Leah Wilkinson of Surbiton and Nick Bandurak of Holcombe have been named the winners of the prestigious UK player of the year awards, which were chosen by members of the Hockey Writers’ Club. Wilkinson also made history by becoming the first female player from Wales to receive the award, which was first presented in 1983.
The senior men’s and women’s awards, sponsored by Mercian, were presented at the Club’s annual ceremony on Friday March 25th at the Royal Thames Yacht Club in Knightsbridge, London, by former GB international George Pinner and GB president Sheila Morrow.
The senior men’s, sponsored by Mercian, and women’s awards were presented at the Club’s annual ceremony on Friday March 25th at the Royal Thames Yacht Club in Knightsbridge, London, by former Great Britain international George Pinner and Great Britain president Sheila Morrow.
In a close vote among HWC members, Bandurak edged out Adam Dixon in second place, while Zach Wallace and Sam Ward tied for third place in the Mercian men’s award, which recognises players who competed throughout the previous year.
Bandurak, 28, from Cannock, has been a consistent performer for Kent club Holcombe HC in the Men’s Premier Division for the past few seasons. He made his international debut for England earlier this year, in a Pro League match against Spain in February, after years of waiting.
Bandurak’s award, which he shares with his club coach Julian Halls, who won the men’s award in 1993, is a testament to his goal-scoring prowess for Holcombe in recent seasons since joining for the 2016/17 season. He scored 16 goals in 2019/20 and has 13 goals so far this season.
“I am shocked to win this award from the Hockey Writers’ Club, and it means a lot to me,” he said.
“Being called up for the Pro League was incredible, and when you’re 28, 29, you kind of accept life and realise it might not happen.”
“But I never gave up, so getting this opportunity has been a whirlwind, and I’m excited to see where it goes.”
Wilkinson, a Wales and Great Britain international, won the women’s player of the year award, beating Hollie Pearne-Webb in second place and Sophie Bray, the 2019 winner, who finished third in the voting.
Wilkinson, who was born in Burton-on-Trent, made her Wales debut in 2004 but had to wait 15 years before being selected for the Great Britain women’s team for the first time. Wilkinson also became Wales’ most capped athlete in any sport in the same year, 2019.
“I am so honoured to win this award from the Hockey Writers’ Club,” Wilkinson said, becoming the first Welsh winner since goalkeeper Chris Ashcroft in 1999. The last 18 months have been a true test for everyone, and as a team, we had the honour of representing Great Britain at the Tokyo Olympics during this trying time. This award would not have been possible without the help of my teammates, family, and friends.
“I am also honoured and humbled to be the first Welsh woman to receive this award.”
“Wales is near and dear to my heart.” It’s a big year for the sport, so it’s critical that we keep hockey in the public eye.”
The 35-year-old was named to Team GB’s Olympic squad for Tokyo 2020, where she won a memorable bronze medal last summer to cap an incredible two-year rise.
Her international commitments also forced her to postpone her teaching career, which she later resumed as a history teacher and head of year at Ewell Castle School in Epsom.
She signed with Surbiton Women for the 2021/22 season after five years with Holcombe. She is on course to win the Surbiton First League Championship ahead of their Euro Hockey League campaign next month.