L1 Host Buckingham On Saturday
By Colin Pike
Surbiton Ladies start the defence of their Women's Hockey League title when they welcome Buckingham to Sugden Road on Saturday (19 September) push back 3 pm.
The new league season has a new format as the Premier Division has been expanded to eleven teams following the premature end to the 2019-20 season which prevented playoffs and championships being held.
In Phase 1 each of the eleven teams (including newly promoted Swansea and Wimbledon) will play each other once.
Then the top six teams will play for the league title and the bottom five teams will battle it out to avoid finishing in the bottom two and being automatically relegated. The ninth placed team will play the loser of a playoff between the champions of Division One North and South, with the winner of that playoff playing in the 2021-22 Premier Division.
Last season Buckingham finished fourth in the Premier Division and would have faced Surbiton in the Championships semi-finals if they had gone ahead.
Jo Hunter, who left Buckingham back in 2009 and went on to play for Beeston and Leicester before joining Surbiton, has returned to Buckingham and will make a quick return to Sugden Road to face her old team mates.
Surbiton have made several changes to their squad in the quest for an eighth successive title after Erica Sanders moved to HDM in the Netherlands. Emma Bandurak (nee Trunks), Steph Elliott and Alice Wills have all arrived from Holcombe with Meg Dowthwaite and Corinne Zanolli coming in from American colleges.
Last season Surbiton won 3-2, Emily Guckian, Sanders and Giselle Ansley giving Surbiton the three points, Kitty Higgins and Lottie Porter replying for Buckingham. Generally Surbiton have had the upper hand in recent seasons, but Buckingham won 2-1 in 2017-18 with two late goals.
Both clubs were at one time members of the South Clubs' Women's Hockey League and it was Buckingham who had the bragging rights winning three of the four meetings in 2006-07 and 2007-08.
However Surbiton gradually overtook Buckingham, pipping them to promotion to the top flight in 2011-12 after losing their Promotion Tournament encounter 2-1 at Bisham Abbey.
Whilst Surbiton can boast seven national titles, Buckingham themselves had indoor success earlier in the year when they lifted the Jaffa Super Sixes title, so both teams have come a long way over the last fifteen or so years.
Elsewhere, Beeston are at home to Hampstead & Westminster in a repeat of last season's opening fixure; East Grinstead travel to Clifton Robinsons; Holcombe welcome Loughborough Students to Kent and both newly promoted teams clash in South West London as Swansea take on Wimbledon.
With eleven teams in the Premier Division, each week one team will receive a bye and in week one it is the turn of the University of Birmingham.