The England Hockey Domestic Season story so far

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Now that the season is in full swing, we take a step back to see how the Investec Women's and NOW: Pensions Men's Hockey Leagues have shaped up.

After an exciting summer of international hockey in which England’s Women won a silver medal at the European Championships and the men finished fourth, the focus has now switched to domestic hockey.

The new season is already in full swing with some new-look teams and a new rule (players can play the ball above shoulder height when bringing down aerial passes) it looks like the season will be a very open one. Beeston are setting the early pace in the NOW: Pensions men’s league, with East Grinstead, Reading and Surbiton in hot pursuit. In the Investec Women’s Premier League Canterbury and Reading are neck and neck for points at the top of the table.

Most recently in the Investec Women's Hockey League Canterbury continued their strong start to the season as they drew level with Reading after beating Surbiton in a double header with their men's team counterparts. Sam Ward remains the man to watch with another hat-trick against Hampstead and Westminster, along with Adam Dixon with a brace, for Beeston - who also remain unbeaten this far into the season. 

However, if the opening weeks are anything to go by, this season will likely go down to the wire. There is still plenty of hockey to be played but a number of teams will have an eye on the end of season playoffs at Reading Hockey Club in April. Last year the event didn't disappoint with drama in the men’s semi-final as Beeston edged out Reading on a shootout before going on to defeat Surbiton in the final. The women’s event too, had its share of tension as Leicester and Reading, the two heavyweights of the women’s league couldn’t be separated without the use of a shootout. Sarah Ellis, the Reading goalkeeper saved all four of the Leicester efforts and Reading won the second of three trophies in a very successful season for Steve Bayer’s side.

As well as the end of season championship playoffs, the promotion/relegation tournament always provides its share of entertainment. After a long, hard season just to get into the playoffs, teams will throw everything they have at each other in an attempt to gain their place in the top tier of domestic hockey. Naturally this gives rise to some entertaining and end-to-end contests right up until the last minute of the final game.

Last season Wimbledon, who qualified for the playoffs having won the East Conference on goal difference from Holcombe, secured their place in the Premier League with wins over Cardiff and Sheffield Hallam. Hallam secured the second slot by virtue of a superior goal difference to Cardiff. The Women’s playoffs were even closer with three teams, Beeston, Olton and West Warwicks and Buckingham all finishing on six points, but Buckingham missed out on goal difference. There is no doubt this season will offer more of the same excitement.

Other hockey events for your diary during this season...

Of course the domestic calendar would not be complete without the bright lights, glitz, and glamour of the Indoor finals at Wembley this coming February – what you knew as the Super Sixes is now known as the ‘Maxi Hockey 5s’. England Hockey’s big night in has proved to be a great success with the Sky Sports cameras capturing the action and with the crowd filling the famous arena to the brim to witness some exciting, fast-paced hockey and plenty of goals.

This year, the International Hockey Federation has changed the rules making it five-a-side rather than the traditional six-a-side. More space should mean more goals, and that’s exactly what the fans want. With Reading scooping the ladies title, the first of their three trophies last season, they will undoubtedly be the team to beat. In the men’s it's hard to look beyond East Grinstead, champions last year for the fifth successive time. One thing’s for sure, the indoor finals are a spectacular show and not to be missed!

International hockey will return to centre stage later on in the year with the Women’s World League in Argentina taking place over November and December. England will pit their wits against the world’s best including the hosts Argentina, Germany, Holland and New Zealand. After the excellent showing in the World League Semi Final, where they beat Argentina, and the European Championships, where they beat the Netherlands, England will fear no one going into the competition. Having the likes of Alex Danson, Kate Walsh, Maddie Hinch and Sam Quek all in sparkling form, England have plenty of quality in the side and will be full of confidence.

As well as those players already mentioned there are two up-and-coming stars who it's worth keeping an eye out for. The first is 18-year-old Lily Owsley. The former Bristol Firebrands player, now plying her trade at University of Birmingham burst onto the international scene in the summer, making her debut in the World League in London. Owsley earned praise for her excellent close control, exciting technical skills and her ability to create something out of nothing. Now playing regularly in the Premier League and training in the central programme, Owsley will surely go from strength to strength over the coming months.

As well as Owsley, Sophie Bray has shown a lot of potential in her fledgling international career. The 23-year-old has improved immeasurably having spent time playing for MOP in Holland. Bray has scored four times in her 13 international appearances and looks like an instinctive predator in and around the D who could ease the goalscoring burden from Alex Danson’s shoulders.

In January, England’s men travel to India for their own World League Final where they face stiff competition including Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Australia. Like the women’s squad, the men are undergoing something of a transitional phase and have new players who have taken to international hockey very well. One of these is Reading’s Tom Carson. The 23-year-old former Exeter University forward has settled into the England set up seamlessly. With his excellent first touch, fantastic technical skills, eye for goal and a useful drag flick on penalty corners, Carson has netted nine times in 22 appearances for his country and looks set for a long and successful international career.

With increased financial backing from Investec and NOW: Pensions, the improvement in coverage across the media, the exposure for the game at the London Olympics and the continued development and success of the national teams, these are exciting times for hockey in England.

Read more about the most important upcoming events in hockey here. Or, you can go to our competitions pages to see all the results and fixtures for this season for each of the Leagues.