Hockey squad shine at South of England finals
Wycombe High's Hockey squad staked their claim as the top state-school team in South East England, being the only one to make the South of England Regional Finals where they shone against some of the top hockey schools in the country.
The time had come for the team to assemble and try to do the unthinkable, qualify for the National Finals. As we amassed at the front of school ready to depart, the unknown awaited. With Wellington and St George’s College both drawn in Group A, little was known about the majority of the opponents we would face in Group B. James Allen (JAGS) were in our group last year and carried a short corner threat, as was expected from all of the teams playing. Cranleigh and King Edward (KES) both topped their groups in the previous round and would undoubtedly be a tough challenge.
As we entered the facility and saw the custom made resin playing court with under floor light up pitch markings, we knew it was going to be a high quality, intense event.
Our first opponents King Edward were donning a similar coloured kit which resulted in a delayed start as we had to change in to our second playing tops and apply a red tape strip around each sock. Nonetheless, this had a galvanising effect as we started like players possessed. Within a minute Hafsah drove in to the KES circle and won a short corner. Injected by Annabel to Sarah at the top (who unfortunately missed the tournament last year due to a torn hamstring), guided the ball in to the bottom corner to open the scoring. A fitting start for one of Wycombe High’s all time finest.
The match was a closely fought affair and as the game went on KES mounted countless attacks on goal, with Maya (our Year 10 goal keeper) pulling off a series of fantastic saves. A resolute defensive performance from the entire team though, kept them at bay as we ran out 1-0 winners.
Our next game was against the much talked about Cranleigh. The game was an equal battle with both teams cancelling each other out. That was until a Cranleigh short corner flick from the top of the circle struck our defender and a penalty stroke awarded. Despite our contesting of the decision (with the direction of the shot and whether it was on target or not, being questionable), it stood and the Cranleigh forward converted to take the lead.
Half time came and we regathered, moving Emily to right back and rolling the forward substitutions to freshen up the attack. Countless circle entries saw the Cranleigh keeper complete a series of high quality saves to preserve their lead. With less than a minute remaining and chasing an equaliser, we left ourselves light in defence. A break down in play saw Cranleigh clear the ball high leaving a 2 on 1 with our last defender. They capitalised and scored, taking a 2-0 victory.
Following a two hour break between matches and our last game being the final one of the group stage, the table looked like this: Cranleigh – 6 points, KES – 6 points, Wycombe – 3 points, JAGS – 0. The situation was simple, win and we were through on goal difference to play Wellington in the semi-final.
Some crisp passing across the back between Rosie and Annabel freed up space for the ever dangerous in attack, Jemima. Leading by example as all Captains should, she continuously battled for every ball and powered out of each challenge to create multiple shooting opportunities. The JAGS defence could only keep her at bay for so long; a swift drive around the back of the defence and a divine cut back pass to the top of the circle, found Hafsah free to shoot. The shot hit a defenders stick, flying in to the air and earning a short corner.
Some say going route one is too obvious at times, but not for our Captain. Injected by Annabel again, Jemima flicked from the top of the circle, beating the on rushing keeper to give us the lead.
JAGS bounced back and with only moments remaining in the first half, earned a short corner of their own. Their initial two shots were thwarted by the on form Maya, however there was nothing she could do about the third as it was expertly taken as the half ended all square.
It was now or never and the second half was exciting to say the least. JAGS had a shot following a short corner that the ever present Annabel somehow managed to save. The deflection from her stick caught the inside of her knee and to the disbelief of the crowd, a penalty stroke was awarded. To the joy of our bench it was dragged wide by the JAGS captain. However, the whistle sounded and a re-flick awarded, the reason; the keeper stepping off her line. With this the JAGS players swapped and a new flicker stepped up. Fear began to set in, that was until we heard the sound of ball on post as the flick struck the outside of the post and no goal was scored.
Composing ourselves and preparing a new attack, Sarah and Jemima combined to generate a short corner. With these two on fine form, they switched positions and fooled the opposition. For all watching, it looked as though the routine was obvious, inject to Sarah at the top and slip to the right for Jemima to shoot. Little did JAGS realise, Sarah was just as deadly when flicking and she riffled home to take the lead.
Attack after attack followed for both teams, with multiple fine saves from both keepers keeping the game close. That was until a minute and a half to go. A hopeful JAGS pass into the circle took a lucky deflection and hit a defenders foot; short corner. Heartbreak struck as a low drive to the near post snuck past the unsighted Maya.
Despite a final circle entry from Sarah that produced an outstanding save from the JAGS keeper, the hooter went and the realisation hit, the journey had come to an end. The final group table looking like this; Cranleigh – 6, KES – 6, Wycombe – 4, JAGS – 1.
Thank you to all parents for bringing the students so early on a Sunday morning. For seven of the twelve players, it was their final game for Wycombe High. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them and the rest of the squad for their commitment and dedication over the years. Being the only state school to make the South of England Regional Finals and taking on the top independent schools in the country, shows what heart and determination can achieve. I am immensely proud of each of the players and it has been a pleasure to be a part of their journey.
Mr Craig Nevard, Hockey coach