On Saturday 10th January, Kettering hosted the Women’s Hockey 5s Indoor Semi-finals. Claire Allen and Rhian Turnbull were there for Support through Sport UK. Claire reports back ...
 
With a place in the final (at Wembley Arena) up for grabs, the stakes were high and the competition was fierce.
 
Vying for this place were Bowdon Hightown, Canterbury, East Grinstead and Slough. Given the many familiar GB and England players in the line-ups, we knew that we were in for a great evening of indoor hockey.
 
The first game saw Bowdon Hightown take on Canterbury. Bowdon, having reached the final last year (only to miss out to Reading), looked a very tight team, clearly intent on reaching the final again. Canterbury were not going to make things easy for Bowdon, however, and were there every step of the way. They were eager to take the spot for themselves and played some great hockey.
 
Bowdon took the early lead, with a goal from Sally Walton, but Canterbury were hot on their heels, with goals from Dirkie Chamberlain and Susie Townsend. Bowdon fought back, with goals just before half time, and then right after, from Tina Cullen and Kayleigh Humphries. Canterbury then equalised, thanks to Sarah Kerly.
 
All things square, Bowdon took a shot on goal and, due to a stop on the baseline from a Canterbury player, were awarded a penalty flick. Sally Walton stepped up to the spot and, with a beautiful flick over the top of the goal keeper, put Bowdon in the lead. Walton’s flick meant that she became the current top goal scorer of the tournament.
 
Two more goals followed from Tina Cullen (of Bowdon) and Jen Wilson (Canterbury), resulting in a 5-4 win for Bowdon Hightown and a place in the finals on 25th January.
 
Next up, East Grinstead faced Slough. This was East Grinstead’s first time in the semi-finals and so, with nothing to lose and everything to gain, they came out strong.
 
Slough, however, were just as determined, having narrowly missed out on the final last year, and with England’s Maddie Hinch in goal it was going to be a tough challenge for East Grinstead to find the back of the net.
 
Both teams fought hard and there were some amazing saves from both Maddie Hinch and East Grinstead’s goalkeeper. This was a key feature of the game; both goalkeeper's allowing nothing through. This all changed just four minutes before the end of the game, however, when East Grinstead’s Sophie Bray found the back of the goal with an amazing strike - thus securing East Grinstead their place at Wembley.
 
After the games, I was lucky enough to catch up with two of the players: Sally Walton from Bowdon Hightown (and my personal hockey role model!) and the fantastic Sophie Bray from East Grinstead ...
 
Congratulations, both, on the win today, how were you feeling coming in to the game this morning?
 
Sally: Nervous but strong. We have trained very hard for this and getting to the finals last year and losing to Reading had given us a reality check to keep our heads down and come back this year even better.
Sophie: A lot of pre-game nerves but we knew we had the right squad, but Slough have a big history with indoor hockey and we are quite new to this.
 
How do you feel now, after winning, and earning your places at the final at Wembley?
 
Sally: Fantastic, we worked hard for this and Canterbury put up a great fight but we were able to achieve what we set out to, so really happy. With the next semi-final coming up we would be happy to face either East Grinstead or Slough, both great teams and will be a great final.
Sophie: Ecstatic, bring it on!
 
How does indoor hockey compare to outdoor hockey?
 
Sally: It's warmer! But it is also a lot quicker so it allows me to develop my skills and make everything a lot tighter, and improve ball control and passing.
Sophie: I love indoor and it breaks up the outdoor season very nicely, and for me it really helps my game going in to the outdoor season.
 
How are you feeling about the rest of the outdoor season?
 
Sophie: Really good - we are currently top of our conference (East Division), with the aim of winning the league and going from there into the playoffs, so we have a lot going on outdoors. So we are having to juggle the two and make sure we don’t put all of our focus into indoor - as outdoor is our main goal for the season. It would be a pretty special season to get both though!
 
What words of advice do you have for women looking to get back into the sport?
 
Sally: Give it a go; it’s a fantastic sport, with great health and fitness benefits. It’s really good for young mums looking to get back into the sport as you can take it at your own pace and really ease back into it and really have some fun.
Sophie: Just get back in, enjoy it with your friends, grab your shin pads and mouth guard and go for it. It’s fast, skilful and you have all your other team mates there to share your experiences with.