BEN Rhydding enjoyed a great finale to a fantastic season, finishing in the medals at the England Hockey National under-16 finals at Lee Valley Olympic Park.
Group matches against Reading, Marlow and pre-tournament favourites Surbiton were always going to be tough, but the Ilkley girls rose to the challenge.
After a tentative start against Reading which saw keeper Sophie Dale make a fine save and their goal frame rattled by a penalty stroke, Rhydding got into their stride.
They took the lead when Lucy Williams’ shot was parried into the path of Niamh Brennan who made no mistake.
Reading’s equalised early in the first minute of the second half with a well-taken short corner.
Despite the setback, Rhydding remained calm and built pressure through the good work of Imogen Sunman and Freya Bellamy.
A Rhydding short corner was despatched by Kirsty McMillan, timing her run to left post to perfection.
A 3-1 win was sealed when another short corner was finished in fine style by an Izzy Weir deflection.
Next up were a confident Marlow side and despite enjoying the majority of possession, Rhydding failed to convert their chances and saw numerous short corners unrewarded.
Marlow defended from deep, and frustrated the Rhydding attack, denying them time and space on the ball.
A scrappy game looked to be heading for stalemate until Williams saved the day with a well-worked short corner late in the game.
Six points in the bag on day one meant Ben Rhydding were guaranteed one of the top-four placings in the championships.
Defending champions Surbiton were the team to beat on Sunday morning, and Rhydding needed a win to qualify for the final.
In one of their best performances of the season, the Ilkley side gave it their all, challenging every ball and giving no quarter in the tackle.
Rachel Scott and Milly Fewlass-Jones defended valiantly, preventing numerous Surbition attacks down the flanks, as Ben Rhydding packed the middle of the pitch and limited their rivals’ attacking options.
Nisha Cant and Evie Malir marshalled the defensive unit confidently, distributing well to midfield. Surbiton’s frustration grew as time ticked away, and Ben Rhydding tried to take advantage of turnover ball to grab the all-important goal.
Brennan and Jemima Jaggar both going close. Just as a goalless draw seemed inevitable, Surbiton earned a late short corner with just 34 seconds left on the clock, and it was heartbreak for Rhydding.
With both sides guaranteed medals, Stourport and Ben Rhydding battled valiantly for third place.
Stourport’s early lead was soon erased with a Cant short corner. Rhydding fell behind again, only for Cant to equalise once more from another short corner.
The second half saw both sides visibly tiring after two days of competition, Alicia Cumberland stepped up with some crucial tackles to keep the opposition at bay and Hadfield was on hand to clear the lines when needed. Dale stepped in with a couple of top class saves to deny Stourport, and Ben Rhydding rallied again, surely thinking the win was theirs as McMillan found space in the D to turn and fire home with just minutes remaining. The last word was with Stourport. They capitalised on a momentary lapse in Rhydding concentration to drive down the right and equalise in the last minute.
It meant third place would be decided on penalty flicks, but it was not to be Rhydding’s day as Stourport’s strikers kept their cool to take victory.