Buckingham will once again play in the top tier of English women’s hockey next season after winning the promotion play-offs held at the Lee Valley National Hockey Stadium in London at the weekend.
Buckingham finished second bottom after a tough first campaign in the Premier Division, meaning they had to compete against East Grinstead, Slough and Wakefield in the end-of-season play-offs to maintain their top flight status.
And the Stowe-based side did just that thanks to wins over Grinstead and Wakefield and then a draw against Slough on Sunday, which saw them finish top of the group.
A delighted Zak Jones said afterwards: “I am hugely relieved and so proud of the players. The girls have put heart and soul into their first season in the Premier League. We are only too aware from past experience that the play-offs are a brutal and unforgiving environment, so to win the tournament is immensely satisfying.
“We didn’t play well in either game over the weekend but our previous play-off experience combined with the girls’ incredible spirit, heart and resilience meant they found a way to come through.
“I am just so pleased for the them, the whole squad has stuck together and believed in each other all season and they have earned their reward of playing in the Premier Division again next season.
“I am absolutely delighted for them and also for all the family, friends and supporters who have been through so many emotions with the team.
“While it has been a huge effort by the squad, it would not have been possible without the support staff, committee and all the volunteers and club members who have supported us all season and of course a huge thanks to main sponsor One Stop Craft Shop.
“It is an incredible achievement for a small local club and the whole squad are really looking forward to putting everything they have learned this year into practice in the Premier League next season.
“What with the second and third teams winning their leagues, the juniors section flourishing and the news that the IIs have been shortlisted for 2015 Team of the Year at the England Hockey awards, it has been another memorable season for the club.”
Having began the play-offs with victory over East Grinstead, Buckingham made a slow start to their second match against Wakefield and found themselves 1-0 behind inside just five minutes.
They soon found their stride, however, and deservedly pulled level through the outstanding Kirsty Freshwater, who deflected home Zoe Shipperley’s penalty corner.
Buckingham remained in the ascendency for the remainder of the half but they had to wait until the first minute of the second period to go ahead when Leanne Grimsley was on hand to steer Morag McLellan’s shot into the goal.
Buckingham had a number of opportunities to extend their lead but while it remained at just one, Wakefield posed a threat and in a desperate attempt to score, they withdrew their goalkeeper for the final few minutes, however a resolute Buckingham saw the game out for a vital victory.
That meant Buckingham needed just a draw from Sunday’s game against Slough to secure their place in the top flight, but again they began sloppily as a defensive error gifted Slough an early lead.
Slough, roared on by their vociferous support, continued on the front foot, but despite having the better of both territory and possession, they struggled to create much.
Buckingham regrouped at half-time and a tactical switch saw a more controlled second half display as Jones’ side gained a foothold in the game.
With Slough becoming more desperate, they left themselves exposed at the back and Buckingham took full advantage when Beth Stainsby kept her cool to calmly convert a penalty stroke.
With the other match in the group level at 3-3, Slough needed to score to seal their own promotion to the Premier Division and as a result they threw everything forward but Anna Searle and Buckingham stood firm to hold on.
This meant that Buckingham topped the play-off table, undefeated on seven points, one ahead of East Grinstead.