BELPER Ladies Under-18s intend to try to salvage something tangible from the season when they go to Canterbury this weekend for the National Cup Finals.
With the first team having been relegated from the national league, the second team finishing sixth in Midlands Division Two and the third team relegated back to the Derbyshire League from Midlands East, the club are desperate for some success.
This will be Belper U18s sixth successive visit to the national finals, five of which have seen them return with the trophy.
The four-team finals are run in a round-robin format and Belper’s opponents on Saturday will be Surbiton from Surrey, Firebrands from Bristol and then Wakefield on Sunday.
Belper’s route to the finals has not been ideal preparation. From a stuttering 1-0 win over Lichfield in round one, the next two opponents in rounds two and three – Rutland and Stourport – both scratched.
With the winter weather cancelling a number of training sessions, an unprepared Belper side then travelled to Manchester club Bowdon and, after a tense 0-0 draw, won the penalty shoot-out in style 4-1.
Belper were again away in round five, to the Pelicans club in Norfolk. Finally, the Nailers began to show some measure of their potential, with a more cohesive performance in a 3-2 win to take them into the last four.
This U18 squad is the youngest the club has ever fielded.
Five from last year’s gold medal winning squad have moved on but in addition, six of that outstanding team will be left twiddling their thumbs at home because of the England Hockey Board’s ruling that the age qualification for club competitions is January 1.
This means any players born between September and December in their school academic year are ineligible. Thus year 13 students from the first team squad, Charlotte Hobbs, Rhiannon Rogers and Camilla Hall are ruled out plus Rachel Mason, Amelia Browne and Amber Carnell.
The inconsistency and illogicality of this decision (the parallel schools’ competition retained the September 1st eligibility date because the schools threatened to withdraw from the EHB if the January date was implemented) has reluctantly been realised by the EHB, who are now proposing a common date in response to the intense pressure. Sadly, it is too late for this year’s group.
Belper have had to delve deep into their junior academy to complete their squad. So young is this group that only two of the outfield players will be ineligible next year, so for this group, getting to the last four is an excellent achievement.
Belper beat their first opponents Surbiton 3-2 in this year’s indoor finals and last year trounced Firebrands 4-0 and Wakefield 6-0 in the outdoor finals. The Nailers therefore have every confidence in their ability to make their mark on this year’s competition. The only dark cloud on the horizon is the foot injury to captain and star player, Under 18 international Anna Toman, who is having intensive treatment to try to get her fit for the weekend.
Over Easter, Belper U16s are taking part in an international tournament at the HOD Club Val-kenswaard in The Netherlands.
Amongst the teams entered are the national U16 teams from the USA and Ireland, three Dutch regional teams plus more regional teams from Belgium and France, in addition to other top club sides from The Netherlands, Germany and Russia. Belper are England’s only representative in the competition and were invited on the basis of their outstanding record in England club competitions, where they have been national champions in a variety of age groups, a total of 16 times in the past seven years.