By Lucas Ball
Holcombe captain and women’s first-team head coach Nick Bandurak conceded he was frusrated with his side’s Euro Hockey League (EHL) KO8 defeat to Real Club de Polo de Barcelona, but acknowledged they have enjoyed a positive start to the season overall.
Holcombe currently sit in third place in the Premier Division having opened up with three wins in four matches, one of five teams sat on nine points at this stage.
Bandurak has scored seven goals in six matches in all competitions with five of those coming in the league. He has scored braces this season against Southgate and Racing Club de France (EHL KO16). England and Great Britain teammate Phil Roper also has six goals, with the pair linking up brilliantly well at the start of the campaign.
Barry Middleton’s side progressed to the KO8 following a 4-2 win over Racing Club last Friday afternoon, with that victory teeing up a tie on Sunday against either hosts Polo or French champions CA Montrouge. Polo ran out 4-1 winners against Montrouge to compete for a spot in the FINAL 8 at Easter.
The hosts took the lead within 30 seconds and Holcombe were unable to level the scores.
Bandurak said: “It’s been a good start, we’ve played some good stuff and scored some good goals which has been great.
“A big focus for us in this early part was about preparing for the EHL and giving it a really good go – we’re obviously very disappointed with how that ended on Sunday but we’ve got no time to rest on it because we’re straight back into the league now for the next few weeks.
“It’s important that we make sure we’re dialled back into that as quickly as possible.
“I love playing with Phil. It’s nice that we’ve been able to build on the start we made together last year and it’s good that we get the chance to spend so much time on the pitch together and naturally the more we do that, the better our connection is going to be in the way we can read each other’s game and movements.
“It’s nice to see that come out with an objective measure of how well we’re doing at the start of the year so it’s good that we’ve hit the ground running but it’s obviously a very long season and we’re only a few games in so it’s important for everyone that we just keep that going.
“I think it always has to be [on aiming to get back to the EHL next season] – everyone who gets a taste of the EHL always loves it and the opportunity to go again is massive.
“Certainly when it gets to that point at the back end of the season, that will be a focus for us as it will for every team fighting in the play-offs.
“Having a taste of it and getting some experience in this group, many of whom hadn’t played in the EHL before, is a big step forwards. Obviously it didn’t finish how we wanted it to finish but there’s a lot of learning that can be done off the back of that.
“Getting a chance to go again will be a big and to do that in the very next season would be fantastic but there’s obviously a long way to go between now and then.
“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t frustrating. We got caught cold in the first 30 seconds and ultimately that was the difference between the two teams.
“The higher the level you play, the smaller the margins between the teams and ultimately it was that first 30 seconds that got us.
“We didn’t play great as a team in that game, we didn’t play to the level that we’re capable of and that, I think, is the biggest frustration.
“We weren’t outclassed, we feel as though it’s our own doing that we didn’t make it through to Easter and that’s probably the hardest bit to take but credit to Polo, they put on a fantastic event, dug in deep in that game and ultimately got the result that they wanted.
“They’ve been great [the new signings]. Louis and Brad have been at the club before, they know the set-up, the people behind the scenes, the majority of the group as a whole so it’s been seamless with them transitioning in and Pendle’s done great at the top end of the field and again is a really good lad who’s got settled in quickly. He’s got some familiar faces around which have helped him with that.
“They’ve brought a lot both on the field and off it, it’s been a really smooth transition for all three of them which has been great.”
Bandurak will resume both coaching and playing this weekend as Holcombe’s women take on Slough (2pm) ahead of the men’s match against Oxted (6pm) in Holcombe’s first home double-header of the season.
Slough currently sit one point and one place above Holcombe in the Vitality Division One South table having drawn with Sevenoaks on the opening day before wins against newly-promoted Southgate and Barnes, while Oxted are ninth in the Premier Division with four points from four matches.
“I love doing it all on the same day, mainly because days off are rare to find these days so having one on a Sunday is a game-changer throughout the week!
“I love the general energy around the double-headers and the excitement that builds throughout the day as well. It’s really nice to be able to go straight from one to the other with regards to coaching then playing so from that perspective, I’m a big fan of it and I expect Saturday to be another day of really good energy and atmosphere around the club.
“Slough are a great club, they’ve got a really good team and have done well in this league for a number of years now and have recently been in the Premier Division.
“I’m expecting them to be a tough, physical side, they’ve gone unbeaten to start the season which is always a positive trait to keep picking up points week in, week out.
“They’ll come in with confidence no doubt and it’ll be important for us to manage that early doors, build into the game and then hopefully start to assert ourselves in the way that we like to play and start to play our brand of hockey.
“I’m expecting a very tough game, it’ll be close either way and no doubt it’ll come down to who takes their chances better on the day.
