Surbiton Ladies will be aiming for their sixth Investec Women’s Hockey League Championships title this weekend when they face East Grinstead in the second semi-final at Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre (push back 5.45 pm) on Saturday.
Having been national champions for the last five seasons, Surbiton are under more pressure than ever to defend their title, with the same four teams having qualified this season as qualified last season.
This time, the semi-final pairings have changed as Surbiton missed out on finishing top of the Premier Division table for the first time since 2013-14, when Canterbury topped the table but lost out to Surbiton 3-0 in the final.
This season, another Kent club, Holcombe finished top after 18 games, for the first time in their history. Holcombe will face fourth placed Buckingham in the first semi-final (at 3.30 pm).in the hope that it will be third time lucky for them having lost 3-1 to Surbiton in the final for the last two seasons.
Buckingham, who also qualified for the Jaffa Super 6s semi-finals at the Copper Box Arena earlier this season, lost 3-0 to Surbiton last season on their first appearance at the League Finals and will also have league title ambitions this season.
Surbiton drew 1-1 at East Grinstead in West Sussex back in October, Giselle Ansley equalising from a 62nd minute penalty corner after Georgie Blackwood scored from open play ten minutes earlier.
The return at Sugden Road saw Surbiton come from behind to win 3-1 in February, Sophie Bray giving East Grinstead a fourth minute lead from a penalty corner, only for Georgie Twigg to level from the penalty spot in the 18th minute followed by Olivia Chilton and Jenna Woolven both scoring from open play in the 24th and 28th minutes.
East Grinstead will also be hoping that it’s third time lucky having lost at the semi-final stage to Holcombe twice, both by a 2-1 scoreline. Last season’s defeat was especially disappointing with Georgie Blackwood giving East Grinstead a lead in the 30th minute, which they held until five minutes from time, Joanne Westwood equalising and Ellie Watton scoirng the winner with just two minutes to play.
Amazingly, of the four semi-finalists, Surbiton are the team which have been in the Premier Division the longest, having been promoted via the 2012 Promotion Tournament. Holcombe and Buckingham finished first and second in the 2014 Promotion Tournament to make their top flight debuts, Sutton Coldfield losing their Premier Division status and East Grinstead finished second behind Buckingham a year later, having worked their way up from the South League.
With Leicester and Canterbury, previously well established clubs in the Premier Division having been relegated over the last two seasons, the “new kids on the block” are increasingly making their mark in the league finals.
Tickets can be bought via the England Hockey See Tickets website
If you can’t get to Lee Valley, the matches are being streamed live by Galvanised Hockey via their Facebook and You Tube feeds.
More information about the women’s tournament can be found at the England Hockey Altius website