Sevenoaks U14 team compete in national hockey finals

On Wednesday 2 May the Sevenoaks School U14 hockey team competed in the U14 Investec Girls’ Schools Championship finals, for the top eight school teams from all over the UK, at Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre in East London.

The girls were representing the East of England, having won the East Regional Championships in November, and they needed to finish first in their group of four to qualify for the final.

Our first match was against Cranleigh, a strong hockey school, who had won the South Regionals on their route to nationals. The Sevenoaks girls started off at a ferocious pace, and immediately put the opposition under pressure with some nice linking play down the right. Our dynamic duo of Annabel Cheveley and Abi Scott proved a real handful for Cranleigh, and after five minutes they penetrated the defence, and a pinpoint cross was coolly finished by Elena Tsang at the far post. Sevenoaks continued to enjoy the best of the play as the game progressed, and just before half-time won a short corner. Although the execution was not perfect, the loose ball fell to Elena Tsang who made no mistake from close range, securing a 2-0 half-time lead for Sevenoaks. The second half was a tightly fought affair, and our defence marked their opposite numbers extremely well. Keira Bassett was outstanding at sweeper, dealing with any dangerous attacks that came her way. Both sides had chances to score, and Alice Reeve pulled off some excellent saves in our goal. The match finished 2-0, and the whole squad had contributed to the victory. It is crucial to start well in these big tournaments, and the girls had done just that.

We carried that momentum into our second match against Hill House School. They were a slightly unknown quantity, and had lost their first match to Repton. They had some good players, but nothing it seemed that the girls couldn’t handle. After the first five minutes or so, it became clear that they were setting themselves up very defensively against us, which made it difficult to create clear chance from open play. A number of short corners came and went, and our opposition rarely made it into our half. But at half-time the score remained 0-0. The girls played outstandingly in the second half, and really had the opposition on the ropes. Despite worsening conditions of rain and wind, they continued to dominate the play, creating numerous chances. Short corner followed short corner, but the girls found it difficult to inject the ball quickly enough on the very wet pitch, and the opposition defence was dogged and effective. The score remained 0-0 at the end, and although mathematically Sevenoaks were still in a strong position, leading the group with their destiny in the own hands going into the final match, there was the nagging sense that this had been a golden opportunity missed.

Our final match was against Repton, always a very strong school, but this year also with one absolutely outstanding player, already playing England U16. We knew this player would be the key to the match, and so it proved. We changed our formation to try and neutralise the threat from her. Two of our best players, Maddie Wise and Venetia Barker, were tasked with marking her. They managed this well initially, but a momentary loss of concentration resulted in her gaining possession, seemingly innocuously, on their defensive 22m line. Within 20 seconds, she had dribbled the length of the pitch down the left hand-side, beaten three players, and scored with a full-length dive. Sevenoaks knew they had to respond – only a win would guarantee qualification. We threw on an extra attacker, but this left us threadbare at the back. We went on to concede two further goals, scored by the same girl, and our dream of reaching the final match was gone. However, Sevenoaks fought hard until the end, and there was no shame in the result. Doubtless this is one girl whom we will see on the international stage at some point.

So, in their three group matches, our team won one, drew one and lost one, falling just short of the final itself. Repton School, the only school to beat Sevenoaks in the group stages, went on to win the final 2-1, against St George’s, with two more goals from their superstar player.

Lee Valley Centre will be hosting the Hockey World Cup later in the summer, and for the team to be using the same changing rooms, walking out through the same tunnel, and playing on the same pitch as some of their hockey heroes, just added to the excitement of the day.

Overall it was a brilliant experience for our girls, and a wonderful end to a fabulous season. They won many plaudits for their teamwork, discipline and stylish play, and can hold their heads very high when they look back at how they performed, at the very highest level.

Jon Drury

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