Final Position Last Season: 5th in the league, 3rd after losing to Reading in the Championship Play Offs.
Key Players: Seasons come, and seasons go, but one thing you can guarantee is that Tina Cullen will always score goals. 17 in the league last season for the evergreen striker and she shows no signs of letting up. Expect her to show people that age is just a number as she tears defences apart again.
Abi Harper has made the move north after leaving Reading. The 23-year-old looked a class act before succumbing to injury just as she was starting to make a real name for herself. A fresh start and no injury concerns could see Harper play a big part in Hightown’s season.
The return from international commitments of Sally Walton will give them a boost defensively, but the 31-year-old also contributes a useful number of goals, too.
Bowdon are a very well drilled and well-organised unit, who on their day are capable of competing with the best. If Cullen can still score the goals for them, they should have a good season. They are not a one-man-team, but the quality of Cullen can also be a curse. She scored ten more league goals than the next highest scorer, so it may be suggested that if teams neutralise that threat, Bowdon will struggle. Then again, no one has neutralised it so far, so what’s to say someone will now? I expect them to be pushing for the playoffs.
Final Position Last Season: 3rd in the League, knocked out by Leicester in the Championship Play offs.
Key Players: Susannah Townsend continues to develop into one of the hottest prospects in the Great Britain set up. With her influence on games growing all the time, expect her to play a part in her team’s run towards the playoffs.
Abi Walker, fresh from her involvement in the GB squad at the Olympics will continue to keep teams at bay in goal. An excellent shot stopper and a calming presence at the back, Walker is one of the best keepers in the league. Her performances could be the difference between play offs and no play offs.
Natalie Seymour, the other stand-by member of the GB Olympic squad will be back for a full season this time out. Seymour is an excellent player with superb distribution skills and an impressive ability seemingly to never get tired. Her skills will be a massive asset to her side as they seek to better last season’s performance.
Summary: Unlike their men, who struggle to maintain their position in the top flight, Canterbury are still a force to be reckoned with in the Women’s game. A strong blend of home grown youth and experienced campaigners means they are always capable of getting a result, regardless the opposition. They tend to share their goals around, which proves they are a good team unit, rather than relying on one source of goals. Fully expect them to push for the play-offs again.
Final Position Last Season: 4th in the league, knocked out of the Championship play offs by Bowdon Hightown.
Key Players: Els Mansell and Zoe Leach are the stand out players in the Clifton ranks. A side that is largely centred around a team ethic, relies on these two to score the goals. Mansell impressed greatly in 2011/12, the 21-year-old notched 12 goals in the league, whilst Leach chipped in 8 of her own.
Summary: Clifton have lost their biggest name player as Georgie Twigg has departed for Surbiton. Although Twigg is obviously a class act, her international commitments last season meant that Clifton were used to doing without her. The great thing about this team is that whilst they may not have a plethora of household names, they are an excellent unit with some very good players in the ranks. Their defence was the third best in the division (behind Leicester and Reading) last season, so they are not a side that is easy to beat. Expect them to continue where they left off last time.
Final Position Last Season: 2nd in the league, Championship Play off winners.
Key Players: Crista Cullen showed in the Olympics, as if there was any doubt, that she is a cut above. As a defender she was dominant and as a penalty corner option, there are few better. With Leicester in line to benefit from those skills on a more regular basis this season, Cullen will be a superb player for them to have around.
Maddie Hinch showed everyone what a class act she is with a player-of-the-match display in last season’s Championship Play Off Final. The 23-year-old goalkeeper continues to develop into the long-term successor to Beth Storry. Leicester have a formidable defence, but with Hinch behind it, the task of scoring is made that much harder.
Katie Long carries a very potent attacking threat, particularly from wide areas. She was unlucky to miss out on Olympic selection, but will surely make it into the central programme in preparation for Rio. More of the same at club level is the order of the day for another very impressive performer for the Pukkas.
Having nabbed the title on penalties from rivals Reading, Leicester have actually strengthened their squad. With Olympic bronze medallist Nicola White moving from Slough and Jo Hunter joining from Beeston, the depth of the Pukkas’ roster is frightening. Established stars now regularly available coupled with some very promising young players means Leicester will take some stopping.
Final Position Last Season: 6th.
Key Players: A recurring theme in the Women’s Premier League is the experienced goal scorer. Olton boast one of those in their ranks, too. Now 35, Denise Marston-Smith still knows where the net is, bagging ten league goals in the previous campaign. Her work in tandem with top goalscorer, Emma McCabe (14 goals last season) almost shot Olton into the playoffs. If those two fire again, they will do very well.
Consistency is the byword for Olton this time around. They have maintained the majority of the squad that served them well last year, with the addition of some up and coming players from the leagues below. Olton were just two points off the playoffs last season. If they can keep supplying the chances for Marston-Smith and McCabe to tuck away, there is no reason why they can’t make that goal this time.
Part two of the Investec Women’s Premier League Preview is here.