About 10 years ago Thea Culley played her last game for coach Donna Hebert and the Rossland Secondary School Royals’ field hockey team; today she’ll hit a milestone seldom achieved in the world of women’s field hockey.
Culley is the senior member of the Canadian women’s national field hockey team and the 27-year-old Rossland native will celebrate her 100th international match today when the team faces off against the world number-six ranked Hockeyroos from Australia at the Super Series Hockey 9s tournament in Perth, Aus.
“I feel really excited to be reaching the milestone,” said Culley in an email from Perth. “It reminds me to look back over my career and reflect on how much I have grown as a player as well as a person. It’s funny because even after 100 games of representing my country, the thrill before the first whistle is just the same.”
One of the highlights of Culley’s career occurred just last month when she led the Canadian team to a bronze medal at the Pan American Cup by scoring both goals in a 2-1 victory over Chile.
The UBC grad has won accolades and all-star team selections including best Canadian player honours at Champions Challenge II in Kazan, Russia in 2009 and an all-star team selection at the National Championship tournament in 2008. Culley has been a key cog in the Canadian field hockey wheel for the past eight years, and still finds the daily grind of training and competing for her country very rewarding.
“I’m definitely still physically and mentally motivated,” says Culley. “I feel like no matter how experienced I get, I’m still learning. There are definite ups and downs but I always remind myself how it feels to be walking out of the change room onto the pitch before the game. The camaraderie and excitement of competition is really like nothing else I have experienced and I’m still very addicted to that.”
And Culley has no plans of retiring any time soon. With the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro on the horizon, she hopes to help an invigorated Canadian team qualify. Since the instalment of Kiwi Ian Rutledge as the new head coach, the team has found new life, which has manifested itself in improved results in competitions such as the Pan American Cup and on a tour through Ireland in June where they went 4-1-2 in games against Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.
“The Olympic dream is a tough one to give up on and I’m just not ready to do that yet,” added Culley. “I also have more faith in my fellow teammates and the staff that is involved with the squad now than I ever have been. We have a lot of great people involved.”
Team Canada, ranked 23rd in the world, had a great showing in its first match against number-2 world ranked Argentina. The Canadians trailed 2-1 at the half, before falling 4-1 to the recent Pan American Cup champions. The Canadian team will wind up the round robin portion of the tournament against Malaysia tomorrow, with the finals and bronze-medal matches going on Sunday.
Teammates Kate Gillis with 93 caps and Abigail Raye, 92 caps, are the next senior members of Team Canada.