SWINDON coach Craig Sage hopes the policy of trusting in youth will pay off for his side on their return to the top flight of the Davis Wood Hockey League this weekend.
Having finished second in Premier Division 2 in 2011/12, Swindon secured promotion to the Premiership and the club’s youngsters now get the chance to test themselves at a higher level, starting with a trip to Plymouth Marjon on Saturday.
“It’s the first time the first team have been back in the Premier League for five or six years,” said Sage.
“We have invested in youth for a long period of time and we have a number of junior players that have come through and are slotting into the first team, such as Lewis Dyer, Callum Ray and Sagee Abuebid.
“Some clubs bring players in to gain promotion, but we rely on the players that turn up year on year and develop our youth players as well.
“We have a very good junior section that consistently brings players into the men’s leagues and that is paying dividends for us.”
Sage’s words are proven in the fact that Abuebid (under 18s), Callum Bird and Jordan McKenzie (under 17s) and Charlie George and Shona O’Dwyer (under 15s girls) were selected by their Junior Regional Performance Centre to take part in West of England Tier 1 competitions this month.
Swindon have a near full-strength side for Saturday’s game, although defender Tom Saunders is missing. Matt Kenyon is set for his league debut after joining from West Wilts, but Chris Hambling and Henry Cheney have departed the club after moving away.
Elsewhere, Marlborough open up at home in the Championship against Robinsons A, while in De Cymru & The Marches 1, Chippenham travel to Cardiff & UWIC B and Cirencester face Lydney.
Wootton Bassett visit Robinsons B in Central 2 and North Wilts welcome City of Bath B in East Central 1, the latter off the back of a thumping 5-2 win over Lansdown 2nds.
North Wilts captain Tom Wilson said: “Having gone down last season we’re looking to bounce straight back up. We have a number of new players because people have joined us off the back of the Olympics.”
Darren Hillier opened the scoring against Lansdown and although an equaliser followed, debutant Max Bartholomew restored the lead with a pinpoint finish on the reverse from the top of the circle.
Good work from Jim Towers, Dan Conneely and Cameron Young allowed the former to tap in from close range.
The second half began with Mike Egan feeding Darran Cragg, who calmly slotted the ball between the legs of the goalkeeper to make it 4-1.
Lansdown hit back before Towers rounded off the scoring late on with a short corner that bobbled over the keeper from the top of the circle.
In the West Clubs Women’s Hockey League, Swindon begin their Premier Division 2A campaign on Saturday at Bournemouth 2nds, while Chippenham welcome Salisbury and Cirencester host Gloucester 2nds.
Wootton Bassett’s North Division season begins at Bretforton, while in Wessex Division 1, Marlborough clash with Wootton Bassett 2nds.
In the same division, North Wilts entertain West Wilts 2nds and skipper Molly Leslie is looking forward to the new campaign.
She said: “We were promoted (in 2010/11) and finished midtable last year.
“We hope to persevere with some quality play and will be working towards finishing top.
“The ladies 2s have had consistently good seasons playing in Division Three, and with an ever-improving young squad both teams will be hoping to start the season with a win.”
Meanwhile, North Wilts men won the recent Wiltshire Trophy after bouncing back from failing to taste victory in their three opening games.
They came away with a hard-fought 0-0 draw against Salisbury and this was followed by 1-0 defeat to Devizes.
North Wilts then went a goal down to Wootton Bassett and as they pushed for an equaliser, they were punished with a second goal.
But Darren Hillier and Ellis were on target in a 2-0 win over Marlborough 2nds, and a brace from Hillier in the 2-0 victory over Chippenham 2nds was enough to put his team into the final.
North Wilts took the lead from a penalty corner with Dan Conneely wrong-footing the keeper from the top of the D. But Wootton Bassett pulled level before going in front with a few minutes remaining.
North Wilts were then awarded a second penalty corner in the dying seconds, which was finished by Hillier.
Wilson, Ellis and Towers converted their penalties and the shootout went to sudden death.
Hillier buried his shot low past the keeper and Luke Newton saved from Bassett captain Kristian Mansfield to win the competition for North Wilts.