Surbiton’s Leah Wilkinson and Holcombe’s Nick Bandurak, two players who have patiently waited for international recognition at differing stages of their career, were voted UK players of the year at the annual Hockey Writers’ Club (HWC) awards on Friday.
Wilkinson became the first Welsh female winner since the awards were first presented in 1983 and the first Welsh player to receive the accoloade since men’s goalkeeper Chris Ashcroft in 1999.
Chosen by HWC members, the senior men’s and women’s awards were presented at the Royal Thames Yacht Club in London. The Mercian men’s award was won by Bandurak, who beat Adam Dixon into second, while Zach Wallace and Sam Ward were joint third.
Bandurak, 28, has been a consistent performer for Holcombe HC in the Men’s Premier Division over the last few seasons. His reward came last month when he made his debut for England against Spain in the Pro League.
Cannock-born Bandurak’s award is testament to his sharp-shooting in front of goal for Holcombe in recent seasons after joining the Kent club for the 2016/16 season. In 2019/20 he notched 16 goals and so far this season he has struck 13 times.
He said: “I am shocked to win this award from the Hockey Writers’ Club and it really means a lot to me.
“To be called up for the Pro League was unbelievable and when you reach the age of 28, you kind of accept life and realise it might not happen.
“But I never gave up and so to get this opportunity has been a whirlwind and I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes.”
Wilkinson was voted women’s player of the year award ahead of 2017 winner Hollie Pearne-Webb in second and Sophie Bray, the 2019 winner, who finished third in the voting.
Wilkinson made her debut for Wales in 2004 but had to wait 15 years before being picked for Great Britain women for the first time. In the same year, 2019, Wilkinson also became Wales’ most capped athlete in any sport.
She said: “The last 18 months have been a real challenge for everyone and as a team we had the privilege of representing GB at the Tokyo Olympics during this difficult time. I couldn’t have won this award without my team-mates, family and friends.
“I am also proud and privileged to be the first ever Welsh female to win this award.”
The 35-year-old was selected for Team GB’s Olympic squad in Tokyo 2020, where she won a memorable bronze to cap an incredible rise over the last two years.
Her international commitments also saw her put her teaching career on hold before returning as a history teacher and head of year at Ewell Castle School in Epsom.
At club level, she signed for Surbiton women for the 2021/22 season after spending five years at Holcombe. She is in line to win a first league Championship with Surbiton ahead of their Euro Hockey League campaign next month.
Elsewhere, well-regarded hockey photographer Frank Uijlenbroek was awarded the Graham Wilson award for services to media through his wonderful imagery across the globe.
The Dutchman was presented with his award by Lisa Wilson, wife of the late Graham. His award was due to be presented last year before the event was postponed.
Colin Pike, English hockey’s only statistician and Surbiton press officer, was also announced as winner of the 2021 Graham Wilson award and he will be presented with his prize at a later date.
Full list of current and past winners of the annual Hockey Writers’ Club awards can be found here