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Emma Bandurak: More to come from Holcombe

Emma Bandurak is enjoying the positive start that Holcombe have made to the season but believes there is still more to come from the Kent outfit.

Bandurak, who is close to a decade of service with the Incredible Holcs, has scored seven goals in six matches in all competitions so far this season, while also forming a key part of the backline that currently boasts the strongest defensive record in the Vitality Division One South.

Bandurak’s husband and England and Great Britain forward, Nick Bandurak, is head coach and has led his side to four wins in five league matches, while they also progressed to the quarter-finals of the England Hockey Cup with a 5-2 win at Trojans on Sunday. He has been joined by New Zealand international Brad Read as assistant coach this season, alongside Hayden Phillips who immediately joined Bandurak’s staff when he accepted the role last summer.

That victory made it 11 goals in two games for Holcombe, with their goalscoring struggles arguably the main reason behind last season’s relegation. An almost all-new forward line with recruits Deanna Ritchie, Jade van der Zwan, Tilly Tillings and Lottie Bingham, aided by the likes of long-serving Leisa Randall in attack, have re-energised Holcombe, who have only been out-scored in the league by leaders Surbiton 2s.

Bandurak said: “I think we’re doing really well and the nice thing over the last couple of weeks is that we’ve got better with each performance.

“It’s quite funny really that we’re almost picking holes in the games that we’ve won, we’re trying to set our standards really high in terms of how we can keep getting better and improving performance on performance.

“It’s been really good fun and hopefully we’ll keep getting better and performing.

“Yes, with the confidence [there could have been a slight hangover from last season]. I think I’m in my ninth year now at Holcombe and for the last three or four years it has been quite rough going, there’s a bit of a mentality shift now in that we’re actually winning games comfortably rather than losing narrowly, even last year, it was often by the odd goal or we drew too many games and ended up with our fate last season.

“I think there is a bit of a confidence re-build but I like our attitude at the moment. We were fuming that we only beat Harleston, for example, 6-1. We were agitated with how we played and think we can be better.

“It’s nice that some of the new girls who have come in are completely fresh from the last few years at Holcombe and I think that’s really shown with how they play, they play really freely and some of the stuff has been really good.

“I shouldn’t say that I pass the ball and then admire what’s happening but there’s definitely been points this year when I have been able to pass the ball and think ‘wow, we’ve got some real quality here’.

“I suppose in the last couple of years my role has changed from being one of the younger ones to now one of the slightly older in the team, second-eldest now I think!

“It’s about how we can help them develop and give them the space to be free and try things.

“Have a go at your one v one battles, and if it goes wrong we’re behind you to pick I up.

“I’m hoping for the younger girls that have come in that they feel like they can really express themselves when they play and they don’t have to worry about what school work they’ve got going on etc.

“It should be a fun place for them to come to try new skills and get really stuck in, they’re doing brilliantly so it’s really nice to be a part of and watch them get better each week.

“I think building on the group that we had last year who stayed – and I do think we were really unfortunate with where we were last year, we just didn’t put the ball away at the top end of the pitch – our midfield hasn’t changed significantly, our backline hasn’t really changed at all.

“With the fresh faces coming in, they’ve got that freedom and didn’t deal with the relegation last year, they’re essentially just playing free and we’re hopefully giving them the platform to do that with the backline and the midfield that we’ve got.

“It’s been quite an easy transition and I did expect this from us, I think I’d have been really disappointed if we hadn’t made this kind of start.

“We want to have that outlook that we’re a Premier Division team trying to get back up, that’s the standard we’re setting. We are currently where I’d expect us to be.

“I really love playing at Holcombe. I like the pitch, the set-up and the crowd really makes a difference.

“I really got the sense that the new girls – we had a couple of away games at the start – really got that homely sense of the club after we’d played there a couple of times this season. I’m really looking forward to this weekend, the double-headers are always really nice and I always enjoy playing at Holcombe.

“I’ve played there long enough now that it’s a safe place to play!

