U14A hockey team qualify for regional finals

On Tuesday 9 November, Sevenoaks U14 girls hockey team competed in the first stage of the East Regional Schools finals in Norwich. Having won the Kent County Championships in October, the girls went into the tournament with high hopes and justifiable confidence, but knowing that they would need to play at their very best to progress.

Sevenoaks faced Bishop's Stortford School in their first match. They started with a tremendous tempo, and were rewarded with a goal within three minutes, when Abi Scott converted from close range to complete a flowing move down the right. Chances continued to come, and seven minutes later Lulu Stephens added a second, to give us a two-goal cushion at half-time. Captain Venetia Barker and the ever-industrious Elena Tsang added good goals in the second half to complete a very comfortable 4-0 victory.

All 16 members of the squad played a role in the match, allowing us to rest key players, but despite the encouraging start, there was still a sense that there was another higher gear that could be found.

Our second match against Bourne School was a scintillating attacking performance. Sevenoaks launched a blistering attack down the right within seconds of the push-back, resulting in a penalty corner which was converted nimbly by the excellent Annabel Cheveley. Venetia Barker added a second from another well-worked short corner seven minutes later. Almost immediately the girls had a rare loss of concentration and, after a couple of poorly judged challenges, conceded a goal.

However, to their credit, they regrouped and continued to lay siege to their opponents’ goal, with the effervescent Natalya Keller adding a couple of quick goals before half time. We rotated our team after the break, but still managed to add three more goals through Elena Tsang, Annabel Cheveley and Abi Scott. The result of 7-1 in 30 minutes against decent opposition sent a clear message to the rest of the tournament that our girls were very much the team to beat.

That left us with a final pool match against Bedford School, who had also won both of their matches. We were guaranteed at least second place, but a draw would be enough to secure us the top spot, and a slightly easier crossover match in the afternoon. But Bedford played cannily, defending resolutely and in numbers, hoping to hit us on the break. It was them who in fact took the lead from a well-worked short corner, and so at half-time we found ourselves 1-0 down, despite having dominated possession up to that point.

We started the second half very strongly, and equalised through another Annabel Cheveley finish at a short corner. From here we really should have closed the game out, but sadly a rare couple of lapses in concentration from our defence led to a soft goal. We were now chasing the game again, but the opposition managed to repulse wave after wave of our attacks. As the minutes ticked by, we had our chances, and even hit a post from a short corner in the dying seconds, but ultimately lost 2-1.

A disappointing result from a game where we had looked much the stronger team, and as a result we were now facing a much tougher afternoon crossover match. The winner there would progress to the regional finals. That crossover match was against the excellent Perse School, who had won their group with relative comfort, and had looked very strong doing so. They had a couple of very good individuals, but we knew that if we marked well and took our chances then we could come out on top.

The Perse started strongly, and had a couple of quick short corners in succession, but our defence dealt with them well. Gradually our midfield and attack began to dominate, and we started to create a number of clear chances of our own. After eight minutes, we won our first short corner, which we subsequently scored from, thanks to an absolute rocket of a strike from Venetia Barker. We had the better of the chances for the rest of the half, but went into half-time with a slender 1-0 lead.

During the second half, our discipline and marking continued to be sensational. Maddie Wise was tireless in the unenviable task of denying any possession to their talented centre-forward, Isabella Osborne was a powerful and effective presence at right back, Alex Evans neutralised everything that came along the opposition’s right flank, and Keira Bassett continued to show exceptional judgement and skill at sweeper. Both sides had chances, and although the greater pressure continued to come from Sevenoaks, a second goal just would not come. A skilful short corner deflection from Elena Tsang looped tantalisingly over the crossbar, and both Abi Scott and Natalya Keller went close. As the final whistle went, at the end of a nail-biting second half, the girls were absolutely elated. It was a thoroughly deserved 1-0 victory, but one that nonetheless could have very easily gone the other way. It had been 30 minutes of intense, combative hockey, from two talented and well-drilled sides intent on playing positively, and the victory was all the sweeter for it.

The girls have now qualified for the final stage of regional finals, for the top four schools in the East of England. The winner will go to nationals, and the runner-up to play-offs. The team showed tremendous attacking verve and defensive discipline throughout the day, and on this evidence, they will make life difficult for any team they face.

Well done to you all; a brilliant achievement!

Team (goals in brackets): Alice Reeve (GK), Alex Evans, Maddie Wise, Keira Bassett, Isabella Osborne, Ellie Langford, Eva McDonagh, Lulu Stephens (1), Eloise Simpson, Venetia Barker (3), Annabel Cheveley (3), Megan Handy, Elena Tsang (2), Telia Green, Natalya Keller (2), Abi Scott (2)

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