EHL: Bray relishing dream draw against Amsterdam

Friday night lights; taking on the 2022 champions in front of a boisterous home crowd; some would prefer a gentler debut into the EHL.

But East Grinstead’s Sophie Bray is unequivocal; facing AH&BC Amsterdam first up is exactly the draw she would have chosen if she could do the draw herself.

“I couldn’t be happier with our draw!” she told the EHL website. “When it came out, I thought: ‘amazing, that’s the one I want!’ To play such a top side, in their home stadium, 8pm on a Friday night. I would definitely have picked it!”

It is a measure of her relish for a challenge. The European and Olympic gold medalist loved pitting her wits against some of the best club teams in the world over two spells in the Netherlands and was keen to keep pushing boundaries on her return to the English club game.

She initially joined MOP – based between Den Bosch and Eindhoven – where Toon Siepman had a formative influence on her game, hailing his guidance, technical and tactical acumen as key features in helping her break into the Great Britain setup.

Following the Rio gold, she returned to the Hoofdklasse to play with SV Kampong with whom she encountered a golden generation of talents, three of whom she will face off against at the EHL FINAL8.

“I remember from the first training session with Michelle Fillet and Marijn Veen thinking ‘wow, these two are super-talented’. What amazed me was they were young but had such a great attitude which is so important.

“Marijn has done so well and it is no surprise at all and I believe she will only get better. Michelle seems to be in top form in front of goal. Different styles but their strengths give them a unique aspect to what they bring to the game.

“It has also been nice to see Gaby [Mosch] doing so much on the indoor stage. She was a super talent when I was there. A few years on, it will be super nice to see them again and weird to play against them!”

Having grown up in the Surbiton youth section, it might have seemed the natural course to return their after her time in the Netherlands, particularly with the London club now racking up the titles.

But Bray saw the picture differently and felt an alternative challenge was more to her liking when asked by EG coach Mary Booth, a former schools coach of hers.

“It was a big decision. A number of people might question it as I played at Surbiton as a junior. But I could see the passion and direction of the management in the club of where they wanted to go.

“It was exciting and I wanted to be part of it. The club was known for many years because of the men’s side and their success. It’s nice now to see where the women’s side is – like many others – that we have been part of that journey.

“I also saw the domination of Surbiton, winning their games 8-0, 9-0, 5-1… I kind of wanted it not to be a one-team show in the Premier League and see if we could build something and make it more competitive. It took a number of years but we got there in the end!”

That journey saw them finish as runners-up on a couple of occasions, earning EuroHockey Trophy spots in 2021 and 2022, as well as becoming indoor national champions.

And then, last spring, they ended Surbiton’s decade-long reign as English winners with a dramatic 3-2 win, Sally Sime getting the crucial goal nine minutes from time.

“Surbiton have been so incredibly dominant in our league for so many years so to finally be able to win the title, we have gone close, but to be able to do it at their home ground was a big thing.”

EGW1 VS SURB 2 81 - EHL: Bray relishing dream draw against Amsterdam - Friday night lights; taking on the 2022 champions in front of a boisterous home crowd; some would prefer a gentler debut into the EHL.
Sophie Bray and Tessa Howard. Pictures: Eva Gilbert

And the two look set for more showdowns at the business end of this season with both occupying playoff spots for the final four phase of the labyrinthine English league which is currently in its third phase.

But first, it is the EHL FINAL8 and Bray says her side has an exciting blend of options to bring to the table that is blending at the right time after a mixed pre-Christmas spell. A couple of big names joined the club, linking up with GB stars like Laura Unsworth, Tessa Howard and Ellie Rayer.

“A combination of new players coming in – it does take time for them to settle into a new club – and we are starting to see them not just settle but lead the lines.

“Grace Balsdon has been phenomenal, leads the backline and organises the team. Lily Walker – another key player coming in – has found her feet in this second half of the season.

“The other aspect I personally love this about our team and it is similar to when I was at Kampong. We have some super-talented youngsters – Izzy, our goalkeeper is 18 and super-talented. Liv Breed and Anna Faulstich – both also 18 – will all be there at the EHL.”

“We are in the midst of a really good run since Christmas; the girls had a successful indoor campaign and we have taken that momentum outdoors. It is the exciting time of the season, the reason we get out and train!”

By EHL Hockey TV

Like this article?

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on Linkdin
Share on Pinterest

Leave a comment

SanFair Newsletter

The latest on what’s moving world – delivered straight to your inbox
Verified by MonsterInsights