By Lucas Ball
New Zealand international Deanna Ritchie has been excited by the start Holcombe have made to their Vitality Division One South campaign but believes there is still more to come from Nick Bandurak’s side as they aim for an immediate return to the Vitality Premier Division.
The forward, capped 16 times by her country (11 outdoor, five indoor), scored her first goals for Holcombe in Saturday’s 3-1 home win over Slough, netting a hat-trick as Holcombe moved up to the second in the table following their third victory in the opening four matches.
That match formed part of Holcombe’s first home double-header of the season, with the men’s team beating Oxted 1-0 later that evening in the Premier Division, with Ritchie also paying tribute to Holcombe’s home support.
She was one of six summer signings for Holcombe alongside Jade van der Zwan, Lucy Whalley, Hannah Bond, Tilly Tillings and Lottie Bingham.
Ritchie also spoke about how she has settled in at Holcombe Park following her summer move from her homeland, hailing the “family-orientated” nature of the club as a big part of why she is loving her time with the team.
Alongside Hattie Jones and Somerville and Auckland teammate Phoebe Steele, Ritchie is one of a strong contingent of New Zealanders in the squad, alongside assistant coaches and Black Sticks internationals Hayden Phillips and Brad Read.
Ritchie said: “It was great to score my first goal for Holcombe and it felt extra special scoring my first goal at Holcombe Park as well. It’s just really great to see the combinations we’re forming all across the field, right from the backline through the midfield and up to the strikers – there’s a lot of new players in the team but also a lot of girls who’ve been playing for Holcombe for a long time, so it’s been fantastic to see the connections getting stronger the more we play together.
“I think we’ve had some really good passages of play throughout all of our first few games but it was a great full team performance on Saturday. The third quarter probably wasn’t our best quarter of hockey but the fact that we could come back from that and still manage to win 3-1 was really pleasing.
“Double-headers are always a lot of fun, having the women’s team play first and then the men after creates such a fantastic atmosphere. It’s incredible how well the club support the Holcombe teams, there is always a big crowd when we play at home, and all the cheering and support really helps us on the field. This is something I love about Holcombe.
“It’s awesome to be sitting second in the table, we’d love to be sitting in first but it’s really pleasing to see and motivates us each week to keep playing the standard of hockey that we can all be proud of.
“We’re definitely aiming to take the top spot.
“Phoebs and I have played Hockey together for many years, playing in the same club team at Somerville and playing Auckland together aswell. She spoke very highly of Holcombe and for me being a striker, having Nick [Bandurak] as a specialist forward coach I feel very fortunate to be coached by him and have already made improvements on specific aspects of my game.
“For me, I love the fact that I’ve come to a very family-orientated club. I do a lot of coaching in the younger age groups and I’ve got to know a lot of the parents as well as the kids and I just feel like it’s such a family club. Being a long way from home, I have felt incredibly welcomed and it has helped me to feel so comfortable and settle in so well.
“It’s very nice to have some familiar faces and some familiar accents as well!
“It’s often a conversation starter with people asking where I am from which is always fun, but it is definitely nice to have some familiar faces from New Zealand.
“The coaching staff have done a great job of boosting everyone’s confidence and one of the things I really like about the team dynamics over here is the team have some players, such as myself who are in their first season for Holcombe, and you also have players who have been here for 10 years.
“Everybody’s voice is so valued within the team and it’s such a special group to be a part of, the culture’s really great. We just keep on boosting everyone up and the connections are building really well considering it is a new team.
“It definitely brings a new dynamic [the forward line being almost all-new this season].
“Often you’ll have one or two new players in a team but to have basically our whole frontline as new means it has taken a little bit of time to find connections with everybody and for us to connect through the layers as well but it’s definitely coming.
“We’ve scored a few field goals now too which is great, and it’s something that the team struggled a bit with last year I think. It’s definitely coming along and we’ve had a lot of circle-specific drills as well as working on our connections through the layers which has been really helpful.
“Brad’s [Read] been great. We are incredibly lucky to have three high level coaches specialising in each layer of the field. Brad’s mainly helping with the defence but also with us strikers as strikers are typically known for not being the best defenders! The pointers Brad gives us are incredibly valuable and has definitely improved our defensive structure.”
Holcombe are back on the road this weekend as they travel to Harleston Magpies, with five more league games following that in the run up to Christmas as well as a cup tie against Trojans next weekend.
The Magpies have started the campaign with four straight defeats to Canterbury, Wimbledon 2s, Team Bath Buccaneers and Barnes, leaving them second-bottom after finishing eighth last season.
“It’s definitely something different for me – the furthest I’d travel at home for a game would be around an hour max! It’ll be an experience travelling a few hours for a game but everyone’s looking forward to it, hopefully we can continue our winning streak and continue improving on our game each week.
“We want to keep building on our performances, improving our consistency. For the first few games, we’ve had passages of really good play but there hasn’t been a game yet where we’ve been happy with our whole performance across all four quarters so we want to build on that and improve our consistency across a full 70 minutes.
“I’m heading home for Christmas and one of my best friends is getting married so I’ll be heading home to the sunshine and coming back to the rain! It’ll be fun, might be a bit hard to drag me away from the sunshine but I’m also really looking forward to the second half of the season with the girls and hopefully taking out the top spot!”
Head coach Bandurak, alongside captain Harriet Pittard and other players, has been delighted with the involvement of young players in the wider first-team squad so far this season as well, a sentiment echoed by Ritchie.
She commented: “Some of the young players have got such massive potential, it’s so great to be playing alongside them and to see them play with such confidence as well. They play such an important part in our team and keep us working hard at training!”
Holcombe travel to Harleston Magpies on Saturday (2:30pm pushback) before a trip to Trojans in the cup next Sunday. They are back in action at home against Team Bath Buccaneers on Saturday, 4th November at 2pm with the men’s team in action against Beeston on the same day (6pm). Entry to all home fixtures at Holcombe Park is free.