Holcombe Ladies Qualify for Europe

England Hockey’s Playoffs saw the top 4 sides in the country; Surbiton, Holcombe, East Grinstead and the University of Birmingham battle it out to be crowned Champions of England

and to qualify for Europe’s premier club competition.

With only one place available after regular season Champions Surbiton claimed one of them with their title win, it was all to play for at England’s showcase event.

22/04/17   5.45pm

England Hockey Women’s National Premier League

Playoff Semi-Final

Holcombe HC 2-1 East Grinstead HC

Scorers: Holcombe HC: Emily Beeney, Leah Wilkinson

East Grinstead HC: Bridget Blackwood

Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre, Olympic Park

 

The England Hockey Post-season got underway for Holcombe Ladies on Saturday evening as, for the final game of the day, they took the field against local rivals East Grinstead.

The two teams had split the regular season games, with East Grinstead leaving Holcombe Park with all three points early in the campaign before Holcombe stole the points with a comeback win at Saint Hill.

With both regular season games being decided by the one goal, it promised to be a close and well contested affair.

The early exchanges showed promise of real aggression from the two sides as East Grinstead came out of the blocks firing.  Holcombe struggled to work the ball up the field in the first quarter and just seven minutes into the contest, East Grinstead were rewarded for their pressure. 18157720_10207331102070593_3525949263228031110_n

A ball into the right shoulder of the circle was struck fiercely into the back of the Holcombe net by Bridget Blackwood to give the Saint Hill side an early advantage.

With opportunities kept to a premium, East Grinstead defended resolutely to keep Holcombe at bay as the Kent side pushed hard throughout the remainder of the quarter to restore parity.

Having taken the early lead, East Grinstead struggled to find the same attacking prowess in the second quarter, leaving Aurora Mears in the Holcombe goal largely untroubled. With Holcombe yet to hit their stride in the contest, the second quarter drifted by as both sides looked to regroup at the half-time interval.

Immediately at the start of the third quarter it was apparent that Kevin Johnson’s side had come out with a rejuvenated energy. A greater intensity all over the pitch led to opportunities aplenty in the quarter as the contest burst into life.

Opportunities went begging in the opening 10 minutes of the period but then two goals in two minutes turned the game on its’ head.

Quanita Bobbs cut inside the East Grinstead defence on the left of the circle before firing a ball across the face of goal to be turned in by youngster Emily Beeney who found herself at full strength to get Holcombe back into the game.

From the restart, the Kent side stole possession and broke into the East Grinstead circle, earning themselves a penalty corner. A slick move was deflected home by Vice-Captain Leah Wilkinson to give Holcombe a crucial lead.

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With a place in the Championship Final and with it, Europe for next season at stake, East Grinstead came out firing in the final quarter and put Holcombe under considerable pressure.

Mears was alert to deny a hungry East Grinstead front line and some good running from the Holcombe back line negated their penalty corner threats. With less than 2 minutes to go, East Grinstead broke through the heart of the circle and somehow forced the ball through Aurora Mears. With two forwards baring down on the loose ball in front of the open Holcombe goal, a stunning diving clearance from Emma Trunks preserved the slender lead.

The pressure remained and a late penalty corner with under 30 seconds to play was again repelled as Holcombe held on to claim a famous victory that secured European hockey for the very first time for the Women’s side and a shot at the title as they faced three-time reigning Champions Surbiton in the Championship Final on Sunday.

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In her first season as Captain of Holcombe, Steph Elliott paid testament to pride of herself and the club in the squad.

“Our aim was (to make) Europe and we deserved it, so feel it feels great to have achieved what we aimed for at the start of the season. It feels like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders; I felt quite a lot of pressure to perform for the girls and put a solid performance in, both personally and to lead the team together so that both ourselves and the club would be proud and thankfully we did just that!”


23/04/17   4pm

England Hockey Women’s National Premier League

Championship Final

Holcombe HC 1-3 Surbiton HC

Scorers: Holcombe HC: Ellie Watton

Surbiton HC: Giselle Ansley, Hollie Webb, Naomi Evans

Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre, Olympic Park

 

Having secured their place in Europe ahead of next season, Holcombe went into Sunday’s Championship Final against three-time reigning Champions Surbiton with a renewed confidence.

The reigning champions have been a formidable force over recent years; amassing over 50 games unbeaten and boasting a side littered with senior International players.

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Surbiton started the stronger of the two sides, forcing Holcombe onto the back-foot through pressing high up the field. Holcombe’s defensive unit held strong to negate most clear-cut opportunities but struggled to make in-roads into the Surbiton defence at the other end.

Sarah Haycroft, who played a dominant role in midfield throughout the contest, created the best opportunity of the first half but Grace Lawes, rotated in for Aurora Mears in goal, was equal to the opportunity.

Just four minutes before the interval however and Surbiton had the lead. Giselle Ansley, the Premier League’s top goal-scorer, added to her tally with a fiercely struck penalty corner to convert the pressure that the West London club had been piling on throughout the first half.

If Holcombe were looking to utilise the half-time break to re-group and re-energise themselves as they did in their semi-final a day earlier, all hopes of a smooth transition were dashed just two minutes into third quarter when Surbiton doubled their lead through Great Britain International Hollie Webb. Her slap from a well-worked penalty corner found the bottom left corner of Lawes’ goal to put the reigning Champions two goals clear.

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Just over five minutes later however and Holcombe had their response. Having gone two goals down, the Kent side looked far more threatening going forward as they searched for a way back into the contest. Earning themselves a penalty corner, it was a diving Ellie Watton who finished a well-worked move to halve the deficit.

Holcombe gained a new lease of life after their top scorers’ intervention and began to create further chances to complete the comeback. Committing more players to attack provided Surbiton with opportunities to break but the resolute Holcombe back four denied any clear-cut opportunities as the game rested on a knife edge at the end of the third quarter. 18056682_10207317599773044_2760983611181852714_n

With the Championship held delicately in the balance, the fourth quarter was a tense and frenetic affair. Surbiton continued to look dangerous on the attack but Holcombe’s commitment to offense led to several threatening forays into the Champions’ half but the Kent side were unable to muster meaningful shot on target as Surbiton’s defensive line held firm.

With time running down, a bouncing cross from Surbiton was met by Naomi Evans who got the slightest of deflections to beat Lawes and claim the fourth successive title for the West London side.

Holcombe’s faultless efforts were undone by the quality of a Surbiton side that has dominated domestic hockey in recent years but Captain Steph Elliott was pleased with her sides’ performances over the Playoff weekend.

“It was quite bittersweet today in that we feel we played well, gave it our all, went one step better than last season with silver, but just couldn’t get the win we wanted over Surbiton. In all honesty, they were the better team, but you always hope they’re going to have an off day and you can sneak that lucky win.”

“This whole weekend has been a rollercoaster of emotion and although I’ve aged about ten years it’s still been an epic experience and if anything, it’s made us more hungry to step it up again next season.”

Image Credit: Andy Smith

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