“What would be really nice is that as we keep improving, creating chances and people’s confidence starts to build, we can make more of those opportunities and score more. I think at the weekend we let Trojans back in a little bit and I think it should have been a shut door pretty early on with the amount of chances we created.

“We’ve been having a lot of possession, a lot of the ball in our games at the moment and it’s natural that there are going to be some lapses in that but it’s how we can make the scoreboard as much in our favour as possible and take those chances without letting anyone get a counter-attacking goal or similar against us.

“The amount of goals we’ve scored still, though, has been really positive.

“The challenge for us is how can we reduce the amount of lapses in our performances now because we do tend to ebb and flow a little bit, especially with how high we’ve set our standards and how good we can be in matchplay.”

“I think with all of the teams, they can be quite tough to beat and we have to break them down. Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve faced a lot of packed circles, people like to do that so it’s about how we can create space for ourselves and how we create space for the hockey that we want to play in that style.

“It’s been a bit of a recurring theme that teams have caught us on the counter so I’m hoping this week that we can tighten that up and keep creating the amount of opportunities that we have been. 

“We’ve got a really good success rate on our corners as well at the moment so essentially it’s about building on the performances and tightening up our counter-defence.

“Previously, I’ve been playing in the Prem for ages so you know who you’re coming up against, who’s doing what on corners. I know the typical players you’re going to get whereas this year, each week has been a bit of a surprise in terms of what you’re coming up against.

“We haven’t played against some of these teams, we don’t necessarily know how they’re going to press us, who their key players are, how fast some of them are going to be – I’ve experienced that a little bit this year compared to previous!

“It’s an interesting one because I like the questions it asks us, it’s a good one for us as a team to have to figure that out on the pitch and I think we’re doing well with that but it does take time.

“Normally, we know how we’re going to press, we know how we’re going to be pressed and what opportunities they’re going to look for so it normally takes the first quarter to work out what they’re doing and how we can counteract it – it’s definitely been interesting playing against some new teams.

“That’s been a nice part of the challenge as well for us, actually figuring out how we can do things differently as well.

“I think we’ve set ourselves up really nicely coming up to this next round of games, you can’t really say anything for the first half of the league – we have no idea what it’ll look like after Christmas.

“I just hope we continue at the rate that we’re going and I think with how we’re training, how the boys set us up and the principles that we’ve got, if we stick to that and keep it simple, I think we’ll do really well in the remainder of the games in the run-up to indoor.

“It’s just about building on that every week and listening to the three lovely coaches that we have on the pitch.

“Indoor feels like it’s crept up earlier than I was anticipating. I really just want us to build on last year.

“We’d been in the Prem for a while and it was interesting to figure out what the level was like last year. I’m hoping we do a lot better than last year but it will be interesting, there’s two good teams coming down from the Prem as well so it always looks a bit different.

“Now we’ve settled in that league, we know what to expect in terms of the level so I’d hope we do better than last year.

“Obviously we’d love to back up and get back to where we were with indoor but it’s a tough round of eight games in two weekends so we’ll just have to see how we go!”

Bandurak also paid tribute to Read, who has impressed the squad since re-joining the club over the summer.

“He’s teaching an old dog some new tricks maybe! It’s really nice to have a coach concentrated on the backline, I don’t think I’ve ever been on a team where I’ve actually had one of my coaches be a defender as well so to have those conversations and figure things out on the pitch with him is great.

“We’re spoilt really, let’s be honest, with the three coaches that we’ve got and we definitely make the most of having them there. Brad’s been awesome, he’s slotted into the group perfectly and our little Kiwi contingent continues to grow! It’s really good.”

Entry is free at Holcombe Park for all first-team home matches, with Holcombe’s Women facing three more home fixtures before Christmas against Team Bath Buccaneers (Saturday, 2pm), Canterbury (Saturday, 11th November, 2pm) and Southgate, who Holcombe beat on the opening day (Saturday, 2nd December, 2pm).

Image: Becci Woodhead