By Gary Caffell
No question who will be the most sought after scalp when the 2017 Capital premier division men’s and women’s hockey competitions get underway on April 1.
Dalefield guaranteed themselves that distinction when they took out the double last season, the men beating Hutt 5-3 in their final and the women scoring an extra time goal to defeat Eastern Hutt 2-1.
For the men it was their second successive title.
While coach Willie Schaefer stops short on predicting a three-peat he is confident of another bold showing despite the absence of at least four regulars from their 2016 line-up — prolific goal scorer Rowan Yeo and three talented youngsters in Tane Workman, Gus Wakeling and Morgan Taylor.
Schaefer will also be without the services of four others for the first two to four weeks of competition play.
Daniel van Woerkom, Nick Finlayson, Alex Sumenko-Bucknell and Joe Sterlini will all be late arrivals from overseas.
The first three of them were part of last year’s squad while Sterlini is an Englishman who has played at a decent level in his home country and South Africa.
It speaks volumes for Dalefield’s depth though that even allowing for this, there is every reason to anticipate them still being among the front runners from the word go.
The two Letts, Dane and Trent, are back again as are other high profile players in Ben Van Woerkom and Hamish Finlayson along with goalkeeper Josh Forsyth.
And they will also benefit from the input of a group of promising up-and-comers, including Zac Hardie, who has transferred from Northern United, Wills Taylor and Nathan Whiteman.
Schaefer was delighted with the enthusiasm shown by his players at fitness training sessions run by former Wairarapa-Bush rugby rep Bernard Lett and at a trial held last weekend.
“I think everyone knows that you only get where we have got over the past two years through hard work and dedication, we haven’t had any problems in that respect.”
The Dalefield women were true surprise packets in 2016, taking the title in their first season back at premier division level for several years.
Then coach Andy Wilson has stepped down due to some pressing commitments but stepping into the breach is fitness trainer Michael O’Connor, who says he was “very happy” with the way things were progressing.
The unavailability of Ana-May Gudsell, Emma Smith, Hannah Candy and Jess Matthews is a blow for Dalefield as all of them were key components in the 2016 team.
But the return of Jenna Anderson from Melbourne is a major plus, as is the acquisition of former Wairarapa College player Heni Metcalf, who has transferred from Toa.
Joining them will be a host of regulars from last season, including Kayla Brady, Katherine van Woerkom, Morgan Percy, Brigette Mossman, Michael O’Connor, Katie Ann-Saywell, Kelsy Smith, Kelsey Linton, Aimie McAnulty, Kristy Anderson and goalkeeper Sarah Crofoot.
Just who the Dalefield teams will play in their opening games is not yet known as there has been a delay in the draw being released.