London 2012: Great Britain Ladies Squad Part 1.

This morning, having seen the team open the London Stock Exchange at 8am, the 16 athletes, plus the two reserves, tasked with capturing Olympic Gold in the women’s hockey competition were announced.

Having begun their centralised training programme back in 2009, Head Coach, Danny Kerry called the selection process “the most thorough and exhaustive ever.” It is hard to argue with that assertion as the squad, all 28 of them have been training together every day, and in some cases, living together, since then. The team spirit in the camp is incredible, a testament to the character and collective will of those athletes pulling together in search of a common goal, the ultimate prize of an Olympic Gold Medal.

There will undoubtedly be some time for reflection in the coming days, it is hard for there not to be. All of the athletes have devoted their lives to making the squad for the London Games. For those not selected, heartbroken probably does not come close. Similarly, for those who made it, whilst undoubtedly currently on cloud nine, the pain felt by some of their team-mates; their friends, will be a bitter pill to swallow. One can imagine the mood in the camp is mixed at the moment. Understandably so.

In contrast to the recent Euro 2012 football squad announcement, the pool of talent in this group runs so deep, that virtually anyone could have made it. Competition was fierce, meaning Danny Kerry, and the other selectors had an extremely tough job whittling it down to just 18 athletes. The coach praised the entire group and fought back tears over those that had not made it.

Performance Director, David Faulkner added: “What is impressive about this women’s hockey group is the collective manner in which they’ve approached the programme over the last four years. This group is incredibly special – I know that those not selected will give 100% support to those that have been.”

The group is indeed very special: Ranked 4th in the world, they performed superbly at the Champions Trophy, narrowly losing by a goal to nil in the final against hosts, Argentina. In the recent London Invitational Event, Great Britain exacted some revenge, beating Las Leonas in the final, having won all their games without conceding a goal. Their form is good, and with the likes of Helen Richardson, Kate Walsh, Alex Danson and Beth Storry-four of the best in the world in their respective positions, in the ranks the Great Britain Ladies Hockey Team are a genuine medal chance.

Here is the squad, and a little about each of them:

Ashleigh Ball. Club: Slough. Age: 26.

Ball, who is forbidden by her team mates from straightening her hair before a game, out of superstition, is an elegant and energetic midfield player who has had spells at Bradford and Bowdon Hightown, before moving to Slough. A useful player in and around the D, especially as an option on short corners. She has a number of international tournaments under her belt already, winning medals at 7 of the 9 competitions she has played in.

Laura Bartlett. Club: Reading. Age:23.

One of the contingent from Reading Hockey Club, Bartlett is a skilful and exciting forward. Her understanding with her club mates will be central to the attacking options of the team and after a successful domestic season, the Scottish star will be hoping for a good tournament this summer. She featured at the Olympics in 2008 and has won medals in two of the four international tournaments at which she has competed.

Crista Cullen. Club: Leicester. Age: 26.

Despite only being 26, Cullen has 164 England and Great Britain appearances to her name. She has also scored 51 goals. The latter statistic, coupled with her fantastic partnership with Kate Walsh at the back make the Leicester defender an automatic selection for the Great Britain side. Cullen was the top goal scorer at the 2012 Champions Trophy and continues to be a threat from set pieces at one end and a fearless barrier keeping them out at the other. She will shake off an ankle injury sustained in the Visa Invitational Event and play a huge role in her team’s quest for gold. She has won 8 medals in the 14 international tournaments she has played in so far.

Alex Danson. Club:Reading. Age: 26.

Another of the Reading team to make the squad. What can you say about the talismanic Danson? FIH All Star, Investec Women’s Premier Division Player of the Year and top goal scorer, winner of 176 caps for GB and England, scorer of 51 goals, the list of achievements could run and run. Like Crista Cullen, Danson is only 26, but made her international debut aged 16, making her one of the most experienced players in the squad. Indeed, she has 17 international tournaments and ten medals under her belt. Danson will be recovered from a shoulder injury sustained against Argentina in the Visa Invitational and will use her trademark reverse-stick tomahawks to fire her team to glory.

Hannah Macleod. Club: Leicester. Age: 27.

Leicester’s top goal scorer in the league this season and a winner of the end of season play-offs it has been a good year for MacLeod, who recently gained her PhD in Sports Nutrition. She, like many of her team-mates, has an impressive track record, winning medals in 7 of the 9 international tournaments she has participated in. Whilst not as experienced as the likes of Danson and Cullen, MacLeod is no novice at this level, her hard work and ability to bring her team-mates into the game will be an excellent weapon this summer.

Emily Maguire. Club: Reading. Age: 23.

Another of the Sonning Lane contingent and another Scottish star who has made the grade. The 23-year-old defender has had a superb season, her excellent defensive ability, allied with her energy and creativity going forward make Maguire a superb outlet for an attack-minded team. She has 96 international caps, with 25 of those coming for Great Britain. Do not expect her to be overawed by the occasion; she had an excellent tournament in Rosario at the Champions Trophy and will doubtless step up to the big occasion here.

Anne Panter. Club: Leicester. Age: 28.

A car accident, 2 ankle operations, 18 months on the sidelines, followed by a ruptured post-cruciate ligament, a hamstring graft from both legs and further two and half years of rehab. It is fair to say Panter’s path to the Olympics has not been without its adversity. At one point, the Leicester defender could barely walk, let alone play hockey. Her determination and will to overcome these obstacles has been rewarded with a place in the squad. A play off winner with Leicester this season, Panter shone with her excellent defensive work and lung-bursting runs from deep, confirming, if anyone dared to doubt her, that she was back to her best. Despite her spells out injured, the 28-year-old has still won 98 international caps and brings a great deal of experience to the squad. Her determination will be an inspiration to all her team mates.

Helen Richardson. Club: Reading. Age: 30.

Like her club mate, Danson, Helen Richardson is a FIH World All-Star. Richardson will be competing in her third Olympics and her 20th international competition, she has amassed 226 international caps since her debut in 1999. Experience like that is not to be sneezed at. The 30-year-old was hugely impressive in the Champions Trophy, showcasing her incredible energy, stamina and determination alongside her outrageous technical skills. Richardson matched the world’s best player, Luciana Aymar in every single area of the field, ensuring anyone who hadn’t been aware of her talent, certainly was now. Lining up with five of her domestic team mates, Richardson’s extra ability could easily be the difference between sides on any given day.

Chloe Rogers. Club: Leicester. Age: 27.

Rogers showed her ice-cool temperament and outstanding ability when she calmly netted the winning penalty shuffle in the end of season championship final this year. Another of the Leicester contingent, her work ethic is phenomenal, providing excellent support and attacking threat down the flanks and an awareness and willingness to give cover in midfield when it is required. Great Dunmow’s finest export has over 150 international appearances to her name, and is typical of the skilled and hardworking players that make up this side.

The rest of the squad profiles are in part 2.

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