By Lucas Ball
Hattie Jones is hoping to kick off her birthday celebrations with three points on Saturday as Holcombe bid to make it two wins from two when they head to Sugden Road to face Surbiton 2s in the Vitality Division One South (3:30pm).
Nick Bandurak’s side were victorious at Southgate on the opening day, winning 2-1 courtesy of goals from Emma Bandurak and Jones’ fellow Kiwi Phoebe Steele before Holcombe men won 5-2 over their Premier Division counterparts.
Barry Middletonn’s outfit once again follow their clubmates on Saturday, with their Premier Division clash against Surbiton pushing back at 6pm.
The victory at Southgate was the perfect start for Holcombe as they aim for an immediate return to the Vitality Premier Division.
Jones said: “It was a really good start. I suppose the main objective is to always get three points out of a game which we did so that was great. However, there’s still lots of areas to improve on.
“The first half of the game was quite shaky and we struggled to find our flow but thankfully we managed to score a couple of penalty corners either side of half-time which made it better and got us the win in the end, three points is three points no matter how you get it.
“I think a lot of its was an unknown situation. Some of us had never played in that league before so you’ve got no idea idea what Southgate are going to be like, we’ve never played against them and they’ve just come up.
“Also, we didn’t know how big an event it was going to be – the club made it into quite a big event which was nice but it was a bit of an unknown entity again. As a team, we hadn’t played a proper league game together either so that was another unknown.
Image: Andy Smith
“I think that had a lot to do it and nerves are always going to be there but the boys did really well in terms of settling us and getting us up for the game, which I think we were but there’s areas that we can still definitely improve when we are under the pump a bit more.
“I think from a field goal perspective, there were definitely a number of good opportunities which we probably would execute on another day and didn’t but we are creating them, that’s the main thing and we’re sitting at around 50% on our corner conversion rate and corners win you games a lot of the time if you can defend them, which we did.
“We conceded four but there were no goals and scored two of our own so that was the difference for us. Field goals will come with confidence and time – our forward line is very new so they’re getting to know each other, where they want the ball.
“I think double-headers are fantastic and I think England Hockey are trying to make them as much of a thing this year as possible which is great.
“It just creates an atmosphere that is worthy of the game of hockey because there are times when there’s a really good game of hockey being played but it might be three o’clock on a Sunday and there’s not many people out watching so I think double-headers on a Saturday afternoon/evening are fantastic.
“For us, the boys – we’ve got three of them coaching us, but a lot of the team will come early for their meet time to watch us which is quite nice. It was a cool environment to play in and Southgate as a hockey club – as Banders says – are doing all the right things and have created a really cool atmosphere and environment up there and it’s a really good set-up.
“I’m definitely excited and I think the way that they play in terms of being a very aggressive, attacking, high-pressing team will be quite similar because there’s a lot of youth in their team traditionally, particularly in the forward line.
“We’ve done a lot of work this week on how to outlet in this sort of situations so hopefully we’ll be better-prepared for that. It should be another good atmosphere and it’s my birthday on Saturday so very much looking forward to that! It’s also Tilly Tillings’ birthdays so a double birthday for a double-header. It should be really good.
“It’s definitely just another game. I don’t think any of us under-estimate them because it is such a large club and they have such strong depth in their top tier of the club.
“I think a lot of them also played for the first team on the opening weekend because of all the England girls being away. It doesn’t really change anything but it’s nice knowing going on that you’re probably the favourites whereas traditionally when we’ve played the Surbiton first team, we’re definitely the underdog.
“It’s a different place to be but we’re not under-estimating them at all and I think they finished in the top-three last year and we’re wanting to win it so it’s going to be a good game.”
The atmosphere at Southgate was loud, particularly compared to many English hockey matches – with Jones and her team recently generating a strong atmosphere at Holcombe’s Premier Division opener against Reading as part of an ‘Iconic Duos’ social.
Image: Andy Smith
“Personally, I don’t really notice it. For some people, it gets them jazzed but for me I don’t really notice it unless I’m being yelled at and even then it takes me a bit of time to figure out that it is me. It all blurs into one because you’re focused too much on yourself and the game rather than what’s going on externally.
“It’s a brilliant mix, I’m enjoying being part of the team so much and there’s such a range of personalities, ages and skills that people bring to the team so I think we have found a good balance and fundamentally we all play hockey because we enjoy it – no one wants to come down two, three days a week to not enjoy it so it’s a really nice place to be and I think we are going to put together some really nice performances.
“Hopefully, we can come out on top in all the games as well – I’m loving it.
“The social aspect and enjoyment aspects of hockey are massive. The better relationships you can have with people off-the-pitch, the more likely it is that that’s going to carry through and show on the pitch.
“If you just turn up every Saturday, play a 70-minute game and drive home by yourself then there are definitely better things that you could be doing but if you can make a whole afternoon or a whole day of it with the social aspect.
“We can do themes or games, all those sort of things – it just makes the whole day more enjoyable. It’s a really good environment.”
After their trip to Surbiton, Holcombe will prepare for their first home match of the new campaign against Sevenoaks, though coaches Bandurak, Hayden Phillips and Brad Read will all be in Barcelona for their Euro Hockey League (EHL) KO16 campaign with Holcombe’s men.
Read, a New Zealand international alongside Jones’ partner Phillips, re-joined the club this summer, also becoming assistant coach to Bandurak.
“We are indeed [looking forward to getting back to playing at Holcombe Park]. We’ve got Sevenoaks at home in our third league game which I suppose is a little rivalry as well because they are just down the road. It’ll be nice to be back at Holcombe Park, we know what the turf’s like and atmosphere – with the crowd behind us it’ll be really nice.
“We had it a little bit in pre-season so we know what it’s like but the main thing is, it’s not a surprise. The coaches have been honest from the start in that they’ve made themselves as available as possible and this is the one sticky weekend.
“It was inevitably going to happen at some stage but it’s not unexpected for anyone and we’ve had it previously.
“We’ve got Brunty coming in who actually has a 100% win record with our team so it’ll be alright.
“The communication’s there throughout, the boys will give us the tactics and plans that they want and then Brunty brings the motivation and tinkers with things on the weekend when we need it so hopefully we’ll be ok.
“There’s no difficulties [with partner Hayden Phillips being part of the coaching staff]. I respect him and admire him enough as a hockey player that whatever he says I go with, I don’t have any issues when he’s telling me what to do – it’s absolutely fine.
“I think Brad, Nick and Hayden balance each other really well personality-wise, skill-wise, game understanding. Everything that each of them bring as an individual balances well.
“They’re all very different players but it will hopefully enable us to bring complete performances. It’s a really nice dynamic between the coaches and between them and us as a whole group.
“Hayden’s just my hockey coach on Mondays, Wednesdays and the weekend rather than the person I live with!
“Brad’s great. Our defensive line has probably been the most stable line in terms of people moving through in the last few years so we like to think we’ve done a fairly good job in the last couple but it’s nice now that we’ve got that defensive specialist who’s come in who can tinker with the small things and give us really specific advice.
“Nick and Hayden both have defensive attributes but one-on-one defending, outlets, little set moves, that’s not what they do in their game so it’s not necessarily what they prioritise for us so it’s nice to have Brad there as that point of contact for us and to give us that sort of advice.”