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High expectations for the champions

Katherine van Woerkom has taken on the player-coach role for Dalefield. PHOTOS/FILE

Van Woerkom banking on a mix of youth and experience

HOCKEY

CHRIS COGDALE
[email protected]

New player-coach Katherine van Woerkom has high expectations for the Dalefield premier women’s team.

The former Junior Black Stick has taken the reins from Michael O’Connor, who led the team to two Wellington premier titles [2017 and 2020] during four years in charge.

Brigette Mossman is a prolific goal-scorer for Dalefield.

Saturday’s opening game at the National Hockey Stadium will be a baptism of fire for van Woerkom, up against Hutt United, the team they beat in a shootout in last year’s thrilling final, and she can’t wait to tackle the challenge.

At 26 years of age, she is young to take a head coach’s role, but has previous experience coaching the Wairarapa College Girls’ First XI and will have O’Connor’s support when needed throughout the season.

She can also call on older brother Benedict, the coach of the Dalefield premier men’s side, to assist.

“I’m lucky to have him on tap to help plan the girls with their training, and he’s got a wealth of knowledge, so we’ll work closely together,” van Woerkom said.

Dalefield have retained the core of players from the 2020 champion side.

They include former Black Stick Felicity Reidy, Brigette Mossman, captain Michael O’Connor, Rosie Rooderkirk, Reese Robertson, Amy Bunny, Kianna Dawson, and goalkeeper Amy Rossiter-Stead.

Missing though are the influential Jenna Anderson, with work commitments, and Morgan Percy, with family commitments, while Abby Crawley and Jaylin Dawson are at university, and Amy Johnson won’t be playing this year.

Jenna Anderson’s pace and experience will be missed by Dalefield.

Their loss is offset by the return from overseas of talented attacking midfielder Emma Smith, and Claire McFetridge, who is in her first year out of school and was planning on going overseas only for covid-19 to curtail her plans.

“We have a lot of experience and some good youth coming through, and I think it’s good to have that mix,” van Woerkom said.

“I think it’s just having that experience in those tough games, the big games, to trust your team plan, and trust what you’ve built all season, and we’re lucky to have some very talented girls playing.

“In previous years when we didn’t win it, we lacked those extra older heads in key positions to calm the game down at the right times and to hold the ball, and absorb the pressure, and soak it in, and then be able to release.”

Van Woerkom added the players getting their fitness up to speed early would pay off at the crunch time of the season.

“If you can still run at the end of the game, it makes a massive difference. That last quarter is huge as we saw last year with the shootout, and fitness came into that, the concentration, and the calmness under pressure.”

Dalefield warmed up for Saturday’s season opener, with a 3-2 win over High School from Palmerston North, a result which pleased the coach.

“I left it open and didn’t give too much instructions because there are quite a few new girls, and I wanted to see how they played and what they do naturally without being told to do things.

“A lot of the young girls put together some good passes, which is really exciting.”

Van Woerkom described having Hutt United first up as “a nice welcome to the season”, and expected a typically tough encounter with experienced campaigners such as ex-Black Stick Aniwaka Roberts, Esther Chan, and Kirsty Cole in their ranks.

“They will be a very strong team, and they will be well-coached, and positionally and tactically they play well.

“It’s always interesting to see who turns up, and because we’re over here and not in Wellington, we don’t see the teams training and who’s involved or anything like that.”

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