Surbiton’s Leah Wilkinson and Holcombe’s Nick Bandurak have won the prestigious UK player of the year awards, chosen by members of the Hockey Writers’ Club.
Wilkinson also became the first Welsh female player to win the award, first presented in 1983.
The senior men’s, sponsored by Mercian, and women’s awards were presented by former GB international George Pinner and GB president Sheila Morrow at the Club’s annual ceremony on Friday March 25th at the Royal Thames Yacht Club, Knightsbridge, London.
In a tight set of voting from HWC members, Bandurak beat Adam Dixon into second, while Zach Wallace and Sam Ward were joint third in the Mercian men’s award, which recognises players through last year.
Cannock-born Bandurak, 28, has been a consistent performer for Kent side Holcombe HC in the Men’s Premier Division over the last few seasons. He finally made his debut for England earlier this year in a Pro League match against Spain in February.
Bandurak’s award is testament to his prowess in front of goal for Holcombe in recent seasons after joining for the 2016/16 season. In 2019/20 he notched 16 goals and so far this season he has struck 15 times.
He said: “I am shocked to win this award from the Hockey Writers’ Club and it really means a lot to me.
“To be called up for the Pro League was unbelievable and when you reach the age of 28, 29 you kind of accept life and realise it might not happen.
“But I never gave up and so to get this opportunity has been a whirlwind and I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes.”
Wales and GB international Wilkinson won the women’s player of the year award ahead of Hollie Pearne-Webb in second and Sophie Bray, the 2019 winner, who finished third in the voting.
Burton-on-Trent born Wilkinson made her debut for Wales in 2004 but had to wait 15 years before being picked for Great Britain women for the first time. In the same year, 2019, Wilkinson also became Wales’ most capped athlete in any sport.
Wilkinson, who becomes the first Welsh winner since goalkeeper Chris Ashcroft in 1999, said: “I am so honoured to win this award from the Hockey Writers’ Club. The last 18 months have been a real challenge for everyone and as a team we had the privilege of representing GB at the Tokyo Olympics during this difficult time. I couldn’t have won this award without my team-mates, family and friends.
“I am also proud and privileged to be the first ever Welsh female to win this award.
“Wales is close to my heart. It is a big year for the sport and so it’s also very important that we keep hockey in the public eye.”
The 35-year-old was selected for Team GB’s Olympic squad at Tokyo 2020, where she won a memorable bronze last summer to cap an incredible rise over the last two years.
Her international commitments also saw her put her teaching career on hold before returning as a history teacher and head of year at Ewell Castle School in Epsom.
At club level, she signed for Surbiton women for the 2021/22 season after spending five years at Holcombe. She is in line to win a first league Championship with Surbiton ahead of their Euro Hockey League campaign next month.
Holcombe Hockey Club would like to congratulate Nick Bandurak as well as former Holcombe player Leah Wilkinson on their well-deserved wins.
Images: Hockey Writers’ Club