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Bronze in England Hockey National Schools U16 Girls’ Finals
The dreaded ‘Beast from the East’ back in late February put paid to the scheduled Hockey National Finals and Thursday 3rd and Friday 4th May saw the finals eventually take place for the U16 girls.
We started our campaign against Trent College. We raced out of the traps, and smartly taken goals from Martha Taylor, Sophie Saunders and Beanie Culley fired us into a 3-0 lead after only 11 minutes. We controlled the play for the most part, but were indebted to goal keeper Sasha Witter for a number of fine saves as Trent upped the ante in the second period as they looked to get back into the game. They finally scored with 10 minutes remaining, before a quick second meant a nervy final six minutes. However, with the defence holding firm, we countered at pace through the feisty Molly Fairbairn, who ran half the length of the pitch before crossing smartly for Saunders to cleverly lift the ball over the onrushing keeper to give us a well-deserved and nerve settling 4-2 win.
Wellington College were our next group opponents, and as the defending Champions we knew it would be a tough match. We started brilliantly again, taking the lead early through a penalty stroke. However, Wellington hit straight back and then two bad 10 minute phases in each half saw Wellington clinically dispatch several short corners. We kept playing positively and hit back through Imogen Fairweather, but suffered a 2-7 reverse which did not reflect the full context of the game. Rest and recovery and ice baths followed that evening to get ready for the Friday matches and opportunity to play for a medal.
Knowing we had to beat The Leys, who sat above us in the table on goal difference, we played on the front foot from the outset. Lizzy Balls, Abby Childerley and Holly Hazzard were resolute at the back, whilst Beanie Culley and Katie Ashcroft provided a potent attacking threat on the flanks. It was through this source that we gained the vital break through just after half time, when a lighting quick dart down the right side to the baseline saw Culley cross for Saunders to grab her third goal in as many games with a composed finish. Fairbairn deflected in a well-worked corner, before Saunders lashed in another soon after. Martha Taylor finished things off with a fine solo run before firing into the bottom corner. An excellent 4-1 victory saw us finish second in the group and had to wait to discover our opponents in the bronze medal playoff – either Repton or St George’s College, who were playing later.
Vociferous parental and staff support in the stands greeted the girls as they walked out for the 3rd/4th playoff versus St George’s. With the sun belting down, the conditions were tough, but the girls’ fitness was good and we again went after the opposition early in the match. There were chances for both teams to take the lead, but it was Canford who did so in the 15th minute. Crucially, when one of these attacks broke down, Molly Fairbairn reacted quickest and kept her cool in a busy D to lift the ball over sticks before expertly hammering a backhand shot in mid-air to break the deadlock. We could and should have extended our lead, but the team were magnificent in their resilience and character. The midfield worked their socks off, with India Still having a great game to cap a fine tournament. The final whistle brought cheers of joy and the release of emotion at the enormity of our achievement: a bronze medal and realisation that we are the third best U16 School hockey team in the country.
As much as the success of the tournament was an outstanding achievement the process of managing motivation levels and commitment to training alongside the rest of the girls’ normal school lives is something the girls should also be very proud of. The postponement of the tournament created some logistical difficulties and an initial sense of anti-climax but the girls deserve great credit for the way in which they maintained focus and produced such a positive result.
Reporting by Matt Collison, Director of Hockey.
Photography by Emily Fairweather Photography.