By Rob Cole
The rise and rise of Welsh women’s hockey has continued post-Commonwealth Games with two players being selected in the England Hockey Premier League Team of the Year.
The Holcombe HC duo of Leah Wilkinson and Sarah Jones returned from Australia to find themselves being honoured along with clubmate Emma Trunks in the top side, voted for by their peers.
They were selected at the end of a season that saw Holcombe beaten 3-1 by Surbiton in the Premier League final last weekend.
Wilkinson took over the captaincy of the Welsh team Down Under as she became her nation’s most capped player of all-time at her third Commonwealth Games.
She overtook former skipper Abbie Welsford in the opening win over India in the first game at the Gold Coast – one of Wales’ greatest ever results – as she moved onto a record 142 caps.
“That day was a triple-whammy. I’d waited 13 years to captain Wales, I broke the cap record and we beat India 3-2,” said Wilkinson.
“The Commonwealth Games as a whole was slightly disappointing after that and we could have done better. I was disappointed with our overall ranking but, apart from being hit numerous times and getting a black eye, it was a fantastic experience and I’m really proud to have got some many caps for Wales.
“I’m also really pleased to be named in the 2017-18 Premier League Team of the Year. To be able to perform consistently throughout the year is something that is very important to me and will hopefully lead me into a successful summer with Wales.
“The Team of the Year is voted for by players and coaches, so it’s rewarding to be recognised by your peers. A big ‘Thank You’ has to go to my wonderful Holcombe teammates and the club for their support throughout the year.”
The 31-year-old defender was forced to retire from the game against England after a clash of heads with England’s skipper Alex Danson, but battled on in the tournament after that 5-1 defeat. Wales were only 2-1 down before she left the field.
Wilkinson first picked up a hockey stick at the age of five and made her Wales debut as a teenager in 2004 in the Celtic Cup in Ireland. She gave up football and judo to concentrate on hockey and was inspired in her early years by playing alongside four-time Olympian Jane Sixsmith at her home town team, Sutton Coldfield HC.
Head of Year at Ewell Castle school, in Surrey, Wilkinson is also studying for an MA in history, the subject she teaches at school, as well as playing at the highest level at Holcombe.
Midfield ace, Jones, is now turning her attentions to qualifying for the 2020 Olympic Games to help Team GB defend their title having played with distinction for club and country this season. She was drafted into the GB squad last year and trains two days a week at Bisham Abbey with the golden squad.
Gold Coast was Jones’ second Commonwealth Games venture, having made her Wales debut back in 2011. She now has 90 caps and also played for the Wales women’s football team before turning to hockey full-time. Although born in Cardiff, she now works in London for British Tennis.
The season is now over for Wilkinson and Jones, who next month will travel to Dublin for the EuroHockey Club Trophy, where they will hope to earn England a second spot back in the top level of European hockey.
Despite her incredible career, playing in Europe for a club will be a new experience for Wilkinson.
“We’ve been waiting for a few years as a team to go to this tournament. It is going to be a real challenge playing against a number of eastern European teams and are basically their national side in club colours,” said Wilkinson.
“Our ambition is to get into one of the medal matches, but four games in four days is a tough task. We want to get the English team back into the A Division.”