After COVID-19 forced the 2020-21 England Hockey League season to be declared null and void, the 2021-22 Vitality EHL Premier campaign starts this weekend with the hope that the season will be completed.
In the Vitality Women’s Hockey League, East Grinstead had high hopes of ending Surbiton’s seven year reign as champions when the season was prematurely ended as they were top of the table and had won at Surbiton for the first time.
They try again, starting with a home fixture against Loughborough Students, who on their previous visit to West Sussex, inflicted a surprise 5-1 home defeat. East Grinstead have now built up a 21 game unbeaten run starting in October 2019, so should be confident going into the new season.
Having lost Amy Costello (UHC Hamburg), East Grinstead welcome back Alex Malzer after a stint at the University of Nottingham and have also added Jo Westwood to their squad, from Holcombe.
Loughborough have signed Becky Malyon from Beeston together with two Irish players: Ellen Reid (Banbridge) and Hannah Irwin (Ulster Elks) plus Kathryn Edgar from Temple University (USA). Loughborough have also lost key players with Lizzie Neal returning to Canterbury; Miriam Pritchard going to Hampstead & Westminster; and Beeston signing Ella Cusack, Hannah Grieve and Lucy Millington.
Surbiton start their season at Clifton Robinsons and will also be confident as they have won on their last seven visits to Bristol, however Clifton also have reasons for optimism as they won at Sugden Road when the teams last met in 2019-20, their only success in 16 regular season meetings.
Clifton Robinsons have signed Pip Stewart from the University of Birmingham, whilst losing several players including Sarah-Jayne Thorburn.
Surbiton have seen Giselle Ansley and Hannah Martin take on new challenges in the Netherlands with HGC and Hurley respectively, Emily Atkinson having retired at the end of last season.
Former Clifton Robinsons player Sophie Hamilton returned to the UK from the University of Connecticut and Darcy Bourne returned to Surbiton from Duke University. Charlotte Daly and Leah Wilkinson both join from Holcombe and Freya Bull arrives from the University of Birmingham.
Wimbledon host London rivals Hampstead & Westminster with both teams aiming to be in contention for the league title at the end of the season. Hampstead won 3-1 at Wimbledon last season in the Premier Division, but the teams have previous history in the Conference East. Wimbledon won the first two encounters in South London before Hampstead drew the third meeting and finally won on their way to promotion in 2018-19.
Wimbledon have signed Fiona Crackles, Susannah Townsend, Hollie Pearne-Webb and Sarah Jones with Anna Toman transferring to SCHC and Hattie Jones returning to Holcombe.
Hampstead have signed Miriam Pritchard from Loughborough with Lily Owsley going to the Netherlands to play for HDM.
In their first ever season in the Premier Division, Swansea struggled in 2020-21, but will hope to get off to a better start when they welcome Buckingham to Wales. Swansea lost 3-1 at Buckingham last season with Jess Roe scoring their only goal of their campaign. When the teams met previously in the Conference West, each team winning two matches with two games drawn in their six well matched encounters.
Ella Jackson joins Swansea from Buckingham and another former Buckingham player, Danni Jordan crosses the Welsh border after playing for Victoria in the Netherlands.
Buckingham have signed Jo Ellis from Reading with Steph Tirrell moving to Beeston.
Holcombe visit Beeston, having won on all six occasions that the teams have met in the top flight. In Nottingham, Holcombe won 3-2 in 2019-20; 3-1 in 2018-19 and 2-1 in 2014-15.
In the last two seasons, Beeston have suffered home defeats to Hampstead & Westminster in their first game of the season after drawing 2-2 with the University of Birmingham (who have a bye in week 1) on their return to the Premier Division in 2018-19. Beeston have only won once on opening day in the Premier Division, in 2013-14 when they beat Sutton Coldfield 7-0.
In addition to signing three players from Loughborough, Steph Tirrell has also joined Beeston from Buckingham.
Holcombe have compensated for the loss of Jo Westwood to Hampstead, Leah Wilkinson to Surbiton and Sarah Jones to Wimbledon by signing Marta Fuentes from Club Egara and Tania Eschaich from Club Terrassa in Spain, with Hattie Jones returning to Kent from Wimbledon.