Sophie Schmidt isn’t sure what makes her more excited — earning her 200th cap for her country or just getting back on the pitch with her Canadian teammates for the first time in almost a year. Either way, the 32-year-old midfielder is on the verge of joining a very exclusive club at the upcoming four-team SheBelieves Cup in Orlando this month. She will become just the third Canadian player to reach 200 national team appearances, joining Christine Sinclair (296) and Diana Matheson (206). The milestone could come as early as Feb. 18 when the Canadians play their longtime rivals, the United States. “Gosh, 200. I think I’m more excited to go back on the field with my teammates, but with the 200 caps, it’s been such an honour to represent Canada time and time again,” Schmidt told reporters on Wednesday. The native of Abbotsford, B.C., has been a fixture with the Canadian squad for the last decade and a half. In that time, she’s played in four FIFA Women’s World Cups and been to three Olympics — winning back-to-back bronze medals — with one more in Tokyo on the horizon. WATCH | Sophie Schmidt finds net with wonder strike: She could have never imagined such a career when she first suited up for the senior team back in 2005 as a 16-year-old. “I just remember coming in and being so grateful that I was called up. I was so scared,” she said. “I remember just looking around and having Andrea Neil, Amy Walsh, Charmaine Hooper, these huge names of soccer, not to mention Christine Sinclair … and they see me as one of them and they’re holding me to the same standards, it was just incredible. “That was definitely a special moment and it gave me a hunger for more, I was like, ‘I really like this, I want to stay and come back.'” And come back she did. Game after game. At one point in her career playing 76 straight matches from 2011-2015. Many national team players don’t reach that many caps in their playing careers. ‘Durability and adaptability’ Schmidt credits her longevity to “durability and adaptability.” “I’m not the fastest player, I take care of my body, I’m not prone to injury, so that adds to being able to have longevity and durability,” she said. “Also hats off to the people taking care of me off the field.” Her adaptability is on display almost every game. She plays multiple positions in the midfield, attacking mid or defensive mid, often in the same game depending on the situation and opponent. On occasion she’s also played centre back. Everything is done with the team in mind. “I think [what’s] been a huge asset to my success is being able to be adaptable and support players in different positions and play what is needed of me,” she said. WATCH | Schmidt converts game-winning penalty for Houston Dash: Schmidt can be found delivering a steady presence in the middle of the pitch, whether it’s going forward in support of an attack, switching the point of play or backtracking defensively to support her fullbacks. “Her passing ability is fantastic,” head coach Bev Priestman noted on a recent call. “I can recall when we played them [when I was with] England before the World Cup and I felt that Sophie played outstanding in that game. She’s proven that on a day she can compete with top nations. Sophie’s passing ability is something this team needs.” When she’s not wearing the Maple Leaf, she plays for the National Women’s Soccer League Challenge Cup champion Houston Dash, with whom she recently signed a two-year extension with an option for a third year. Her professional team duties are on hold for the moment as she prepares for Canada’s first trip to the SheBelieves Cup, an invitation-only tournament featuring four of the world’s top nations. After the U.S. game, the eighth-ranked Canadians play No. 31 Argentina on Feb. 21 and conclude against the Brazilians, also ranked eighth, on Feb. 24. Before then, it’s about getting the most out of Canada’s first training camp together in 11 months and first game action since the Tournoi de France in March 2020. Schmidt said the team has been working out the kinks in training and that Priestman and her staff were uber-prepared coming into camp, having done pre-camp Zoom meetings going over tactics and philosophies they hope to implement moving forward. WATCH | Canada coach Priestman targeting podium finish at Tokyo Games: Practices aside, there is nothing better to get you ready for your first match in 11 months than a game against your fiercest rival. “Every game against the U.S. is a battle, a fight tooth and nail to the end. We don’t like them, they don’t like us. I think nothing changes in that regard,” Schmidt said. “What an opportunity. They’re No. 1 in the world, see where we’re at right away heading into this Olympic year.” And that very first game is where Schmidt likely reaches that 200-match milestone, and when she does, she’ll be sharing it with all the people who have helped her along the way. “For me, it’s teammates, it’s coaches, family members, friends, my husband,” she said. “Being there for the highs and lows and just allowing me to pursue my passion, my dreams, no matter what. It’s definitely not a sole endeavour.”
Berrettini ends Murray’s comeback at Queen’s
The 34-year-old two-time Wimbledon champion, playing in his first singles tournament on grass for three years, could not handle the ferocious pace of Berrettini as he slid to defeat.
Murray eased past Benoit Paire in his opening match on Tuesday but world number nine Berrettini was too big a step up.
Berrettini’s huge first serve and forehand did most of the damage but the Italian also showed plenty of silky touch on the slick lawns to register his first career win over Murray.
Berrettini, 25, finished the match off with a powerful hold of serve, banging down four massive first serves before sealing victory with a clubbing forehand winner.
He faces British number one Dan Evans in the quarter-final after Evans beat Frenchman Adrian Mannarino.
Murray, a five-time winner of the traditional warm-up event but now ranked 124 after long battles with hip injuries including resurfacing surgery in 2019, has been handed a wildcard for the Wimbledon championships.
