'We might be able to strike Surbiton'

Erica Sanders celebrates opening goal 450

By Sarah Juggins

The students of Birmingham University plan on giving Surbiton the third degree at the League Finals weekend at Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre on 22 and 23 April.

Three of the university side took time out of a busy training schedule with the national training squad at Bisham Abbey to talk about their club side’s aspirations for the forthcoming showcase event.

Erica Sanders had a wry smile as she pointed out that Surbiton had been beaten this season – albeit it was the London side’s only defeat for 53 matches – and she added, ‘Actually the pressure will be off Surbiton, as they are already in Europe, so we might be able to strike them when they don’t expect it.’

Birmingham University went into the Christmas break in fifth place, but always with the aim of making the play-offs. The pathway was anything but easy for the students however as the squad was in a constant state of flux with players called up for Scotland and Wales for the Hockey World League Round Two events, meaning players from the second team were often thrown into the fray.

Sanders agrees: ‘It has been tough and quite hectic. A lot of players have had to move around the teams as the result of a frequently changing squad.

‘The girls did incredibly well while we were in South Africa (with England) and we managed to get in the top four but it was incredibly tight.’

In fact, it all came down to the last game of the season when Birmingham needed a win over Canterbury to seal the coveted fourth place. It was a pressure Sanders and her teammates relished. ‘It was a good situation to be in because it was all in our hands. If we won we went to the Finals, if we didn’t win, that was it.’

While the team may have been disrupted in the second half of the season, Sanders points out that international duty isn’t always bad for a club side. ‘Nine of us went to the Junior World Cup in Chile, so even though we missed some games and training, we were still working together and that shows now, when we are playing for the club.’

Of course, Birmingham University do have their own not- so-secret weapon in the form of gold medallist Lily Owsley, and that is something both Erica and Scotland’s Amy Costello put a lot of value upon.

‘Lily is a good role model and her sheer presence on the pitch does help,’ says Amy. ‘A lot of teams have a lot of senior players and Lily is the senior member of our side – but she isn’t any different now, she will always be Lily.’

The player herself has a typically straightforward approach to the forthcoming challenge. ’It doesn’t matter if it is an Olympic final, a league game, a friendly knock around or a game of backgammon. I am just so competitive, I am a nightmare if I lose and I take it very personally.’

The final week’s preparations are also going to be far from easy. Costello, Sanders, Owsley, Livy Paige and Anna Toman are all at Bisham Abbey for long periods of time while a lot of the squad are involved in various U21 training sessions taking place over the next few weeks. As Sanders says: ‘Most of us are involved in hockey away from university so it is going to be difficult to get together for any period of time.’

However, the Birmingham University team are nothing if not determined in the face of difficulty, as their final league position shows, so their opposition should be prepared for a tough test at Lee Valley.

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