Back-to-back season success
There was unprecedented success enjoyed by the School during the 2016-17 season – the U16 and U18 teams were national indoor runner-ups, the U13s and U15s both Independent School Hockey Cup champions and the U14, U16 and U18 teams being crowned national outdoor champions. Despite the excitement for what the future may hold, there was also an element of apprehension (‘can we ever repeat this?’).
Dr Karl Stagno, Whitgift’s Director of Hockey and linchpin of the School’s meteoric hockey success in the last 10 years, is philosophical; “Success is found in ‘running the race’, not necessarily in winning it. We don’t ever set out to win national titles, or even have a mandate on how many championships we must win. Rather, we set out to create a comprehensive plan for instilling a level of competency that ensures our playing level continues to improve, on and off the field. By strictly focusing on our ethos and the environment we create at school, we are able to focus on the joy of doing things well, rather than winning games or titles. Hopefully that methodology takes care of the result! Our boys do want to believe they are part of something special, a school that is exceptional. At Whitgift, we all strive to be the best we can be and compete only against ourselves.
“I believe this underpins the results of the 2017-18 season - national U16 indoor and outdoor champions, U14 national outdoor champions (for the third consecutive year) and U15 back-to-back Independent School Hockey Cup champions! A remarkable season in its own right. If you also consider the fact that the U13s and U18s were both knocked out of the national outdoor competition at the semi-finals on strokes, it is inconceivable to think that we could have actually gone one better than last year’s success! A remarkable achievement over the course of two seasons.”
The national outdoor championship
Dr Stagno looks back on the recent outdoor national championships which ended the season, “The U14s set out, quietly confident, but very aware of the difficulty of the task ahead. To win the outdoor title is always a tall order, to defend the title you have won the past two years is even more difficult, as everyone is out to get you. The squad managed this feat with two of their starting players missing due to illness and injury; a testament to the squad’s depth of talent and persistence. Wins in the pool stages against Felsted School and Uppingham School set us up to face local rivals St. George’s College, Weybridge in the final. The game started at a fierce pace and Fraser Bryden managed to get us ahead, finishing a great team move down the right hand side. We pushed on further and tried very hard to get the second goal and give us some breathing space. We had some near misses and some clear misses; this coupled with some last-ditch defending by St George’s meant we went into the last five minutes of the game with a slender lead. St George’s forced a couple of corners but thankfully our corner defense remained resolute and the boys were crowned national U14 champions for the third year in a row! The team showed great determination and did not concede a single goal throughout the day.
“Going into any competition as the favourites has its pressures and pitfalls; fortunately the talented U16 team can deal with the weight of expectation. They set out to defend the title they had earned last year and were set on achieving the double - indoor and outdoor titles. The tournament started with a bang, defeating Stamford 2-1, their opponent during the U14 final two years ago. The remaining games in the pool went smoothly, setting them up to face Dean Close School in arepeat of the national indoor final. The team played superbly, both in attack and in defense. The pressure was too much for Dean Close’s zonal defense and a convincing 3-0 win saw them crowned as national champions and achieve the double! Interestingly, the U14s and the U16s were captained by the Holland brothers, Luke and Dylan!
“The penultimate day of the competition saw the U18s face Oakham School in the semifinal. Comfortable wins against Framlingham College, Norwich School and Reed’s School had them as favourites to win the trophy; but as we all know sport has a funny way of surprising you when you least expect it! The game was a one-sided affair with the boys throwing everything into it but missing clear chance after clear chance (with the occasional unbelievable save from the Oakham goal keeper). The occasional forage forward by Oakham was dealt with well by the defense and the score remained at 0-0 until five minutes from the end, when Whitgift Captain Zach Wallace unlocked the game and put Whitgift 1-0 up. Unfortunately, the euphoria of the goal and the sheer desperation of trying to score for 65 minutes resulted in the boys losing concentration for a second, allowing Oakham to crash the ball into our circle and pick a corner. We defended it well but it unfortunately resulted in a goal. The team had to face a penalty shoot-out and came second best!
“The boys had to pick themselves up very quickly to show their class and salvage their pride in the 3rd/4th place game play-off versus Dean Close. In almost a carbon copy of the game the day before (with the exception being, the ball going into the goal this time) the team overcame Dean Close, 8-1. A final chapter to a very talented group of Upper Sixth Form boys and we wish them the best of luck with all their endeavors that lie ahead.”
Whitgift’s hockey boys have all worked hard this year to excel in a number of fronts; the success the School teams have achieved is a clear example of such commitment. However, there are also individual commendations that the boys have obtained. Zach Wallace was selected to play for Great Britain U21s and was also national champion with Surbiton HC in the Men’s Premier League. Adam Buckle, England U18, was also in the Surbiton team with Zach, an impressive achievement to have two Whitgiftians in the winning side. Max Denniff (England U18) played a major part in Sevenoaks HC’s Men’s Premier League Campaign, as were Matt Blood (England U18) and Dylan Holland (England U16) with East Grinstead HC. Thomas Rhodes and Tom Finnegan both helped Oxted HC to the East Conference National League Title and pushed for promotion, and both Josh Gravestock (England U18) and Max Lowrey (England U18) were part of the Wimbledon and Surbiton squads this past season. International honours were also achieved by Jake Phillips and Steven Rich with England U16.