England: Vitality Women’s Hockey League Wk1 Review

The opening weekend of hockey in the Vitality Women’s Hockey League certainly didn’t disappoint. 128 goals were scored across the League, 71 for home teams and 57 away.

Defending champions Surbiton, who have never lost on the opening day in the Premier Division, were once again in deadly form. Opening the scoring in the 5th minute, Sophie Hamilton had an opening day to remember. Racing away to a hattrick with another open play goal, in the 18th minute, before deflecting home from a penalty corner midway through the second quarter. Surbiton wasn’t done there; Steph Elliott gave her side a 4-0 lead going into the halftime break through a penalty corner before Alice Wills completed the scoring in the 49th minute. Sophie’s hattrick, however, wasn’t enough to win bragging rights in the Hamilton household as Hampstead & Westminster also won 5-0 and are joint top.

Hampstead & Westminster kept their 100% record on the opening day of the Premier Division season, with five different players getting on the score sheet through open-play goals. Coach Kate Richardson-Walsh will be delighted to see her two new signings, Lily Owsley and Anna O’Flanagan, on the scoresheet, scoring in the 13th and 63rd minutes, respectively. Goals from Sarah Robertson (17), Holly Hunt (30) and Lauren Turner (56) gave Hampstead & Westminster the start as they look to mount a serious title challenge.

Clifton Robinsons were the early leaders of the day, with a 2-0 win over the travelling Holcombe, who have not won on an opening day since the 2019-20 season. Eloise Laity gave the home side the lead in the 25th minute before Amy Burton (39) extended the lead for Clifton Robinsons shortly after halftime, handing her side an opening day win for the first time in four seasons.

East Grinstead left it late to secure their third successive opening day win (2-1 at Clifton Robinsons and 4-1 at home to Loughborough Students) and a fifth consecutive home victory over the University of Birmingham, who last won on opening day in 2016-17. The University of Birmingham struck first through a Hannah Pearce (22) penalty corner before Courtney Hansford levelled the score in the 28th minute. The University of Birmingham will leave Saint Hill deflated after Chloe Brown scored with virtually the last touch of the game to secure all three points for the home side in the 70th minute.

There was another late goal in our Match of the Week, as the University of Nottingham went into the game looking to continue their devastating form in the Vitality Women’s Hockey League. Winning 17 and drawing one on their way to the Division One North title (the only points dropped in a 1-1 home draw with Leicester City in October). Beeston, meanwhile, are looking to improve on last season’s highest-ever finish of fifth.

After a tense start to the match, with both teams creating scoring chances, it wasn’t until the 40th minute when Lauren Burrell gave Beeston the lead via a penalty corner goal. Shortly after the start of the 4th quarter, Beeston were awarded with another penalty corner goal, up stepped Rosy Stephens to give her side a 2-0 lead.

Two goals down, and with time running out, the University of Nottingham regrouped and started to show the form that served them so well last season. Maddie Axford pulled one goal back in the 57th minute to give the University side the boost they needed to fight their way back into the match, and they did exactly that. With just one minute of play, Merle Knobloch fired home a penalty corner to square the game and ensuring the University of Nottingham’s first-ever foray in the Premier Division didn’t end in defeat.

The other promoted side, Reading, didn’t have such luck in their first Premier Division outing since the 2016-17 season. They were facing a Wimbledon side, opening their season at home for the fourth successive season. A tight end-to-end affair was settled by the solitary goal, scored in the 43rd minute from a Jen Eadie penalty corner.

Vitality Women's Hockey Premier Division Results
Vitality Women’s Hockey Premier Division Results
Vitality Women's Hockey League Premier Division Table
Vitality Women’s Hockey League Premier Division Table

Division 1 North

Bowdon opened the campaign in Division 1 North by taking a third successive victory against West Yorkshire-based Ben Rhydding. Bowdon took the lead through a Sophia Cawshay penalty corner in the second quarter before Jess Triffit equalised in the 44th minute for the home side. Rosie Bailey rounded off the scoring for Bowdon in the 60th minute to give the travelling side the victory.

Leicester City also left it to the 60th minute to secure their opening day win. Jose Fina Freaney scored a brace (4, 60) to hand the travelling Gloucester City an opening day defeat. Emma Done’s consolation goal in the 67th minute was too little too late.

