Returning to Queenswood School for the National finals on Tuesday 18th November, the Cranleigh Prep U13 girls knew that they would have to be at their best to succeed.
The tournament was arranged in four groups, with four teams in our group; the first two in each group would proceed to the quarter-final stage.
In the first group match we faced Dumpton (who had qualified from the West region); it was a nervous start but the result was a 2-0 win to Cranleigh.
After a 1hr 20min break the girls took to the pitch again to face Dean Close (qualifiers from the North region) and were given a sharp ‘wake-up’ call, finding themselves 2-0 down at half time.
The second half started much more positively and, with an improved work rate, Cranleigh scored two goals to level the game.
However, Dean Close had the last word, scoring in the dying seconds of the game to take a 3-2 win. This left one final group match to be played, after another 80 minute break, against Dulwich Prep (East runner-up), which resulted in a 2-0 win for Cranleigh.
The team was not yet really firing on all cylinders and, although the level of play had improved, the girls were really just getting going by the end of the game – such is tournament hockey!
We then had a scheduled 2 hour wait, during which there were other group matches played, the results of which led to a three way tie on points for our group! Luckily we were placed second on goal difference and went through to the quarterfinals.
However, two of the quarter finals required extra time and penalty shuffles to decide the outcome, so it was after a gap of 3 hours that Cranleigh returned to the pitch to play Foremarke Hall (North champions).
The long break had not done us any favours and the girls struggled to match the opposition’s skill and speed, leaving us 1-0 down by half time. However, after a few well-chosen words from the coaches, we started the second half much more strongly and soon levelled the score. The match began to swing our way and after scoring another goal the girls held on for a 2-1 victory and finally looked like the team we knew they could be!
So, on to the semi-final, where we met Junior Kings (East champions), after just a 20 minute break, and this suited our players well. The match was pretty even, but Cranleigh eventually took one of their many chances and held on to that slender lead to win 1-0.
We were through to the final where we would face Chaffyn Grove (West region runner-up).
The scheduled 20 minute break was passed by plying the team with Haribos and water, and ensuring that everyone stayed positive, plus a few last minute reminders about penalty corner options and our marking strategy.
The final was well balanced, with both teams creating chances and defending well, but Cranleigh took the lead from a penalty corner and then held tight until the final minute, when we allowed their strongest player a free run from which she scored.
The 1-1 score line at full time meant we would play extra time; 5 minutes each way, with the “golden goal” rule in operation. In fact it took less than 2 minutes for Cranleigh to win a penalty corner and score the winner, so becoming National IAPS champions 2014.
It was a long day and the girls did remarkably well to keep their composure and show a steady improvement throughout the tournament.
Congratulations to Rosie H (capt), Ella J (GK), Lulu F, Maya M, Rosie W, Jess B, Phoebe T, Poppy W and Olivia R.
Report and pictures contributed by Cranleigh Prep School.