U14 hockey team have reached the national finals

On Thursday 22 November the U14A hockey team travelled to Redbridge for the East Regional finals, against the three other top teams from the East of England. It was a round-robin format, with the winner going through to national finals, and the second placed team going through to play-offs. The girls were cautiously optimistic after an unbeaten season thus far, but they knew that they would need to take their chances and ride their luck to be successful. And so it proved.

Our first match was against Norwich School, with whom we had drawn at the first stage of regional finals. Sevenoaks started strongly, and quickly won a succession of short corners. The first one broke down, but the second worked perfectly to plan: Esther Adcock crashed in a tremendous strike from the left and captain Annabel Cheveley was in the perfect position for a deflection beyond the helpless keeper. The rest of the first half was tightly contested, and Sevenoaks found it hard to create clear chances, as Norwich defended in numbers.

The second half was also a tight affair, but our outstanding sweeper Betrys Galloni tidied up any attacks, and Sevenoaks looked comfortable. However, in the last minute Norwich broke down the right, breaking through a few loose tackles and winning their own short corner. Their shot was drilled in, and unfortunately the ball took a cruel deflection off a Sevenoaks foot, rolling agonisingly into the goal, beyond our stranded keeper. There was no time for Sevenoaks to come back, and the match finished 1-1.

The girls were disappointed, but dusted themselves down and picked themselves up for their next match, against King’s Canterbury. We had met them twice already this year, and although we had beaten them twice, we knew that they had the players and the pace to prove tricky. It was an extremely even match, and both sides had good chances from open play. After ten minutes, Sevenoaks won their first corner. Annabel Cheveley’s goal-bound straight-strike hit a defender’s foot on the line, and a penalty stroke was awarded. Annabel herself stepped up to take the flick, but it was well saved by the King’s goalkeeper. The deadlock was finally broken two minutes later, by Annabel herself, channelling her frustration at missing the flick into another rocket strike from a short corner.

King’s pressed hard in the second half, and eventually our defence buckled. A weak clearance up the centre was intercepted by a King’s player, who made no mistake, drilling in a deserved equaliser. Both sides had chances to win it, but the game finished 1-1. King’s now had 4 points from their first two matches, and a further win would take them to nationals. Sevenoaks were just behind on two points, and bitterly disappointed to have lost their hard-fought lead in both matches. Things just didn’t seem to be going our way.

As we went into our final match, against The Perse, we knew that we had to win, and win well, scoring as many goals as possible. If King’s did not win their last match, it was all likely to come down to goal difference for the place at nationals. At last the girls played with the freedom and dynamism that has characterised their matches this season. An early short corner came and went, but soon afterwards another straight strike from the inspirational Annabel Cheveley gave us the early momentum. Just moments later, from another short corner, Esther Adcock also crashed a thunderous strike into the far corner. The girls pressed hard, and The Perse were visibly rattled. Esther then brilliantly intercepted a clearance from the back, broke into space, and released a pass to Ellie Allen, who coolly slipped the ball back to Esther, who calmly finished on her reverse as the keeper came out.

In the second half, The Perse scored early from a well-worked short corner, and things were back in the balance. Sevenoaks continued to press, and after a well-worked move down the right, Imogen Moran picked up on a loose ball and slotted a cool finish into the corner to put the girls three goals ahead once more. There were tired limbs all over the pitch, and the girls continued to dig deep. None more so that Lulu Stephens who had been a colossus at centre midfield all day. Suddenly, The Perse broke away, and their forward was clattered by defender and keeper. A penalty stroke was awarded, and The Perse player launched her flick hard towards the bottom left corner. But our goalkeeper Becky McDeigan-Lee had read her intentions, and hurled herself brilliantly to her right, saving with her stick. Her celebration was huge, releasing all the pent-up tension. As the seconds ticked down, we were aware that King’s we losing on the other pitch, so every goal counted. We survived a few late scares at short corners, but the match finished 4-1.

The girls waited nervously after the final whistle, for confirmation of the other score. The news filtered through that King’s had lost 2-0 to Norwich, meaning Sevenoaks topped the table on 5 points, bettering Norwich’s goal-difference by a single goal.

The girls’ joy was unbridled, and they can now look forward to representing the East of England at national finals in March. The adventure continues!

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