Exciting times for Harleston Magpies Hockey Club

Dereham Ladies, who play in the top flight of the East League face the camera Picture: CHRIS AND CAT

Dereham Ladies, who play in the top flight of the East League face the camera Picture: CHRIS AND CATH PHOTOGRAPHY - Credit: Archant

The new-look English National Hockey League gets under way at the weekend with both of Harleston Magpies' senior teams involved.

After 20 years in the national set-up Magpies' women are preparing for a big test in the new Division One South, having finished in the top half of the East Conference last term.

The men also have an exciting season ahead of them, having earned promotion to the East Conference from the East League in 2018-19.

It has been a promising pre-season campaign so far for the women, with wins against Chelmsford, Bedford and Doncaster and a closely fought game against Leicester, with the coaching team able to utilise the full squad as well as introduce a number of promising young players to the higher levels of hockey.

The season starts on Saturday (2pm) with a challenging game at Canterbury, a team with a long history at the top of the English game.

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Georgia Linnell, Sophia Bassett and Olivia Thomas are all set to make their league debuts alongside returning player Cherry Seabourn, who has spent a number of years playing hockey in the USA and London. There has also been additions to the coaching team, with Robert Wagstaff joining alongside player/coach Emma Lee-Smith, fitness coach Annie Nunn and stalwart manager Nick McAllen.

"We have had a very good pre-season campaign, with all of the new players integrating the team very well," said Lee-Smith. "We have had a chance to see over 25 players during the competitive matches and reducing it down to 16 for the first weekend has been extremely hard. I am hoping that the mix of youth and speed with plenty of experience will enable us to play a fast paced and exciting brand of hockey.

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"The new format of playing four quarters of 17 and a half minutes to get our league in line with international games adds a further dimension to how we play and rotate substitutes, but hopefully it will enable us to maintain a high tempo."

Magpies' men open their campaign on Sunday when they welcome Wapping to Weybread (2pm)

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