With the opening weekend of the Investec Women’s Premier Division almost upon us, it’s time to take a quick look at all the moves over the summer as we try to work out if anyone can stop Surbiton taking their seventh consecutive title. So here we go…
There’s no better place to start than with the champions. As you’d expect with Surbiton’s production line of young talent, a number of players have departed for university and been replaced by more players from within the club. Perhaps the most noteworthy departure is that of Izzy Petter. The forward, who caught the eye after being given her international debut this summer is off to play for newly-promoted Loughborough Students.
Holly Munro is back at the club after her spell at University of Birmingham and there is also an interesting signing in the shape of promising young goalkeeper Brooke Butler from Loughborough Students. Above all however, the eye is immediately drawn to the return of goal machine and Surbiton legend Beckie Middleton. She has rejoined the club after a spell in New Zealand. Not that they ever do, but you feel Surbiton won’t struggle for goals this season!
Holcombe topped the table during the regular season last year, only to come up short in the final with a narrow loss to Surbiton. The message down in Kent appears to be evolution not revolution. The loss of striker Dirkie Chamberlain will no doubt leave a gap but forward Lorna Cruickshank has joined from Durham University and will try to fill those shoes. The Hungry Camels have bolstered their midfield with the arrivals of Loughborough captain Charlotte Daly and Issy Davison, a graduate of Nottingham University who has previously played at Beeston.
Buckingham, who lost in the play-off semi-finals to Holcombe last season have kept hold of the majority of their squad from the last campaign. A close-knit group who share their goals around and work as a unit to achieve the results we’ve seen have however lost Phoebe Richards and Maddie Newlyn. The return of Abbie Brant and her eye for goal will be a big boost for them and the additions of Lucy Wood and Emma O’Nien from relegated Slough should also add to the depth of their squad.
East Grinstead were the other play-off semi-finalists last year and have held onto the considerable talents of Sophie Bray for another season. They look to have done some excellent business in the summer: Scotland and Great Britain international Amy Costello has signed from University of Birmingham, Wales international Hannah Cozens comes in from Loughborough and perhaps most exciting of all, Tess Howard, who has made a splash on the international scene for Great Britain has transferred from University of Durham.
Hampstead and Westminster are one of the two newly-promoted sides and their transfer business has certainly made a statement about their intentions this season.
Great Britain internationals Grace Balsdon and Lily Owsley will certainly add quality to the Hampstead ranks. Former Great Britain midfielder Joie Leigh is back from a year playing in the Netherlands and has also joined. They have also secured the signing of Holly Hunt who arrives from University of Birmingham. Hunt made her international debut during the FIH Pro League and will surely be another good addition to Hampstead’s team. With the successful group from last season retained and with those additions, all eyes will be on the team coached by Kate Richardson-Walsh and Sarah Kelleher as they make their Premier league bow.
Loughborough Students are the other promoted side and as you would expect for a university-based club, their turnover is high. Six of last year’s promotion winners have departed, including skipper Charlotte Daly. As ever, they have brought in plenty of new talent. As mentioned already, the headline signing is that of Izzy Petter. She will line up alongside her Great Britain team mate Lizzie Neal, who is going into her second season with the Students. Coach Brett Holland will have to get his side firing as a unit very quickly if they are to have the season they are looking for.
On the subject of university teams, Coach Phil Gooderham will have to weave his magic once again at the University of Birmingham this season.
Even taking into account the transient nature of a university side, the turnover of players this season is very high. The list of those heading for the exit includes Alicia Caillard, Amy Costello, Holly Hunt, Holly Munro, Lily Owsley, Olivia Paige, Flora Peel, Katherine Somerville and Jo Turnbull. Any side losing that number and quality of players has their work cut out. However with no fewer than 12 new arrivals at the time of writing, including Laura Graham, Coca Hall and Pip Lock- all from East Grinstead, Birmingham have plenty of players stepping in. Gooderham has carved his reputation from building and re-building sides year after year so we will watch his latest project with great interest.
Clifton Robinsons finished in fifth last season, just outside the playoff places. They will be hoping for a strong campaign this time out. The Silent Assassins will be under the watchful eye of a new coach in Juliet Rayden who has taken over from Steve Rixon. Rixon has moved to become Director of Performance at the club instead. Continuity has long been one of Clifton’s strengths so retaining the majority of last season’s squad is a very good sign. Last season’s goal machine Claire Thomas is still in the side and will once again be pivotal to their hopes of success. The acquisition of Phoebe Richards from Buckingham could prove to be a very handy signing indeed.
🎶 She scores when she wants…She scores when she waaaaants! Claire Thomas, she scores when she wants. 🎶 pic.twitter.com/EdmYgIgl92
— Galvanised Hockey (@GalvanisdHockey) November 7, 2018
Beeston finished just behind Clifton in last season’s table – consolidating their place in the top flight on their return to the Premier League. They will be aiming to kick on this season and have seen nine players leave the club over the summer with a huge influx of players also arriving in Nottingham. Mairi Drummond, the Scotland international has signed from Wimbledon and is arguably the most eye-catching of the arrivals. Annie Mills from Brooklands Poynton could end up being a shrewd signing if she can repeat her good form from the North Conference last season.
Bowdon Hightown have again maintained the bulk of the squad which helped them to seventh place last season whilst adding a couple of players to increase the strength in depth of an already well drilled side.
Xenna Hughes has arrived from East Grinstead to line up alongside her Welsh international team mates Julie Whiting and Sian French. Beth Alexander, an England junior international who has moved from Brooklands Poynton is an exciting talent who will hopefully flourish under the tutelage of the great Tina Cullen. Hightown will be looking up, not down this season as they attempt to kick on and trouble the top half.
Opening fixtures (Saturday 14 September 2019)
Beeston v Hampstead & Westminster
Buckingham v Clifton Robinsons
Holcombe v East Grinstead
Loughborough Students v Surbiton
University of Birmingham v Bowdon Hightown
A huge thank you must go to Colin Pike, Surbiton HC’s press officer. He has painstakingly collated all the player transfers from across the different clubs and provided a comprehensive guide to a number of different hockey journalists. Not for the first time, Colin’s contribution to promoting the domestic game in this country goes above and beyond the expected levels.