Buckingham Hockey Club are back in the Investec Premier Division after a dramatic and nerve-shredding weekend at the end-of-season play-offs, held at the Lee Valley National Hockey Centre in London’s Olympic Park.
Having narrowly lost the first game a few weeks ago, the squad knew that they would probably need to win both games over the weekend in order to gain promotion back to the top tier of English hockey.
They beat Brooklands 1-0 in the opener and then a thrilling, ding-dong encounter followed against Wimbledon which saw them edge to a 4-3 victory and earn promotion.
“The girls were simply outstanding over the two games,” said a delighted head coach Zak Jones afterwards.
“I’ve talked all season about the qualities and the spirit within the squad, but over the weekend the girls took it to another level and produced two stunning performances in the most high pressure environment possible.
“I am simply in awe of them and the drive, determination resilience and composure they showed. The positivity with which we approached the weekend with was fantastic, as was our attitude and intent.
“After the disappointment of the first week, the squad were determined to go and show people what this group is all about. They truly did that and thoroughly deserve their success for the amount of work and effort they have put in for each other all season.
“I am really proud to have coached such as special group over the course of an incredibly successful season and it was a real privilege to share with the players and everyone who has supported them, the special and emotional moments the weekend produced.”
The first encounter against Brooklands was nervy and tense as Buckingham started well before having to withstand a period of pressure late in the first-half, including a penalty corner, to go into half-time level at 0-0.
Buckingham began the second half in the ascendency and, after being thwarted by a well-organised and physical defence, they finally scored the first and only goal on 60 minutes. Following another period of pressure, Abbie Brant stole the ball and fed the superb Katrina Nicholson, who calmly slotted home.
Brookland pushed hard for an equaliser in the closing stages, even removing their goal keeper, but Buckingham remained calm and deservedly earned the vital three points that got their promotion push back on track.
With Bowdon defeating Wimbledon 3-2 in the other match and as a result, clamming one of the promotion slots, Buckingham knew that only a win in their final game on Sunday would see them promoted. Wimbledon, on the other hand, needed just a draw to take the other place.
What followed was a rip-roaring affair that swung one way then the other and ended with Buckingham celebrating.
The Stowe-based side got off to a dream start through vice-captain Kitty Higgins but their joy was short-lived as sloppy defending gifted Wimbledon a penalty corner and after Olympic gold medallist Christa Cullen’s initial shot was blocked, Libby Sherriff slammed in the rebound.
However, with Katrina Nicholson simply outstanding in the heart of midfield, Buckingham regained the lead in the 14th minute when Tash James forced the ball in from close range following some persistent play by Phoebe Richards.
Once again, though, Wimbledon replied swiftly. Buckingham went close to making it 3-1 but a swift counter-attack downfield resulted in Sherriff claiming her second with just 20 breathless minutes gone.
It remained 2-2 at the break but Buckingham seized control in the second-half. The turning point came when Cullen was temporarily suspended for a clumsy foul on the lively Richards.
Buckingham immediately took full advantage. First, Shipperley smashed home with the help of a deflection from a penalty corner before Higgins netted her second.
Buckingham were now in control but Wimbledon, in need of a draw to secure promotion, would not give up and pressed forward as the spectacle flowed from end-to-end.
Cullen did pull one back with 50 seconds left but it was too little too late as, much to the delight of their loud and vociferous support, Buckingham saw out the remaining seconds to clinch a superb 4-3 victory and their place in the Premier Division for 2017/18.