Dalefield’s Trent Lett on the attack against Naenae last season. PHOTO/FILE
By Gary Caffell
The message from the two camps is much the same as the Dalefield hockey teams prepare to start their 2017 Wellington premier division hockey campaigns at the National Hockey Stadium in Wellington tomorrow.
Both the men’s coach, Willie Schaefer, and his women’s counterpart, Michael O’Connor, aren’t making any bold predictions about the likely results of their matches.
Rather it’s a case of trusting that the absence of some key players and limited preparation won’t stop their sides from giving a creditable account of themselves as they open the defence of their respective championship titles.
Schaefer has had to stretch his net wide to come up with a full complement of players as four of his likely regulars as the season progresses, Daniel van Woerkom, Nick Finlayson, Alex Sumenko-Bucknell and newcomer Englishman Joe Sterlini, are overseas and another couple in Nathan Whiteman and Phil Arkell are on the injured list.
Add to that the fact that four of last year’s title-winning squad in Rowan Yeo, Tane Workman, Gus Wakeling and Morgan Taylor won’t be wearing the Dalefield colours again this season and it’s easy to understand Schaefer’s predicament.
Typically, however, the man himself isn’t about to reach for the panic button, saying that a quartet of players brought in for the season opener against Harbour City — Chris Mason, Jackson Kibblewhite, Mitchell Blackwood and Adam Maloney — were more than capable of providing adequate back-up for the likes of the Lett brothers, Dane and Trent, Ben van Woerkom, Hamish Finlayson, Zac Hardie, Wills Taylor and goalkeeper Josh Forsyth.
“We’ll still be fielding a good side and there’s no reason why we can’t be very competitive,” he said.
Against a Harbour City side which is expected to have strength in depth in midfield and up front, Dalefield’s defensive structure seems sure to be tested so, not surprisingly, this area of their game has been the focus of attention in training this week.
“How we cope defensively will probably have a very big say in the end result,” Schaefer said.
The Dalefield women will be missing two of the stars of last season’s championship-winning squad, Morgan Percy (injury) and Brigette Mossman (work commitments), when they take on the team they beat in extra time in the 2016 final, Eastern Hutt.
And the loss of four others through retirement or transfer in Ana-May Gudsell, Emma Smith, Hannah Candy and Jess Matthews is a decent blow as well.
On the plus side, Jenna Anderson has returned from Melbourne and Heni Metcalf has transferred from Toa and other regulars from last season such as Kayla Brady, Katharine can Woerkom, Michael O’Connor, Katie Ann-Saywell, Kelsy Smith, Kelsey Linton, Aimie McAnulty, Kristy Anderson and goalkeeper Sarah Crofoot will all be on deck again.
Coach O’Connor admits striking a team of Eastern Hutt’s calibre first up was a big ask for his side, even more so after they had the misfortune to have no fewer than three pre-season games called off.
“The preparation hasn’t been ideal and obviously, we are going to be a lot better with a couple of games under the belt but we’re still optimistic of a good showing,” he said.