Leeds were another side who had to hold on to a late surge from their visitors. Hannah Smith gave Leeds the lead in the 18th minute before Gabby Murray-Panayiotou extended the lead for Leeds in the 29th. Tor Hughes struck late for Brooklands-Poynton in the 65th.

Stourport and Sutton Coldfield closed the day with a delayed start to their evening match, eventually getting underway at 19:00. The fourth 2-1 result of the day went in the home side’s favour. Lucy Walton struck first, in the 16th minute, to give Stourport the half time. A rallying cry from the Sutton Coldfield coaches at the break took just two minutes into the 3rd quarter before they levelled the game through Emma McCabe’s open play goal. Five minutes later, Sarah Parkinson-Mills gave Stourport the lead again, a lead they would hold on to until the final whistle.

Sunday’s only match of Division 1 North was Swansea, making the 600-mile round trip to Durham University. Swansea, who came down from the Premier Division last season, got their season off to a good start, with Bethan Wood scoring in the 22nd minute of the game, only for Katie Birch to snatch victory and a share of the points four minutes from time.

Vitality Women’s Hockey League Division 1 North Table
Vitality Women's Hockey League Division 1 North Table
Vitality Women’s Hockey League Division 1 North Table

Division 1 South

Isca & University of Exeter were the early leaders in the Division by way of alphabetical sorting. 2-0 victories for Isca & University of Exeter Vs Witney, courtesy of goals from Lucy Day and Flo Fletcher, and a 2-0 win for Slough, through Sophie Stonehouse and Shona McNab, over the Harleston Magpies meant both sides were equal through the conventional methods.

Isca’s lead didn’t last long as a strengthened Canturbury side climbed to the top of the table with a 4-1 victory over Cambridge City. Canterbury had the perfect start when Lucy Barnes fired home from the penalty spot in the 3rd minute to calm the Canterbury nerves. The scoreline remained the same until a flurry of goals in the final quarter. First Lily Beer in the 52nd, Chloe Plumb (63) and then Hannah Griggs to give Canterbury a 4-0 lead before Amie Hunt pulled one back for Cambridge in the 69th.

Surbiton 2’s twice came from behind to draw with near neighbours Barnes. Abby Gooderham scored a brace from open play in the 2nd and 45th minutes. Hannah Denison and Ellie De Heer are on the score sheet for Surbiton with goals in the 38th and 55th minute, respectively.

The day’s late game saw Sevenoaks resume their form from last season and inflict another loss away from home for Wimbledon 2. Tilly Fox, with two open play goals (33, 54), a Lily Elliott penalty corner in the 42nd and a Jen Wilson open play goal in the 64th, gave Sevenoaks all three points in a 4-0 victory and an early lead in the Division.

Vitality Women's Hockey League Division 1 South Table
Vitality Women’s Hockey League Division 1 South Table

Conference East

Two early open-play goals from Georgina Everitt (15) and Hattie Robinson (19) made Spencer’s trip home from Sussex all the better as they beat Horsham 0-2.

Nikki Molllison was the hero for London Wayfarers as they faced East London at the Lee Valley Hockey & Tennis Centre. Molllison’ double under the lights gave her side all three points through two open play goals in the 20th and 64th minutes. East London pulled one back late on via a Jo Coughlan open play goal in the 67th.

Hampstead & Westminster 2 did their damage in the first half, going into the break with a 3-0 lead in Suffolk. Goals from Iona Campbell (13), Lauren Hunt (23) and Fran Tew (27) were enough to take all three points for the visitors. Taylor Bull’s penalty corner goal in the 50th minute was too little to mount a comeback for Ipswich.

An exciting and end-to-end match was played out in Guildford as Bishop Stortford visited Broadwater School for the first time. Guildford, who took the early lead through Hiedi Devey (8), were soon pegged back by their visitors. Bishops Stortford scored three quick goals either side of the first quarter break through Sally Powell (14) before a two-minute double from Abbie Barrett (21, 23) gave the visitors a commanding 1-3 halftime lead. Guildford came out all guns blazing in the second half; Kerryn Swanepoel started the comeback in the 38th minute before Charlotte Barr equalised two minutes later. Alice Welland had the final say in the 57th to give Guildford a 4-3 lead and one they would hold.

Chelmsford suffered a heavy home defeat at the hands of Southgate at Chelmer Park. Goals from Amy Kokkinos(FG15), a double from Emma McIntyre (PC43, FG48), Connie Vickers (FG55) and Helen Cathcart (FG69) gave Southgate a 0-5 victory.

