L1 Win Premier Division By 12 Points
By Colin Pike
Surbiton Ladies finished the Premier Division regular season with a 3-1 home win over Hampstead & Westminster on Sunday afternoon. With second-placed Wimbledon only drawing 2-2 at home to East Grinstead, Surbiton ended the season twelve points clear of their nearest rivals, having won 15 out of 16 games.
Surbiton also won all nine home games, scoring 35 goals and conceding just three, with Wimbledon, Beeston and Hampstead the only teams to score at Sugden Road, each team scoring once after the mid-season break.
At a chilly Sugden Road, where Hampstead were the last team to beat Surbiton at home in the league, history threatened to repeat itself as Hampstead took a third minute lead. In 2022, Grace Balsdon had scored from the penalty spot to see Hampstead on their way to a 2-0 victory.
In 2023, Lily Owsley converted Hampstead's second penalty corner at the right post, after Balsdon had failed to convert the visitors' first, but it was Surbiton's turn to get the win. Surbiton came close to a quick equaliser as Giselle Ansley hit the left post from Surbiton's first penalty corner in the seventh minute, but it was the hosts' penalty corner routine which was destined to indirectly lead to the equaliser.
With a shot from Surbiton's third penalty corner illegally blocked on the way to goal by a Hampstead defender, Darcy Bourne stepped up to level by lifting the stroke into the roof of the net in the 20th minute.
Hampstead goalkeeper, Roxy Gianfrancesco saved well from Izzy Petter from open play and from Holly Payne from Surbiton's fourth penalty corner in the first half.
Emily Rowlands and Esme Burge also worked hard in defence to ensure that Hampstead were still on level terms at half time.
Defences were on top in the second half with the floodlights switched on as both teams had attacking intent but were thwarted in the opposing 23 metre areas.
Lauren Hunt stopped Payne in her tracks midway through the third quarter but with both teams successful in defending open play attacks, both Surbiton goals in the second half came from clinical penalty corner conversions from Ansley.
The first came in the 49th minute, Gianfrancesco unable to stop the ball rebounding off the backboard and the second with three minutes to play, ending Hampstead's hopes of becoming the first team to take a point off Surbiton on their own pitch this season.
Gianfrancesco made another save from Alice Sharp and Hampstead's tactic of tight defending ensured that a good one-two passing move between Steph Elliott and Leah Wilkinson was intercepted in the fourth quarter, but it wasn't enough to stop Surbiton winning for the sixth time in seven Premier Division meetings.
Wimbledon led twice at home to East Grinstead but had to settle for a 2-2 draw. Megan Crowson put Wimbledon ahead, but Anna Faulstich levelled for the West Sussex club within three minutes. Fiona Crackles restored Wimbledon's lead before half time, but Tess Howard equalised in the 42nd minute to finish joint regular season top scorer with Surbiton's Sophie Hamilton on 14 goals.
Beeston left Clifton Robinsons waiting for their first victory at Nottingham Hockey Centre since 2015, with a convincing 4-0 win. Lauren Burrell, Ella Cusack and Cerys Miller all scored in the first half with Charlotte Watson adding the fourth in the 50th minute.
In the Lower Six, the University of Nottingham and the University of Birmingham booked their places in the Phase 3 playoffs. Nottingham beat bottom club, Holcombe 4-0, Maddie Axford scoring a brace with Jordan Homann and Miranda Jackson helping them to finish seventh overall.
Birmingham beat Reading 3-2, Lexie Clark and Carter Ayars giving Birmingham a 2-0 lead before Reading fought back to 2-2 by half time, Phoebe Nixon and Lizzie Neal scoring late in the first half. Millie Giglio undid all Reading's hard work with a 53rd minute winning goal for the West Midlands students.
Loughborough Students missed out on a playoff place after Holcombe won 2-0 in Leicestershire. Sofia Viarengo scored in the 22nd and 69th minutes to enable Holcombe to close to within a single point of Reading in the relegation battle.
The fixtures for Phase 3 will be confirmed shortly.