The new Investec Women’s Premier League season has crept up on us, starting as it does, this Saturday. Having had my hockey fix over the summer with some fantastic international competitions, The Top of the D is raring to go for the new domestic campaign. So, without further ado, here is part one of my preview. First up, the top five teams from last season.
It has been a summer of turnover for The Pukkas, Coach Chris Mayer stepped down after 12 years at the helm and has been replaced by Duncan Woods. Woods has 90 international caps and a host of coaching jobs under his belt at various levels. He comes highly recommended by his predecessor but undoubtedly faces a tough task.
In addition to the change of coach, Leicester have also lost some very important players, including Anne Panter (retired), Chloe Rogers (Old Loughtonians), Hannah Macleod (focusing on International Hockey) and of course goalkeeper Maddie Hinch (Holcombe.)
The Oranges are always there or thereabouts when it comes to the business end of the season, but having lost such quality it will be hard for them to maintain their seat at the top table of domestic hockey. That said, they still have plenty of talented players in the ranks including last season’s top scorers, Katie Long and Jo Hunter. In goal, too, they have recruited well, with Maggs Rees making the move from University of Birmingham to step into the gap left by the excellent Hinch. Rees is a more than capable goalkeeper with plenty of experience both domestically and at international level with Wales.
Much will depend on the team ethic, and the ability of Woods to gel the remaining players and get them to step up into the gaps left by the departed stars.
Position Last Season: 1st (League phase) Runners-up (playoffs.)
Duncan Woods (Coach.)
Lily Elliott (Sevenoaks.)
Maggs Rees (University of Birmingham.)
Lucy Barrett (St Albans.)
Chris Mayer (Coach.)
Maddie Hinch (Holcombe.)
Chloe Rogers (Old Loughtonians.)
Lorna Downie (Olton and West Warwicks.)
Hannah Macleod (Sabbatical.)
Julia Karwatsky (Returned to Germany.)
Anne Panter (Retired.)
Player to Watch:
Katie Long: Fresh from a spell playing domestic hockey in New Zealand, the elegant forward will be raring to go for the new season. A player I was surprised not to see in the Great Britain central squad will be able to devote her energies to scoring goals for the Pukkas. Her skills will be crucial in her teams attempts to capture domestic and European glory again. Long netted eleven times last season, making her the joint top scorer with Hunter. Along with captain Vanessa Hawkins, she will be the player Woods looks to for those moments of inspiration.
The Kent side had a fantastic season last time out as their brand of fast, exciting, attacking hockey fired them to second place in the league phase of the season, and third in the playoffs. Still a relatively young side with a smattering of experience, the Polo Farm outfit should still be able to cause any team problems. Last year they scored goals from all over, with four players in the top 15 scorers for the league, (Jade Mayne, Eliza Brett, Sarah Kerly and Lucy Hyams) sharing 40 goals between them. Although three of those have departed, as well as Susannah Townsend, (Brett remains) they have recruited the Scottish duo of Nicola Lloyd and Nikki Kidd. Kidd poses a threat from penalty corners and they will hope she can help find the goals that Mayne, Kerly and Hyams supplied. I am sure new coach Jen Wilson will ensure they play the same free-flowing style of last season.
Position Last Season: 2nd (League phase) 3rd (playoffs.)
Nicola Lloyd (Sevenoaks.)
Nikki Kidd (Edinburgh University, Scotland.)
Kimberly Young (University of Massachusetts, USA.)
Susannah Townsend (Reading.)
Jade Mayne (Waterloo Ducks, Belgium.)
Sarah Kerly (Syracuse University, America.)
Lucy Hyams (University of Virginia.)
Player to Watch: Kidd will obviously have a big role to play, especially from corners, however my one to watch is Eliza Brett. Still only 18, Brett netted 11 times in the league last season, just one short of top scorer Jade Mayne. A product of the Canterbury youth development system, ten of her 11 goals came from open play, showing Brett knows how to make the most of the opportunities that come her way. A lot of pressure to put on such a young player, however her quality in front of goal is evident and will be crucial to her team.