Apart from a slight groin niggle, Murray said he was reasonably happy with his condition, considering this was only his third Tour-level tournament of the year.
“I think obviously I need to improve,” Murray told reporters. “I actually felt my movement was actually quite good for both of the matches. My tennis today was not very good today. That’s the thing that I’ll need to improve the most.
“I felt like today that that sort of showed my lack of matches.”
Spanish veteran Feliciano Lopez, who won the singles title in 2019 and the doubles alongside Murray, was beaten 6-2 6-3 by Canada‘s Denis Shapovalov.
(Reporting by Martyn HermanEditing by Toby Davis and Pritha Sarkar)
Be Like the King of the North Division and Develop Skills
It’s been a year unlike no other for Canadian hockey teams, with COVID-19 travel restrictions forcing the creation of a new NHL division made up entirely of Canadian teams. The previous generation of NHL hockey was known as the “Dead Puck Era” because referees tolerated slowing down the game with clutching and grabbing.
The leading scorers today score in jaw-dropping fashion and routinely pull off stickhandling dangles that were unimaginable until only recently. The Canadian team that will win the North Division will be the one with the most skill.
Here are the training aids that will help you develop your skills all year long.
Innovators like HockeyShot Canada make “passers” so that players can develop pinpoint accuracy and the soft hands necessary to cradle and control a pass when it lands on your stick. The high-quality rubber bands return the puck with the same force which passed it, so you can give yourself one-timers or work on accuracy.
Whether you’re on a two-on-one, sending a breakout pass from the defensive zone, or holding down the blue line on the power play, every positional player needs to pass accurately.
A player is lucky to get a few shots on net each game, and they can’t let them go to waste. Until recently, players needed to rent ice in the off-season to practice their shots in realistic game-like conditions.
Now, players can use shooting pads at their home that let pucks glide as they do on real ice. Shooting is perhaps the one skill that requires the most repetition because one inch can be the difference between going bar-down and clanking one wide off the post.
Practice your quick release and accuracy and develop an arsenal of shots, including wrist shots, slapshots, one-timers, and more. The more tools in your tool kit, the deadlier a sniper you’ll be.
Having the puck on your stick is a responsibility, and you don’t want to cough it up to the other team and waste a scoring chance or lose possession. The ability to stickhandle helps you bide time until a teammate is open, so you can pass them the puck and continue attacking.
If you’re on a breakaway, you may want to deke the goalie rather than shoot if your hands are silky enough. Develop stickhandling skills, and you’ll keep goalies and opponents guessing – being unpredictable helps make a sniper’s job easier.
Of course, you also need to handle the puck in your own zone without causing a turnover. Stickhandling is a crucial skill in all areas of the ice.
When the coach sends you over the board, you need to be prepared for whatever comes your way. Maybe you’ll get the puck in the slot or somewhere else, but when it’s playoffs, you always need to be ready. The Kings of the North Division have all of the above skills and more, and you can too if you practice all year.
Australia swim trials calendar shift to reap Tokyo rewards
Australia broke with tradition to hold its swimming trials just six weeks before the start of the 2020 Olympics and former world champion Giaan Rooney said the move could reap rich rewards in Tokyo after disappointments at London and Rio.
Australia has typically held its trials up to six months before an Olympics but that gap has been drastically cut this year with swimmers vying for Tokyo spots this week in Adelaide.
Rooney, who won individual world titles at Fukuoka and Montreal and a relay gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics, said Australia is gearing up for a much improved Games after its swimmers flopped at Rio and London.
“I think we needed to make it work,” she told Reuters. “The shift started about a year ago to bring the trials into line with the rest of the world and qualify five or six weeks before.
“In sport and swimming, six months is a long time,” Rooney added. “From a coaching perspective, it’s much better to know you have chosen the team in form.”
After winning five gold medals at Sydney 2000 and seven in Athens, the Australian team was rocked by accusations of disruptive behaviour by some of its top sprinters at the 2012 Olympics.
Australia won just one gold medal in the London pool and three in Rio five years ago.
Australia knew something had to be done if it was to close the gap on the powerful Americans and moving the trials is part of the strategy.
“I think it’s to make your swimmers more resilient to change,” Rooney said.
“In the USA they get to race every week regardless of illness or breakups and under all circumstances. Nothing rattles them.
“Australia doesn’t have that racing continuity. This is about making sure you are prepared for anything. I think our swimmers are more resilient than they have been in the past decade, COVID is part of this.”
Rooney said there might even be an “upside” for Australia with the Olympics postponed by a year due to the global health crisis, with the emergence of swimmers like teenager Kaylee McKeown, who broke the women’s 100m backstroke world record on Sunday.
“We are now talking about athletes who are not only going to make the Olympics but are medal chances,” Rooney said.
“We wouldn’t have been talking about her this time last year. She might not have been ready for a position on the team. She is now a legitimate gold medal chance in Tokyo once she gets there.”
For all her confidence about Australia’s performance in Tokyo, Rooney was wary of making predictions about a gold rush for her compatriots.
“I think this will be a more successful Olympics for us than Rio in the pool but individual goal medals will still be difficult to come by,” said the 38-year-old.
“The biggest challenge is to make the jump from minor medals to gold.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)