“The best team doesn’t win, the best team wins.”
For Sabina Iqbal, this quote from nine-year head coach John DeSouza perfectly sums up the Varsity Blues field hockey team. After an outstanding season, going undefeated in 17 games all the way up to the CIS final against the UBC Thunderbirds at the beginning of November, the varsity women’s squad was part of a Cinderella story run that seemed unstoppable.
The team had found success in the past with winning records, but never before had they boasted a perfect season record and seemed like a shoe-in for CIS gold. The expectations and support were all there on November 2 when the Thunderbirds and Blues faced off in the 40th annual CIS field hockey championship game; with home turf and fans on the sidelines, the finish the Blues were dreaming of was in reach.
But they couldn’t finish what they started. Despite their perfect play all year, the Blues lost 2-0, which was still enough to earn CIS silver and plenty of strength to establish themselves as national frontrunners in field hockey.
The year went extraordinarily well, and Sabina Iqbal likely did not expect to go on the journey she did when she contacted DeSouza for a spot on his field hockey team.
Iqbal is a first-year psych major whose love for the less popular type of hockey in Canada has grown since she picked up the sport just two years ago in high school. “I played field hockey for one year in grade 11 because of a chance encounter,” Iqbal recalls. “The field hockey team was already set up, but there was no player willing to be a goalie.”
Not expecting much success, Iqbal took to field hockey more for the experience, dedicating the majority of her time to her flag football team. As she continued to get playtime in this new environment, she found herself falling in love with the sport.
“I had always been good at sports requiring quick reflexes,” says Iqbal. “Since athletics has developed with me in my final years of high school, I decided to continue that lifestyle.”
After coach DeSouza gave Iqbal a spot on the team as the backup goalkeeper to Madeleine Cho, it didn’t take long for her to feel comfortable in her new surroundings. “The first time I played in a Blues uniform, the entire team cheered me on and gave me solid encouragement,” she recalls.
Iqbal did not see much time between the pipes in her first year on the Blues, as expected for a first-year goalie, but that didn’t change her outlook. “I felt immense pride at being able to represent the team and to apply what I’ve been training to do,” she says.
Iqbal realizes that her first year won’t guarantee her as a starter, but she’s looking forward to competing for the position next fall. “Being in my first year of eligibility, I am taking things slow. I want to become the best I can be,” she says. “At this point in time, I just want to make my team proud.”
Regardless of her role, she was most proud to be part of the team in its outstanding run this season. “We work together fluidly and no part of the game is a selfish attempt—nobody tries to save the glory for themselves,” she says. “It’s all for the team.”
Iqbal specifically notes the performance of fourth-year midfielder Amanda Woodcroft, who had a stellar season and capped it off with being named CIS championship tournament MVP and CIS player of the year. “She is one of the most talented and dedicated athletes I’ve ever seen,” Iqbal says. “And having one of our own receive such a title is a reflection of our team as much as her.”
Iqbal’s first year has been a series of adjustments, not all of them easy. The jump from high school to university was felt in both academics and sports. “The adjustment has been a tough one for me,” she says. “One day I’m living at home, the next I’m moving out and commuting downtown every day for practice.” But the changes haven’t fazed her, and Iqbal is ready for university to help her grow as both a student and an athlete.
Look out for Iqbal in the blue and white next fall when the field hockey team returns to continue dominating the CIS, eager to complete that fairy tale ending.