[img_assist|nid=3021|title=|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=251|height=73]The women’s England Hockey League, which starts on Saturday, will have £10,000 in prize money up for grabs with the cash filtering right down to the regional conferences.
The league has been renamed the Investec Women’s Hockey League with the backing of specialist bank and asset manager Investec. The winners and runners up of the Investec Women’s Premier Division Championship and the three Conferences, North, East and West, will each receive a share of the prize fund.
This is the first time ever that teams competing beneath the Premier Division have been offered prize money. There are additional bonuses on offer at the end of the season for the most valuable player, top goal scorer and most hospitable club in each of the four divisions.
Announcing the new prize fund, England Hockey Board chief executive Sally Munday said: “Having the backing of a sponsor such as Investec is a tremendous vote of confidence in our league programme and in women’s sport in England.
“It is fantastic that thanks to the support of Investec we are now able to offer prize money to the country’s most successful teams. The clubs are at the forefront of hockey in England, developing players and working hard to strengthen and grow the sport.
In the Investec Women’s Premier Division, Champions Reading retain the strong squad that emerged victorious in a 3-2 win over Leicester in the Championship Final last season. The nucleus of the Leicester squad remains, with the addition of Josie Inverdale from Loughborough Students, as the East Midlands side looks to go a step further this season.
EuroCanterbury, defeated by Reading in the Championship semi-finals, have bolstered their squad with the youthful additions of Beijing Olympian Charlotte Craddock from Cannock and Clifton’s Dilly Newton, currently training with the GB squad. The other beaten semi-finalists, Bowdon Hightown, welcome Sabrina Heesh from Cannock and from relegated neighbours Brooklands Poynton, Natalie Wray, Vicki Hopkin and Sarah Hopkin. Despite recruiting Kathryn Mcgonigle from Isca University, Slough lost three players over the summer, including England and GB international Chloe Strong to Surbiton, leaving a repeat of their fifth place finish last season a seemingly tough task.
Following their brush with relegation last season, Olton & WW are rejuvenated with no fewer than ten new arrivals including Jenny Mashford and Katie Maltman from University of Birmingham and Brooklands Poynton. Their task will be to blend a new squad together. Clifton face a similar task having also been busy in their mission to improve a squad that finished in seventh. In doing so, they have added eight new players, with an average age of 21.
West Midlands neighbours Cannock, who secured their Premier Division status on goal difference last season, retain largely the same squad entering this campaign, minus Charlotte Craddock. University of Birmingham’s hopes of a place in the Championships last season were hindered by a run of five defeats in their final five games. In hoping to level out that form, this season’s notable intake of players includes Xenna Hughes from Bowdon Hightown and Rhiannon Rogers and Anna Toman from Belper. Sutton Coldfield, promoted into the top flight for the first time since relegation in the 2006/07 season, will be hoping Vicky Woolford and former GB international Jane Sixsmith lead from the front having netted 29 and 15 goals respectively during their free scoring promotion campaign.
Last season, Women’s Conference North saw Sutton Coldfield promoted having narrowly finished a point ahead of Loughborough Students. Loughborough face competition from relegated Brooklands Poynton this season and a Sunderland side that merged with Whitley Bay & Tynemouth over the summer. Liverpool Sefton and Northampton Saints rejoin the Investec Women’s Hockey League after a season absence thanks to promotion from their regional leagues.
In Investec Women’s Conference East Surbiton look like setting the pace after finishing second last season and adding four players with recent Premier Division experience and three from promotion-chasing Conference teams. Sevenoaks, who finished top but missed out in the Promotion Tournament, did not rest on their laurels strengthening their squad too. Maidstone return to the Investec Women’s Hockey League in Conference East after a two season absence and are joined by Oxford Hawks, promoted from the South regional league.
Buckingham topped Women’s Conference West last season but failed to secure promotion in the playoffs; they will be hoping to mount another Conference winning campaign in 2011/12. Isca University ran Buckingham close last season and will be looking to challenge again, while Trojans have registered several new faces to help boost their plans to return to the Investec Women’s Premier Division. Gloucester City, the last of the promoted teams, join the division having finished five points clear in last season’s West regional league.
The Investec Women’s Hockey League commences on Saturday with 20 fixtures nationwide. 11 rounds of matches will be played before the winter break, with the final pre-Christmas fixtures taking place on Saturday 3 December. The season resumes on Sunday 5 February with the final round of league fixtures on 24 March, ahead of the Championship playoffs, scheduled for the weekend of 14-15 April.
(Thanks to England Hockey for the above summary)
Opening day fixtures of the Investec Women’s Hockey League
All ties take place on Saturday September 20, 2011 (start times)
Investec Women’s Premier Division
Cannock v Slough (12:00)
Canterbury v Reading (11:45)
Clifton v Leicester (13:00)
Olton & West Warwicks v University of Birmingham (12:00)
Sutton Coldfield v Bowdon Hightown (12:00)
Investec Women’s Conference North
Beeston v Whitley Bay and Tynemouth (12:00)
Brooklands Poynton v Doncaster (12:00)
Loughborough Students LHC v Springfields (12:30)
Northampton Saints v University of Durham (12:00)
Wakefield Bradford v Liverpool Sefton (12:00)
Investec Women’s Conference East
Chelmsford v Harleston Magpies (14:00)
Horsham v Ipswich (13:30)
Maidstone v Old Loughtonians (12:30)
St. Albans v Oxford Hawks (13:30)
Surbiton v Sevenoaks (12:00)
Investec Women’s Conference West
Barnes Hounslow Ealing v Staines (12:00)
Exe v Team Bath Buccaneers (13:00)
Gloucester City v Firebrands (12:00)
Isca University v Trojans (12:30)
Swansea v Buckingham (12:00)
Tagged women's hockey