Part one of The Top of D’s preview of the Investec Women’s Premier League is here. Read on for part two:
Final Position Last Season: 1st in the League, runners up in the Championship Play offs.
Key Players: Well, start with the obvious: Alex Danson springs to mind straight away. The league’s top scorer last season with 18 goals, Danson is a class act. An FIH World All Star, Olympic Bronze Medallist, joint top scorer at London 2012, Investec Premier League Player of the year, the list goes on and on. Danson will give Reading a goal threat that other sides will struggle to match.
Helen Richardson is another of the Olympians that Reading will see more of. Like Danson, Richardson is an FIH All Star too. Her 3-D skills, work rate and determination make her one of the best players in the world, never mind the league.
I could go on listing international players, however to give some balance, Becky Halle is developing into a very important player for the Sonning Lane side. Aged just 22, Halle netted ten goals last season in the league. If teams concentrate on shutting Danson down, Halle will surely profit.
The new coaching team of Steve Bayer and Kate Walsh have a tough act to follow after Simon Letchford moved to Belgium, but neither of the two is exactly a novice. Like Leicester, Reading’s strength in depth is frightening. With Susie Gilbert joining her international team mates (Emily Maguire, Kate Walsh, Sam Quek, Laura Bartlett, Alex Danson and Helen Richardson), some exciting young players another year older and more experienced, and players like Leah Wilkinson and Wiz Hunt firmly established it is hard to look beyond Reading as a serious contender.
Final Position Last Season: 9th. Avoided relegation through the playoffs.
Key Players: Ashleigh Ball, the Great Britain star is an elegant and stylish player who will surely add a little something extra to Slough in an attacking sense. She won’t be able to do it all alone, but will hope to inspire her team mates.
With the departure of Lauren Penny, last season’s top scorer, the goalscoring responsibilities will now fall to Alex Scott, who bagged 5 league goals last season. Someone needs to cover the goals that Penny contributed, and Scott appears to be the best equipped to do so.
With a relatively young squad, the role of experienced players becomes even more important. Harriet Cunningham, still only 26, has international honours to her name and will be expected to support Ball in bringing out the best of her team mates.
A side that struggled last year and narrowly avoided the drop has actually lost some players over the summer. They have replaced some of their departed contingent, mostly with young up and coming players rather than established stars. John Shaw has taken over the coaching role and with his pedigree and experience at the helm you would have to say they could do well. The acid test will be whether the young squad can adapt to this level quickly and avoid last season’s problems.
Final Position Last Season: 1st (East Conference.) Promoted through Play offs.
Chloe Strong, the captain and last season’s top goal scorer is still an excellent player. Despite putting her international career to bed, Strong showed everyone she was a class act, dominating the East Conference. She will not find the step up too much of a challenge, and will most certainly do well.
Georgie Twigg has made the move from Clifton to Surbiton for this season. Twigg continues to be extremely impressive in midfield at international level, shining in the London Olympics where she collected a bronze medal. Twigg will form part of a formidable spine for Surbition.
Vicky Bryant also chipped in with her share of goals, equalling Strong’s 12 league goals with 12 of her own. If she can translate her form in front of goal in the East Conference to the Premier League, Bryant and her team will have a fine season.
Surbiton are an exciting prospect for this season. Traditionally, the newly promoted teams struggle near the foot of the table. Whilst Championship Play Offs might be a step too far in their first season, there is nothing to suggest Surbiton will find life so hard. The addition of Twigg alongside players like Strong, the experienced Helen Grant and rising stars Sarah Page and Sarah Haycroft makes them a very solid team. They will be keen to continue their excellent form from last season, and I for one, will watch with interest.
Final Position Last Season: 8th.
Remember that theme I mentioned earlier, you know, the veteran goal machine in the Investec Premier League? Well, here’s another: Step forward 45-year-old Jane Sixsmith. 11 league goals last season she nabbed the top scorer’s berth for her side as they steered themselves away from the relegation play-offs. It is remarkable to see that Sixsmith still has the ability to churn out goal after goal even after all these years. She will yet again, carry her team’s main goal threat this season.
Sarah Mills pitched in eight league goals last time out to give Sixsmith some help with the goalscoring burden. Mills is back again this year and will hope she can improve on that tally and fire her team up the league to a more comfortable season.
Continuity seems to be the byword at Sutton Coldfield. They have largely the same squad as last season. Although last season proved less than comfortable they will be hoping the experience they gained can lead to a better performance this year. It is hard to see them challenging for the Championship Play offs, especially as they are so reliant on a couple of players.
Final Position Last Season: 7th.
Liz George was the team’s top goalscorer last season with eight league goals. One year on she will hope to better that tally in order to ensure her team does not find goalscoring such a problem. Undoubtedly she has the ability to do that, so we will see how she fares.
With goals a perennial problem in the league, Jo Turnbull will hope she can notch her share as she did last season with 6 league goals. For a side that doesn’t score many, it is important they are not reliant on one player. Turnbull will help ease the pressure on George, which will, they hope, lead to both flourishing.
Maggs Rees in goal remains an experienced and top quality No1. Given their problems scoring goals are well documented, the impetus falls on not conceding them instead. Rees will play a starring role in that as she is undoubtedly a very good goalkeeper.
Like rivals Sutton Coldfield, there have not been too many comings and goings at Birmingham this summer. They have lost Susie Gilbert to Reading, which is undoubtedly a blow and the departure of Sarah Page and Sarah Haycroft (both Surbiton) mean that the side from last season is slightly weaker. However, they finished in seventh and could easily have finished higher, such was the small points difference between the sides ranked fifth to ninth. As mentioned above, if they cannot cure their shyness in front of goal, they will be looking over their shoulders once again.
With the games all starting tomorrow, the excitement is building. Check back soon for more domestic hockey coverage on www.TheTopoftheD.com.