Reigning indoor and outdoor champions, last year was a fantastic season for the ‘ding who added a European trophy to their domestic titles for good measure. Led by Coach Steve Bayer and their excellent captain, Emma Thomas, the Sonning Lane side are used to success and will expect more of the same this time out. They had a patchy run in the league before Christmas last season, but came good when it mattered and really turned it on in the playoffs. Their squad is hugely talented boasting the likes of Alex Danson, Susie Gilbert, Emily Maguire, Sam Quek, Helen Richardson, Susannah Townsend and Kate Walsh, all from the Great Britain squad, as well as South African Star Dirkie Chamberlain, it is clear to see Reading will be the team to beat this season.
Position Last Season: 3rd (League phase) Champions (playoffs.)
Susannah Townsend (Canterbury.)
Dirkie Chamberlain (Kampong.)
Rebecca Cadwallader (ISCA.)
Player to Watch: With a squad that reads like a who’s who of hockey it is hard to pin one person down as a player to watch. Personally, I am looking forward to seeing Susannah Townsend play for the ‘ding. The former Canterbury star had a fine campaign last season and it will be interesting to see how her direct, powerful, quick and skilful style fits in with the rest of the team. Townsend is hugely talented, but I expect her to get even better as she is surrounded by quality players.
Surbiton made the end of season playoffs in 2012/13 where they wound up finishing fourth after tough defeats to Leicester on a shootout and Canterbury in a close 3rd/4th playoff. Surbiton’s campaign last time out was based largely on a solid defence, conceding just 24 goals in the league, which was the second least behind Leicester. They have further strengthened their defence with the signings of Great Britain pair Hollie Webb and Giselle Ansley who join their international colleagues Sarah Haycroft and Georgie Twigg in an impressive squad. With Becky Herbert joining from Pinoke, they will be confident that the pressure of scoring goals will be taken off last season’s top scorer, Vicky Bryant. Surbiton have recruited well and will be one of the favourites for the end of season play-offs and maybe even the title itself.
Position Last Season: 4th (League phase) 4th (playoffs.)
Rebecca Herbert (Pinoke, Netherlands.)
Emily Atkinson (Clifton)
Hollie Webb (Beeston.)
Giselle Ansley (Loughborough Students.)
Katie Holmes (Clifton.)
Player to Watch:
Rebecca Herbert: With a great deal of experience behind her from her time playing in the Hoodfklasse, Herbert looks an excellent signing for Surbiton. She has over 100 combined England and Great Britain caps and will surely be looking to impress both Jason Lee and the rest of the league on her return home.
Hightown finished fifth last season and so wound up just outside the playoffs. They enjoyed wins against the teams around them but came up short against the top four, including heavy defeats to Reading and Leicester. There is no doubt that on their day, Bowdon can match anyone in the league and they will be aiming to get back into the playoffs this time out. With the return to full fitness of the excellent Great Britain star Sally Walton at the back imminent and with the evergreen Tina Cullen still banging them in at the other end, Bowdon have a dash of real quality to add to a very solid, settled squad. If they get some momentum behind them, they could be a very tough prospect for their rivals.
Position Last Season: 5th
Hannah Richardson (University of Birmingham.)
Hannah Pike (Loughborough Students.)
Lindsay Bromby (Wakefield.)
Kirsty Mackay (East Grinstead.)
Player to Watch:
At 43 years of age, Tina Cullen still shows no signs of letting up in her goalscoring exploits. 18 goals in all competitions last season saw her crowned her team’s top scorer yet again. Goals win games, and Cullen now has a ratio of 1.8 goals per game for Hightown, the star forward will be a massive part of her team’s ambitions for the umpteenth time.
That takes care of last year’s top five. The other half of the Investec Women’s Premier League will be previewed this afternoon.