The FIH Champions Challenge in Dublin, Ireland on 18-26 June will pose the first real test of Scotland Senior Women’s summer campaign, with a number of the world’s top international sides vying for promotion to the FIH Champions Trophy.
Scotland face matches against fellow pool opponents South Africa (18 June), USA (19 June), and Japan (21 June) before the cross-over matches (23-26 June) to determine the overall tournament standings. The Scots will also play a warm-up friendly against India tomorrow evening.
Gordon Shepherd names a strong and settled eighteen player squad for the trip across the Irish Sea and looking forward to the tournament, the head coach is aware of the challenges that lie ahead:
“To finish in the top six at the Champions Challenge will be our target and that would be a really positive result for us given that we are the lowest ranked team at the tournament. The teams we will face are of high calibre at international level but we will go out to win every game and compete with our opponents in each match. We ran South Africa close in the Commonwealth Games last year, and we have become stronger with key players returning to the squad and in good form. That said, there will be no easy games for the squad and we anticipate a tough set of matches ahead of us.”
Having now recovered from the knee injury that ruled her out for the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, Reading’s Laura Bartlett will lead the attack and the Great Britain forward will hope to shine at the Champions Challenge with a forthcoming Olympic season on the horizon.
Meanwhile, Vikki Bunce has been a real star of the 2010/11 domestic season in Scotland for Dundee Wanderers, with the 28 year old inspiring the Taysiders to National and European indoor titles and a second place finish in Women’s National League Division 1.
In particular, her performances in Delhi caught the eye of both commentators and selectors alike. Coupled with a real eye for goal and mazy dribbling skills, Bunce’s drive and determination will hopefully shine through during this summer’s international season.
Linda Clement will continue to lead the national side as captain, whilst Grove Menzieshill’s Kat Cameron is in line to reach a personal milestone of 50 international caps for Scotland.
South Africa will pose the first test in the opening pool contest and they have been on an imposing run of international victories recently, including a series wins against China and Belgium, but come into the tournament on the back of two defeats to Spain.
The USA warmed up for the tournament with home fixtures against Japan and Argentina in April, before the domestic Senior Women’s Championship in late May, where national players had their final opportunity to impress the squad selectors before the trip to Dublin. Amongst the players Scotland will need to be wary of are Olympians Carrie Lingo, Tiffany Huisman, and Rachel Dawson, who also have the experience of Pan American Games and World Cups included on their resumes.
Japan currently lies 9th in the FIH World Rankings and subsequently, and are likely to enter the competition as favourites to top Pool A amongst the four sides. The Japanese national team finished in 3rd place behind New Zealand and South Africa at the 2009 Champions Challenge in Cape Town, SA, so they will feel confident of challenging for a place amongst the top three positions in Ireland.
“The tournament provides us with a real focus and is great experience for the players with the Europeans next month our top priority. The last two years have been leading up to and working towards promotion from our European group and that will remain our main focus for this summer.”, said Shepherd.
Pool B consists of hosts Ireland, Spain, India and Azerbaijan, where Spain and India will be amongst the favourites to be in contention for the top places.
Scotland Women: Abi Walker (Canterbury Ladies), Leigh Fawcett, Kat Cameron, Louise Baxter, Linda Clement (c), Alison Bell, Alisa Wylie, Nikki Kidd (all Grove Menzieshill), Amy Gibson, Catriona Ralph, Sam Judge, Holly Cram, Morag McLellan (all Milne Craig Clydesdale Western), Emily Maguire, Laura Bartlett (both Reading), Vikki Bunce, Becky Ward (VWS Dundee Wanderers), Kareena Marshall (Giffnock).