It’s like coming to Wimbledon’s lush green surface after preparing in a pasture.
That’s how coach Philip Fernandes described the Guyana women’s field hockey team transition from grass to artificial pitch for the just concluded Canadian senior championships at the Cassie Campbell Sports Complex in Brampton.
The offensively challenged team, which had few shots on goal during the five-day tournament, was exposed on the synthetic field, losing all six of its matches while being outscored 33-1.
“Our forwards were at a severe disadvantage on the artificial field because it was extremely challenging for them to run at full speed and receive the ball while being marked closely,” said Fernandes, who is also the Guyana Hockey Federation president.
The team practices on two different surfaces at home.
“We train indoors on a hardwood surface to enhance our passing, receiving and dribbling skills, and then we go outside on grass to practice things like organizing team defence,” said Fernandes. “The artificial surface is much faster than grass and the ball doesn’t bounce around. On this surface, you could put your stick down flat, close your eyes and still receive the ball cleanly. On grass, you have to stand upright and be prepared for the uneven bounce.”
Fernandes said it would cost nearly Can$100,000 to install an artificial field in Guyana.
“That’s not a cheap investment and it would be impossible to acquire such a surface without government and private sector support,” said Fernandes. “I am however excited because Georgetown Cricket Club has invested in a small piece of artificial surface which is the size of a basketball court. Though it’s not the size of a full length field, it will help to boost our technical and fundamental skills.”
After conceding 25 goals in losses to eventual champions – the Ontario Under-21 side – and British Columbia in the first two contests, Guyana settled down and allowed just eight in the remaining four games in front of number one goalkeeper, Alysa Xavier.
She missed the first two matches because of exams back in Guyana.
“Alysa was definitely our Most Valuable Player on this tour,” said Fernandes. “She has been with the national squad for the past five years and she was just fantastic here.”
He also singled out defender, Marzana Fiedtkou, who is a freshman at Robert Morris University in Pennsylvania and striker, Samantha Fernandes, for honorable mention.
“Marzana played some midfield and defence and showed she’s very talented while Samantha, in my opinion, has been our most improved player in the last 12 months,” he said. “Her movement with the ball is progressing, but she needs to work at finishing.”
Team captain, Chantelle Fernandes, said the tournament provided valuable experience for the Guyanese, who are preparing for the Pan American Hockey Federation (PAHF) Cup in Argentina in September.
“The biggest difference between grass and artificial field is the ball speed,” said Fernandes, who plays the sport in England where she lives. “We may look good on grass, but when we get on a synthetic surface, it’s a whole different ball game for us. You have to be very fit and you have to be strong on the ball. This was a learning experience that will help us as we go forward.”
Aliyah Gordon, the team’s youngest member at age 15, scored Guyana’s only goal in the 55th minute of a 3-1 loss to Alberta in the final match last Sunday morning in heavy rain.
Former Guyana striker, Regina Lissone-Cheong, said she was pleased with the overall effort.
“The girls, however, have to raise their fitness level where they can adjust to the speed when playing on an artificial field and also learn to create options,” she said. “Despite being at an advantage competing on a surface they are not familiar with, they played hard and I liked that.”
Other former Guyana players living in the Greater Toronto Area who attended the matches were Hazel Khan, Janice Longe, Marilyn Thijs-Farnum, Roxanne Hill-Hinds, Donna Burgan-Thompson, Mercylyn Bourne and Jennifer Vieira-Moniz.