The Top of the D Meets: Sarah Ellis.

The Top of the D has already outlined the delicate balancing act performed by teams with a large number of GB internationals in this article. Reading Ladies find themselves in a similar position, boasting as they do seven Great Britain players. This doesn’t seem to have hindered them too much in their pursuit of domestic honours, however: With Becky Halle, Liana Smith and Wiz Hunt coming in and supplying the goals and Chantal De Bruijn supplying the experience there is plenty of strength in depth at Sonning Lane. Their second choice ‘keeper isn’t too shabby either. The Top of the D spoke to Sarah Ellis about Reading, big games, Europe, coaches and pre-match nerves.

When I met Sarah, she had just been told she was not selected to play against Bowdon due to Beth Storry’s inclusion in the team. There is obvious disappointment, as like Storry, Ellis is fiercely competitive. However, it is a situation she was fully aware of when she joined the club:

“I knew that Beth was in the squad here at Reading when I decided to join. I’d spoken to Simon [Letchford] beforehand, and he explained that there would be plenty of opportunities for me due to her involvement with Great Britain. I knew I wouldn’t play every week, but the chance to be a part of what Reading are building, and the chance to play at this level was too good to turn down.”

It is a calculated risk, but one that has obviously paid off for the 28-year-old goalkeeper. She has made a number of appearances in the league this season, and played the whole of the indoor campaign, culminating in an England Indoor call-up and a superb showing in the final of the Super Sixes. Ellis earned rave reviews for a string of outstanding saves in front of the Sky cameras and was very unfortunate to finish on the losing side. I asked her how she found the experience of finals night:

“I’d been with Slough before, and I was there last year [with Reading] but obviously didn’t play. So I knew what to expect. It’s a great experience and I love all the bright lights, the cameras and the whole thing really.”

Super Sixes Finals night is one of the biggest occasions in the domestic hockey calendar. It is not often there is so much glitz, glamour and pageantry attached to the domestic game. It would be understandable for players to struggle under the glare of the spotlight. Ellis is not one of them:

“It sounds a bit daft, maybe makes me sound a bit odd too, but I love finals night. I always find it much easier to perform when I know it’s a big game and I know there are a lot of people watching. I’m not sure why, but it’s the way I’ve always been.”

Being able to raise yourself for big games is a useful trait to have, especially in the pursuit of Ellis’ long-term goal of succeeding her teammate, Storry at club and international level. That’s not to say she can’t perform when there is hardly anyone there, though.

“I always get nervous before games, no matter what. I think that helps me to focus. Obviously I prefer the ones with a lot riding on them, but my nerves help me to concentrate, which is important if you want to play the best that you can, whatever the occasion.”

With the Great Britain contingent unavailable for Reading’s upcoming European campaign, Ellis will be the first choice, pitting her wits against some of the best players in Europe. Reading will come up against Royal Wellington of Belgium and Klipper T&HC of Germany, before hopefully making it through to the playoffs and then who knows how far? It is an experience Ellis is understandably excited about:

“These are the types of games I came here for. I’m looking forward to playing in Europe and I hope I can take the chance to show people what I can do.”

Obviously Reading face an uphill battle, due to their absent Great Britain contingent, but Ellis does not seem worried:

“I like the way Reading is set up compared with other places I’ve experienced. The way we are able to bring players through from the second team and have them do well in the 1st team is fantastic. We’ve had three players make their Premier League debuts this season and all did brilliantly. It makes a huge difference, the club structure means there is competition for places which is why we’ve done as well as we have.”

Indeed, being underdogs might well suit The ‘Ding as they approach their European adventure. One thing Ellis certainly has no qualms about is the quality of the man leading them into battle in the competition, Coach Simon Letchford.

“Having a good coach makes a huge difference. Simon can say the same thing to us that another coach might say, but it seems different coming from him. The way he goes about it and the way he expresses it gives us the confidence to go up against anyone. He’s a really good motivator and obviously knows his stuff. When it comes to tactics everyone really listens. He’s great at getting us fired up.”

Undoubtedly, this weekend will be a stern test for Ellis and her teammates. If you think she will do anything other than face Reading’s European challenge head on, you are sorely mistaken.

The Top of the D would like to thank Sarah Ellis for her time and patience in conducting this interview.

About thetopofthed

Columnist for The Hockey Paper and the man behind The Top of the D. Writer, podcaster, goalkeeper and BBC Sport man. Used to work for Great Britain Hockey and have covered the sport at every major tournament.
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