“Oxted’s always a tough fixture, we’re thankful to be straight back at home after a trip away – we had some fantastic support out in Barcelona so we’re looking forward to getting that again on Saturday night.
“It was always going to take Oxted a little bit of time given the amount of new signings they’ve had, they’ve made some real quality acquisitions in the summer and with a number of new faces it will take them a little bit of time to bed in.
“Now they’ve got the first month or so under their belt, I’m expecting them to start clicking and we’re going to be in for a tough game on Saturday evening. From our perspective, we can only control what we can control which is just making sure we’re dialled into what makes us play well as a team and making sure we can get back into domestic form pretty quickly after the weekend just gone.”
Following relegation, Bandurak made six additions to his squad over the summer for Holcombe’s first ever Vitality Division One campaign, including junior international Lottie Bingham who scored her first goal for Holcombe last weekend against Sevenoaks.
New Zealand international Brad Read also joined as assistant coach alongside Hayden Phillips as a defensive specialist. Holcombe are yet to concede from a penalty corner this season and have also scored from four in three matches.
“Very pleased [with the start]. Similarly to Oxted, we’ve got a number of new faces so naturally it’s going to take a bit of time to bed in. We’ve created more than enough chances in every game to win those games.
“The Surbiton game was an even, back-and-forth contest, the stats would show that and Surbiton came out on the right side of that, credit to them. From our perspective, we’re pleased with the amount of opportunities we created in that game and feel as though we created enough to win it, they’d probably say the same.
“If we weren’t creating those chances, that’d be something to be slightly concerned about. The more we play together and people start to learn more about each other’s games and find those connections, the better we’re going to be.
“The pleasing thing is we were able to put the goals away at the weekend and a shut-out is always pleasing, especially against a tough side like Sevenoaks.
“Hopefully that’s a bit of a catalyst for us moving forward now into what’s going to be a busy period for us in this stretch through to Christmas.
“The girls have done really well, the new faces within the group have settled in quickly and we’re starting to see those connections building every week now in training so I’m looking forward to seeing that transitioning into Saturdays.
“I’m buzzing for her, Lottie’s done brilliantly well to get herself settled and playing the style of attacking hockey that she does so well.
“For her to score her first goal, at home as well, is testament to the hard work that she’s put in at the start of this year and it’ll be one of many I’m sure.
“To get another penalty corner goal at the weekend was great. We had to put a lot of work into that, we struggled a bit with it last season, our conversion rate was pretty low last year so it’s something that ultimately wins and loses games.
“The most pleasing thing has been our PCD, we’ve had no goals against in three games which is fantastic. The girls have taken real ownership and pride in making sure that is something that they can be really tough on themselves with, that’s a real positive trait we’ve got.
“The PCA, to have the conversion rate that we have so far, is great but the more we play, the more important it’s going to get so it’s been a good start but for now that’s all it is, it’s important we carry that through for as long as possible.
“The main reason for Brad coming on board was that we wanted a specialist in that line to help our defensive unit both on and off-the-ball.
“That specialist knowledge is something that Brad has brought in abundance and I know the girls love having him around as well.
“From our perspective, it helps to have that third person that the girls can go to with any questions or queries.
“Brad knows the set-up, knows the club and therefore, again, his transition into the group has been pretty seamless which has been a huge asset to us and a massive help to myself in particular.”
If it wasn’t for the graphics that we put out through the Holcombe account, I’d have no idea what the table is looking like.
“I genuinely have no interest through this first half of the season, the most important thing from my perspective is trying to get our group to gel as quickly as possible and focus on what we can control which is how we’re playing and what our processes are in order for us to play well.
“It’s different in terms of a couple of second teams being in this league but they’re from clubs with a huge amount of depth so there’s real quality within those teams as well.
“It has to be something that we respect and certainly Surbiton’s start to this season is real testament to that. It doesn’t change anything about our approach or table-watching, anything like that.
“Ultimately, if we control what we can control then we’ll be fine. We just need to make sure we’re guarded to our processes and whatever else happens around the league happens.
“We’ve got a really good set-up here with our youngsters coming through.
“Tilly [Woodhead] is fantastic, she’s made to play at this level and above.
“It’s really nice to see her grow into this role week-on-week and ultimately set herself up for where she’s headed which is a very long career in this game.
“It’s nice to see her growth in understanding and learning some of the extra nuances of playing the game at this level. It’s really pleasing to see her in the form that she’s in.
“Hannah’s [Carney] done brilliantly through this season and the end of last, actually.
“She’s managing a bit of an ongoing injury at the moment so it’s important that she works hard to get on top of this and then that will give her the chance to come back in and compete for a place.
“Alongside the new signings, some of our youngsters coming through is really positive.”
Entry is free for both first-team matches at Holcombe Park on Saturday, while updates will be provided via our social media channels.
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