East Grinstead coach Mary Booth called star forward and captain Sophie Bray the ‘pied piper’ of her team after she finished runaway league top goalscorer, notched her 100th regular season goal and helped the club secure second place in the Investec Women’s Premier Division.
Bray, 30 in May, netted 24 goals in the regular season, more than double her nearest challenger. On the final weekend before hockey was suspended due to coronavirus, Bray was in stellar form again as she scored a brace in a 6-1 thrashing of Surbiton.
East Grinstead finished second behind Surbiton in the regular season, while an England Hockey board meeting, due to take place after April 20, will determine whether the Sussex club compete as the second club in Europe.
It was quite a turnaround after their early season woes. After East Grinstead’s opening three losses at the start of the season following a raft of new squad faces, the Sussex team went on a 15-game unbeaten run.
“She was frustrated but she dug deep and led by example,” said Booth. “The 15 games without defeat suggested we are a team which means business.
“She is like the pied piper but in that she brings the players with her in the most charismatic of ways.
“Sophie has high expectations of herself. She is loyal and principled and is the first to say that she should have done better in games. But she is still one of the best forwards in the world.”
Bray admitted that she relished the freedom to roam with her creativity in the final quarter.
And Booth said: “I said ‘just go’. She took players with her and there was no point in us being scared. We know we have a good goalkeeper, defence and our short corner defence is solid.”
Bray, who ended her 154-capped international career last February, told The Telegraph last month that it was a complex issue surrounding her leaving the GB programme.
“So much is unknown for me, it makes it quite hard,” she said. “I don’t think it was completely a coaching decision. It is still unexplained.”
But she has clearly been able to channel her love for the game into domestic hockey.
She added: “I love the game, it’s such an incredible sport and the team we have is so special. It is still a pleasure to step out on the pitch with them. For so many years, hockey was always a hobby and for a number of years it became a profession and now it’s switched back to a hobby. That’s what is so special. Whatever level you play, so much is still the same, it’s about enjoying it with the people around you.”
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