Loughborough Students on university life & strong start to season

Loughborough Students on university life & strong start to season
Sitting third in the Women’s Hockey League Premier Division, Loughborough Students have two games in hand on the leaders and a real sense of momentum within their squad.

They have also, to date, escaped much of the Covid disruption that has had such an impact on many university sports teams up and down the country. 

Loughborough Students have made a tremendous start to the season, winning three of their opening matches and drawing with last season’s champions Surbiton in another.

They have also seen goalkeeper Miriam Pritchard selected for the Great Britain squad which is currently contesting the FIH Hockey Pro League with the Netherlands. 

Captain Ella Cusack and defender Iona Campbell offer their insights into how the university side are managing to perform with consistency and success, despite the restrictions imposed by Covid-19.

“After so long not being able to play hockey I think we were all just very excited and grateful to get back on the pitch,” says Cusack.

“We used the time we were unable to be together to work out our goals for the season and what we wanted to achieve as a team, so when we were able to begin pre-season training, we were able to make positive steps forward.

“We also usually have some form of competitive element in our training to try and re-enact game scenarios so we felt confident in roles going into the first game.”

Now they are back on the pitch playing competitive hockey, every member of the student side is determined to be as vigilant as possible in order to continue to play and also to maintain the momentum the side has gathered.

“As a team, we understand that to continue to play safely for as long as possible, we must be extremely vigilant and follow the procedures put in place by both Loughborough University and England Hockey,” explained Cusack.

“It was made very clear to the team and other athletes at the university that if we would like to benefit from all the university has to offer to elite sports people then we would need to be strict with ourselves and adhere to the rules put in place to keep us and others safe,” adds Campbell.

For the athletes, this means not just adhering to the Government’s rules on the numbers of people who could socialise and wearing face masks in public indoor spaces but also rules and behaviours advised by the university and head coach Brett Holland.

“Everyone knows that socialising is a huge part of university life,” adds Campbell, “but, for the moment, we have been asked to be sensible with how and when we socialise outside our training bubbles. This is sometimes challenging as young student athletes but at the end of the day, when looking at the bigger picture, it is a sacrifice we are all happy to make.”

The team also ensures that it trains in the same bubbles, always books track and trace gym sessions, regularly uses hand sanitisers and takes regular temperature checks. These are all measures the team has signed up to as a collective, explains Cusack.

“With cases rising at universities, it has become incredibly important we make sensible decisions about how we are spending our time outside of hockey. We have had a really strong start to the season and we have the mutual understanding that to continue to play and build this momentum, we must act responsibly and safely in all aspects of student life.”

Loughborough Students 2020

While the pandemic is hitting university hockey teams hard at the moment Cusack points out that, for much of the time, a university team will have one big advantage over its rivals. As students, the players can spend a lot more time together, both on and off the pitch, than players who have to combine working commitments with training. 

And at Loughborough, as is the case with other sports-focused universities, there is the added motivation of seeing other elite athletes also going about their training with dedication and commitment. The atmosphere of an elite performance environment is one that tends to motivate and inspire athletes as inter-sport rivalries act as an almost subconscious source of competitiveness.

“There is something really unique about walking to training and going past other teams from other sports, all training hard ready for their competition,” says Cusack.

“We are fortunate to have access to top sporting facilities to enhance our training and we all feel proud to represent a university that is renowned for its sporting success at an international level.”

For Campbell, who spent time playing at HGC in Holland, the Loughborough experience is proving an eye-opener in many ways.

“One thing that I have noticed about Loughborough's approach to preparation is how much off the pitch work can benefit our on the pitch performance. For example, I had never been to organised and regular team gym sessions before moving to Loughborough where we train in the gym together at least twice a week.

“There is also a massive tactical focus supported by weekly video analysis and stats. We also receive plenty of nutritional and physio support to help prepare our bodies the best we can for training and games.”

Of course, the current situation has meant the students cannot spend as much time together after matches as they would normally do. Cusack says the players and coaching staff have been forced to adapt behaviours and spend more time connecting digitally to ensure the team maintains a sense of togetherness. It is a challenge that Cusack says the team has embraced.

“Being adaptable both on and off the pitch has become a real strength of the team and has helped us to have a really strong start to the season.”

Both Campbell and Cusack have other calls on their time besides Loughborough hockey commitments.

Campbell is part of the Great Britain Elite Development Programme (EDP), where potential international players are developed and nurtured. The national training programme involves biweekly training days/camps, game series against other nations and competitive tournaments in the summer.

She says the two commitments work very well alongside each other, with the Loughborough programme tapering off around April. It is at that point the national programme tends to ramp up.

Cusack herself has graduated and has just started a new job and she says that hockey has given her a huge amount of resilience going into the workplace.

“The job market for graduates is very difficult at the moment and the resilience I developed from years of hockey has helped me bounce back from rejected applications. I have fortunately been able to secure a role I really enjoy. I work in a team of people and largely attribute the skills I have to work successfully in a team to years of playing sport.”