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Dalefield teams look strong

Zac Caldwell returns to the Dalefield after missing the last three seasons. PHOTOS/FILE

HOCKEY

A strong backbone of experienced championship-winning players runs through the Dalefield premier men’s and women’s sides. CHRIS COGDALE looks at their prospects in the Wellington Premier Championships.

Men

Farriers Dalefield will field their oldest and most experienced team for many years in the Wellington premier championship that starts today with an away game against Indians for them.

Dalefield lost several players from the team who finished a disappointing fourth last season, an outcome which ended a run of six straight final appearances, including four titles.

Among the losses are experienced goalkeeper John Forsyth, who has moved because of work, and Jordan Cohen is in the Black Sticks squad and based in Auckland.

Offsetting those losses, two quality players – Zac Caldwell and Phil Arkell – return to the fold after missing the past three seasons. And two promising goalkeepers from Wellington – Zander Redgrave, a national under-18 squad member, and Nick Holland have joined the squad.

Black Stick Dane Lett is co-coaching the side alongside last year’s player-coach Benedict van Woerkom and is excited about the depth of talent.

“We’re pretty comfortable where we’re at. I think our side is maybe a bit more well-rounded than what we’ve been sometimes,” said Lett.

“The past couple of years, we’ve been a bit too reliant on young ones on filling gaps, so it’s really good to have a true men’s adult team.

“The fact that we’ve got a full group of 18 who are keen to play and have been training well is really positive for us.”

Rowan Yeo, Dylan Price, Nick Hardie, Hamish Finlayson, Marcus Ambrose, Nathan Whiteman, Alex Sumenko-Bucknell, Miles Houlihan, Benedict van Woerkom, Daniel van Woerkom, Jayan Parbhu, and Lett are others from last year’s squad to line up for Dalefield.

“There’s a lot of games and a lot of years of premier one hockey in our side, and I would say considerably more than any other team, and that’s something we’ll look to use to our advantage.

“There’s a real core group that know how to get to the big dance and know how to win it as well, so that’s something we’ve got in our favour.

“We’re confident that we’ll be competitive, and we’ll be there or thereabouts if we can all stay healthy and keep improving, but it’s a long season.”

Lett’s involvement again is to be limited with his commitments to Black Sticks programme, but said the timing is better than last year when he missed the back half of the season because of the Tokyo Olympics.

The 88-cap international will miss some games because of North-South games and internationals against Australia in May and the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in July and August, but he will be back for the semifinals and final.

Lett expects a tough battle today against Indians, who convincingly beat a weakened Dalefield in last year’s third-fourth playoff.

Competitive side, says returning coach

Women

Farriers Dalefield will also field an experienced but much-changed side in their quest for a third straight Wellington women’s title.

The biggest change comes in the coaching ranks with Michael O’Connor retaking the reins in place of last year’s player-coach Katherine Reisima [nee van Woerkom], who is taking the season off because she is expecting her first child.

O’Connor, who coached the team to championship victories in 2017 and 2020, said the team are well-balanced with a good depth despite the loss of seven players from last year.

Emma McLeod, left, scored all four goals in a preseason warm-up.

As well as Reisima, Emma Smith, Sinead Namana, and Katie-Ann Saywell are among the players missing from 2021.

O’Connor will still have an experienced core of players, including former Black Strick Felicity Reidy, his daughter Michael O’Connor, Brigette Mossman, Rosie Rooderkirk, Reese Robertson, and goalkeeper Amy Rossiter-Stead to call on.

Unlike last year when there were seven secondary school students in the squad, there are only two – Charlize Baron, and the highly promising 15-year-old Emma McLeod, who scored all four goals in a 4-5 loss to the High School [Palmerston North] club side in a preseason hit out.

“The girls played a couple of weeks ago and were really impressive how they played,” said O’Connor, who typically downplayed the team’s prospects over the season.

“Our goal will be to get in that top four, and what happens after that we’ll look at it then. But we’re definitely going to be competitive.”

O’Connor knows little about today’s opponents Karori, who finished in the bottom four, and is unsure if they have picked up any players from other clubs.

Like the men’s premier division, seven teams will contest the championship.

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