thirty-seventh minute.

The pace of the game picked up after the first two goals, as both teams wanted the go-ahead goal with time dwindling.

With less than a minute to go, the team’s exchanged penalty corners. A goal from either side would have surely been the winning tally, but on the Irish end keeper Emma Gray made a strong save, and on the Canadian side Canada defended well to earn a free out.

For the second straight match, with the game still tied 1-1 after sixty minutes, the game went to a penalty shootout.

Ireland took an early lead scoring the only goal in the first round. Both teams scored in the second and third rounds, before Brienne Stairs scored and Williams forced the Irish shooter wide in the fourth round to level the score.

In the fifth and final round, Abigail Raye was stopped by Gray and Aine Connery made good on her opportunity to win the match and to crown Ireland champions of World League Round 2.

With their top two finishes, both Canada and Ireland advance to World League Round 3, or the World League 3 Semifinals, in Valencia. The top three finishers from each of the World League Semifinals will advance to the 2016 Olympic Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Culley, playing in her 121st CAP, led Team Canada with four goals and one penalty corner and was tied for fourth in tournament scoring.

Canada’s Kaitlyn Williams took home honours as the tournament’s top goalkeeper, while Hannah Haughn earned the acolade as the tournament’s best young player.

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