Conference Midlands

Loughborough Students welcomed Rugby & East Warwickshire newcomers to the Conference Midlands to open their campaign with a 2-0 win; open play goals from Evie Phillips (FG40) and Nikki Siarbawa (FG50) were enough to take all three points on the opening day.

Olton & West Warwickshire also claimed a 2-0 victory; goals from Alice Conquest (PC32) and a Sally Walton (PS58) penalty stroke gave them victory over the visiting Bedford.

Jessica Barr (PS3) gave the University of Birmingham 2 the perfect start versus Belper, promoted back to the Premier Division last season. Scarlott Doxy (FG19) pulled the score level shortly after the first quarter break before Laura Graham’s (PC42) penalty corner goal was enough to see out the game for the away side.

St Albans travelled up the M1 to meet Cannock at Chase Park, aiming to end the poor run of form against the home side. Cannock, however, had other ideas. Running away to an early 3-0 lead through Sarah Hitchens (FG15), Jodie Beddow (FG19) and Lucy Spencer (FG25), giving Cannock a lead they would never relinquish, despite a late comeback from Lissy Humphris (FG64) and St Albans.

Oxford University got the better of old foe Beeston 2, after last season’s 2-2 draw, to take a 3-1 comeback win. Harriet Barker (FG19) gave Beeston 2 the lead before Oxford University began their comeback with goals from Orissa Welsh (FG37), Pip Garbutt (FG45) and a late third from Megan Cottee (FG69).

Conference North

Liverpool Sefton had a tough opening day fixture against Harrogate as the two promoted sides met on the opening day. Harrogate firmly made a mark on the Division and their intent for the season with a crushing 6-0 win. A hattrick from Holly Oldham (FG6 PC50 FG50), a brace from Rachel Clarke (FG23 FG57) and Lucy Wood (FG67) rounded off the scoring for the Vitality Women’s Hockey League’s top-scoring team.

Timperley, who were also zeroing in their sights during the pre-season, hit the ground running with a convincing 4-2 victory over Pendle Forest. Goals from Jessica Sutton (PC23 PC27), Chloe Tyler (PC51) and Gaby Goodman (FG57) were enough to prevent Lisa–Emma Crewe’s (PC35, PS66) double from having any impact on the scoresheet.

Wakefield and Fylde both registered 2-1 opening weekend victories. Hattie Madden (FG23) and Hannah Cook (FG53) scored for Fylde on either side of Durham University 2’s Sophie Evans (PS46).
Whilst Wakefield’s Charlotte Horsman (PC33) and Tayla Britton (FG47) secure the points after Rebecca Ward (FG4) gave Alderley Edge an early lead.

Doncaster continued the trend of 2-1 victories; this time, the away side took victory when they met Didsbury Northern. Erica Woodcock (FG24) and Frankie Davidson (FG59) gave Doncaster a 2-0 lead before Cath Thompson pulled one back late in the 68th minute through an open play goal.

Conference West

When last season’s second-best attack meets last season’s best defence, something has got to give. A six-goal thriller ensued, with the Oxford Hawks attacking prowess coming out on top. Goals from Emily Smith (FG32, FG63), Lexie Spur (FG37) and Catherine Reaney (PC41) was enough to stop Team Bath Buccaneers despite Annie Wilson (FG14) and Isobel Chaudry (FG45) getting on the scoresheet.

Reading 2 were the other big scorers in the Division, taking a 4-0 home win against south coast Trojans. Alys Richards (PS2 FG6), Emma Hunter (FG47) and Maddison Scott (PC50) were all taking a share of the goals.

Isca & Exeter University 2 started their Vitality Women’s Hockey League debut season with a 1-2 victory over Cheltenham. India Shakespeare (PC42) and Mollie Fairburn (FG47) scored for the away side. At the same time, Alice Shea’s 52nd-minute penalty corner ensured an exciting end to the match.

Penarth went one better than last season’s result in Basingstoke. Millie Bushnell’s (FG9) and Jemima Robinson’s (FG13) goals ensured all three points were returning to South Wales.

Bristol firebrands and Exe played out an exciting 2-2 draw, with Bella Slawin (FG16) and Marie Andrews (PC47) scoring for Firebrands on either side of Amy Booth’s double (FG17 FG21) for Exe.

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