‘Increased competitiveness and quality’ shining through in Women's League

IT’S not unusual for a club to enjoy a long period of dominance in Guernsey hockey – or any island sport for that matter.

Island Ladies' coach Bex Hubbard in action for Amazons this season in the Alliance Women's League. (Picture by Martin Gray, www.guernseysportphotography.com, 29236393)
Island Ladies' coach Bex Hubbard in action for Amazons this season in the Alliance Women's League. (Picture by Martin Gray, www.guernseysportphotography.com, 29236393)

But surely real excitement lies in the unpredictably of turning up on any given weekend not knowing who is going to come out on top of any game in the league.

That is just what has made the Alliance Women’s League so intriguing in recent times – that and seeing more and more players, both young and not quite so young, taking to the pitch with smiles on their faces while also, noticeably, getting better week by week.

Currently at the top of the tree are Amazons, who have embarked on a terrific unbeaten nine-match run made all the more impressive by the difficulties they faced last season, but remarkably not one of the five senior sides have lost more than half their games in a competition that also includes guest junior teams the Island Girls U18s and Island Boys U14s.

Talk about competitive.

No wonder Guernsey Hockey ladies’ director Ali Le Tocq is pleased.

‘Three different teams have won or are leading the league in the last three seasons,’ she said, referring to Puffins, Indies and Amazons.

‘There have been more spectators watching ladies’ league hockey this season and positive comments have been made on the Guernsey Hockey balcony about the increased competitiveness and quality in the games.

‘This is as a result of more players on island and the influx of new players, so teams are able to consistently turn up with a squad of 13-plus players on a weekly basis.

‘Last season teams were struggling with player numbers due to a variety of reasons – injury, pregnancy, work commitments, weekends away – and at times teams were playing with less than 11 or we were having to rely on juniors filling in.

‘We discussed this with the ladies’ section and it was decided that we would retain the five teams and efforts would be made to recruit new players or encourage ex-players back to hockey. We also make an effort to ensure newcomers to the island are directed to the teams that need them most.’

The stats back up the improvement.

This season there has been a 30% increase in the number of senior women playing hockey, from 65 to 85, and there are around 30 juniors playing in the league too.

‘This is really encouraging as we have to compete for players with other sports and activities, but the social element of hockey is a real draw for a lot of our club players,’ Le Tocq said.

The chance to develop their on-field skills more is also becoming beneficial.

‘In the past, like many Guernsey team sports, it was primarily the first XI that benefited from additional training and financial support.

‘But over the past few years with the help of coaches – David Wray, Peter Stahelin and Mike Kinder – and with the financial help of Alliance, who have supported Ladies’ Hockey for the past three years and have just pledged their support for an additional three years, we have run open training sessions for all ladies irrespective of ability, improving the standard and fitness of all players, and regularly have in excess of 40 players attending.

‘We have also run “Back to Hockey” sessions – an England Hockey initiative to encourage new and ex-players back to the sport. Our plan, Covid permitting, is to run Alliance Back to Hockey sessions this May, introduce these players to the social summer league, then friendly pre-season games, giving them the confidence to play league hockey.’

Perhaps more so than ever before, though, the impact the juniors are having in senior club hockey this season has been extraordinary.

For example, league leaders Amazons would surely not be in the position they are in if it were not for the contributions of their youngsters and huge credit goes to those involved in the youth production line, which provides the juniors with a clear pathway into the senior ranks.

‘We have a really active junior section for players from age four to 18 and there are weekly game playing opportunities for all girls from Year 7 upwards, starting in the junior development leagues,’ Le Tocq said.

‘The U18s have a development team in the Women’s League, coached by David Bromley, who have gone from strength to strength, winning the Ladies’ Cup two seasons ago.

‘These 30 juniors are also allocated to a senior team, so on average there are five or six juniors allocated to each team.

‘Historically this was at Year 10, depending on the needs of the senior teams that season, but this season we have started filtering juniors into teams at Year 7 in the seven-a-side Junior Development League and the plan is they will stay in these teams as they progress to senior hockey.’

Of course, this pathway can lead all the way into the Guernsey Ladies representative squad.

That side play on a weekly basis in Men’s Division Two and have registered some impressive results this season with a couple of wins and a draw to their name.

However, due to the pandemic, the Island team have been unable to play in the inter-insular or the England Hockey knockout competitions over the last year, while a planned trip to the Isle of Man last October had to be called off at the 11th hour due to the suspension of the ‘air bridge’.

Those Covid-enforced issues make it all the more important for the domestic club games to be competitive, according to Guernsey Ladies First XI coach Bex Hubbard.

‘It is vital to have a healthy ladies’ league for Guernsey Hockey as a whole and for the Island team,’ she said.

‘It is important that the island team is able to be fluid from a selection point of view and that we are able to draw from a number of talented players from week to week.

‘This season we have had selection headaches, which is a fantastic position to be in.

‘The future of ladies’ hockey is in a healthy position at the moment, long may it continue,’ added Hubbard.

So what does the future hold for the Women’s League? Could more teams be added, for example?

‘We are obviously delighted by the increase in numbers but also acknowledge that Covid has played a part in this – for example Francesca McCluskey, the physio for Guernsey Raiders, is playing again this season since there are no Raiders games, some overseas students have remained in Guernsey and there is increased availability of players since the borders are essentially closed,’ Le Tocq said.

‘But if the numbers and commitment remain high, there is no reason why we couldn’t add an extra team to the league in a couple of seasons’ time.’

  • Anyone interested in playing women’s hockey can contact Ali Le Tocq on ali@guernseyhockey.com.

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