L1 Start Title Defence At Loughborough On Sat.
By Colin Pike
Surbiton Ladies start their Vitality Women's Hockey League Premier Division title defence when they travel to Leicestershire to play Loughborough Students on Saturday (push back 2 pm).
Surbiton welcome back Hannah Martin and Gisele Ansley after spells in the Netherlands, but have had to say goodbye to Emily Defroand and Georgie Twigg who have decided to step away from hockey after stellar careers at Sugden Road.
Amy Costello, who scored both goals for UHC Hamburg in their 2-0 Euro Hockey League Ranking Cup win against Surbiton in October 2021 is set to make her Surbiton debut.
Surbiton's visit will be their third since Loughborough Students returned to the top flight in 2019-20 after a sole historic season in 2000-01. Surbiton were Loughborough's first opponents in 2019, when Twigg and Defroand both scored in a 3-2 win, Alice Sharp scoring their other goal. Izzy Petter, who has also returned to Surbiton, scored Loughborough's first goal with Beth Peers also on the scoresheet for the students.
A year later, defences were on top as the teams battled to a goalless draw, whilst in 2021-22, the teams met in Phase One at Sugden Road, where Surbiton prevailed 4-2.
With the Premier Division expanding to twelve teams, former Surbiton player Maddie Long has joined the University of Nottingham, who make the short journey across Nottingham Hockey Centre to play Beeston in their first ever top flight match. It's not the shortest journey made by the visiting team in WEHL history as in the early years of the league, the final round of matches was played at a central venue and in 1989-90, Chelmsford played their away game against Slough at Chelmer Park, where Slough won 2-0.
Holcombe travel to Clifton Robinsons for the first time since October 2020. In 2018, Holcombe won 3-1 and the scorers were Leah Wilkinson, Alice Wills and Steph Elliott (I wonder what happened to them...)
East Grinstead are at home to the University of Birmingham, again for the first time since October 2020 when East Grinstead won 3-2. Last season the West Sussex club dominated in the Midlands where they won 7-0.
With Hampstead & Westminster only having had a short period in the top flight, they have only met Buckingham once at home, in February 2020 when Buckingham won 2-1. Over the last six seasons, Hampstead have started their campaign three times against Wimbledon and twice at Beeston, but are currently on a five game winning streak on opening day.
Reading are back in the Premier Division for the first time since 2016-17 and they start at Wimbledon who are experiencing their third successive top flight season. Reading spent two seasons in the Conference West and three seasons in Division One South before winning promotion along with their men.