WAC will host the fourth tier of women’s European club competition as they host the Challenge II in Vienna this weekend with eight teams from seven different countries taking part.
Pool A features Switzerland’s HC Olten, recently crowned French champions Cambrai, Welsh side Swansea and HC Luxembourg who compete at this level for the very first time. Pool B has another Welsh side – Penarth – in a group with the hosts, TSOP Kolos Boryspol from Ukraine and first time entrants Gaziantep Doruk from Türkiye.
Here’s a look at the background of the teams:
Vienna (Women) – EuroHockey Club Challenge II
HC Olten (SUI)
HC Olten are looking to make an impact in their 13th European women’s competition with captain and Swiss international Stéphanie Weber saying: “We are an ambitious team with a healthy mix of young and experienced players that are all highly motivated to show their best abilities in Vienna.
“We had a short but intensive preparation and are looking forward to the games. The team is in a very good mood and our goal is to reach first or second place in the pool to play for the promotion.”
She is among their key players along with goalkeeper Ursina Fazis, the current Swiss number one who was named goalkeeper of the tournament at the 2022 EuroHockey qualifiers in Dunkirk. Nadine Pfister is the playmaker but defensive chief Séline Grütter unfortunately misses out through injury.
They also have speedy Dutch forward Lieselotte ‘Lot’ Schoemaker in their ranks. Ten years ago, she received a difficult kidney transplant from her father which took a long time to fight back from. She did continue to work hard in both hockey and athletics, though, and recently was able to take part in the World Transplant Games in April in Perth, Australia – an event with the motto ‘Celebrating the Gift of Life’. She duly won three world titles in 100m, 200m (both in world record time) and the long jump (5cm short of the world record) as well as javelin silver.
HC Olten finished 2nd in their indoor championship and are currently chasing Rotweiss Wettingen outdoors with a big showdown between the sides scheduled for June 4th.
Cambrai HC (FRA)
Cambrai are fresh from their French championship victory from last weekend when they came back from a goal down to defeat Saint Germain in the final.
Quitterie Le Naour put the Parisians in front from a corner but Cambrai bounced back with Alizee Isore and Agustina Ariza turning the game around for a 2-1 victory.
They are one of Europe’s most regular features in club competitions having played 38 times – across indoor and outdoor – before since 1999. They hosted the indoor Club Trophy in February where they finished fifth.
Three players are current internationals, Mickaëla Lahlah at senior level, Diane Saint-Martin and Axelle Wiart with the Under-16s.
Captain Charlotte Querleu says of the side: “The team is very young. This event is important for us to gain experience and be stronger in our national competition.
Swansea HC are a team based in South Wales and play in the North Division 1 within the English National league where they finished fifth in the 2022/23 season.
The side have a number of junior and senior international players with goalkeeper and joint captain Ella Jackson representing Wales at the last Commonwealth Games.
Beth Wood produced a star turn in last year’s Challenge III event in Alanya when she netted an incredible 12 times in three games, including six against group opponents HC Luxembourg who they meet again on Friday morning.
With their domestic season finishing in April, they have continued training over the last few months in preparation for this tournament, while also enjoying playing some hockey in the sun, which they say “has been a very nice change”.
HC Luxembourg (LUX)
One of the most cosmopolitan teams lining out this weekend across the seven club tournaments, Luxembourg feature players hailing from Italy, Germany, Belgium, Ireland, USA, Germany, Switzerland and South Africa in their panel.
This will be just their third European women’s competition, finishing seventh in Challenge III in 2021 and then in third place in 2022 at the same level. This will be their first time playing in this tier of club hockey.
Captain Romane Wilmotte, Julie Sacre, Patrizia Maters and Nathalie Tips played in both of those previous tournaments while Fiona Rickli played in a number of tournaments for Swiss club Black Boys, notably captaining them to Challenge II gold in 2017.
Gaziantep Doruk SK (TUR)
Gaziantep Doruk SC which was established in 2013 and has rapidly risen to be one of the main contenders on the Turkish scene. Indeed, they are raring to go for their European debut having seen the Indoor Club Cup they were due to host in February cancelled at short notice due to the earthquake.
They qualified due to their second place finish in Türkiye in 2022 and they are going well once again this term, sitting third in the championship playoff group and one point off second spot.
With an average age of 20, they have nine women who have been part of national teams, including Under-21 indoor captain Rabia Uysal, Nurhan Gül, Zeliha Kendir, Bahar Aslan, Aysun Epengin, Tuba Elgay, Berfin Epengin and Gülcan Paksoy.
Captain Uysal says of the event: “We are very excited and ambitious to meet new European club opponents so let’s get started!”
Coach Ali Gül added: “It’s our first fight in the European league, but we’re coming to win. we have enough capacity for this!”
WAC (AUT) – pictured above
The tournament hosts are playing in just their second EuroHockey women’s outdoor club tournament following a third place finish at the same level in 2021 in Rakovnik.
The Vienna club has a number of players who are able to make a difference with goalkeeper Stella van Rahden bringing a lot of international experience as one of the team leaders with the Austrian indoor side that took World Cup silver this year.
Isabella Klausbruckner is another making waves; she was also with the national squad in Pretoria for the World Cup and played in the Under-21 outdoor World Cup a year ago. Carla Kemper and Lena Buchta did likewise.
The side is also reinforced by Australian Renea Robinson while the captain is Luisa Mayer who says:”If we perform and bring our potential to the pitch, then we can also look good at European level. That has to be our goal.”
The form guide is strong; last weekend, the WAC team secured victory in the regular round of the domestic championship and thus also a place in Europe for 2024.
Head coach Christian Bauer adds: “A club championship is always different to the national championship. Every game counts, you can´t perform poorly at any stage if you want to reach the top and that’s what we want.”
Penarth LHC (WAL)
The Welsh club are making their first European outdoor appearance for 10 years since they finished third in the 2013 Challenge III. They do have a long and rich history in Europe, dating back to 1980 when they appeared in the Club Cup on three occasions in five seasons.
They compete in the western conference of the English leagues during the regular season where they finished in ninth place. They also contest the Welsh championship playoffs where they reached the final this year and were only denied the title in a shoot-out by Howardian LHC.
Abi Welsford is a key figure with a glittering career in which she earned 141 caps for Wales, playing in the 2014 Commonwealth Games while plenty of the panel have played in Europe for other clubs. Charlotte Bates, Chloe Nicholls, Millicent Bushnell (all Cardiff University), Carys Gordon and captain Philippa Barnes (both Swansea) will bring that information to the table.
TSOP Kolos Boryspol (UKR)
A very youthful side will represent TSOP Kolos Boryspol in Vienna with 16 of the wider panel of 25 players named for the competition under the age of 21.
Last weekend, they finished the second phase of the Ukrainian season in second place, six points behind MSC Sumchanka, to leave themselves in the title hunt when the finals series takes place in mid-June.
This will be the club’s third successive year in Challenge II, finishing in third place in 2021 in Rakovnik and then seventh in Alanya in 2022. Ten of the panel have played in each of the games with 18-year-old Viktoriia Illienko one to watch in front of goal; she scored three times across those previous events.