Clubs combining forces to strengthen Ipswich competition
CONFIDENCE playing Ipswich hockey this season is growing with a healthy number of teams returning and clubs combining forces to strengthen the 2021 competition.
"They seem to have bounced back,'' Ipswich Hockey secretary Margret Mantell said of teams confirmed for the new season starting on March 12.
"I think there are some players who are still a little bit hesitant because there's still a bit of COVID around.
"They are concerned they will pay their money and then it has to shut down again. But if we get through the next couple of weeks and nothing happens COVID-wise, we might even pick up a few more numbers.''
The arrival of vaccinations should have a positive impact on players pondering a return to sport.
Ipswich Hockey also has a comprehensive COVID-safe plan in place, that worked successfully last season.
Although there wasn't enough support for a C-Grade (under-15) boys competition, most divisions have at least four sides playing after last year's COVID competition was shorter and modified.
The J2 (under 11) competition will remain for boys this season.
However, Ipswich Hockey officials have adjusted the J1 (under-14) boys division to help bridge the gap from junior to senior hockey.
"That under-15 boys is still an issue but that's not just through COVID,'' Mantell said. "That's been an ongoing issue. It's just that age.''
More experienced junior boys have been encouraged to play in R2 this season.
Easts, Bellbowrie, Hancocks, Norths and two Wests sides have nominated for the new J1 series.
In J2, Easts have entered two teams with Hancocks, Norths and Wests also fielding sides.
Leading Ipswich players like Jake Burns are planning to work with promising juniors in R2 this year.
Mantell said that was hugely beneficial for the clubs.
"Last year, when we went back for our return at the second half of the season, there was no C-Grade boys,'' she said.
"Easts were one that pushed the C-Grade team up into R2.
"Hancocks took some of their boys up too and their comment was the boys developed their skills and their confidence grew immensely by playing with the older ones.
"The other good thing was that all the senior players in that R2 played in the right spirit . . . and to encourage the younger boys.
"Before that, R2 had been a little bit too competitive. Whereas last year, every club, every team played in the right spirit of encouraging and managing those younger players.''
This year's C, D and E Grade girls competitions remain as they have been in previous seasons.
Ipswich clubs have also linked up to form combined teams in C Grade girls (Northern Strikers and Thistles/Hancocks), E Grade girls (Northern Strikers) and A2 men (Northern Strikers).
"It is great to see clubs working together,'' Mantell said.
Players can remain registered with their club of choice but enjoy matches in a combined team arrangement "to give everyone a game in that grade''.
The R2 women's competition is best represented with seven sides nominated.
The A2 women's, E-Grade girls, R2 men's and J1 boys competitions have attracted six sides in each.
The new season opens at Raceview on Friday week with A2 men's and women's matches from 7pm.
The first-up A-Grade men's game features Hancocks and Wests on the Friday night.
The first women's A-Grade competition encounter is between Thistles and Swifts on the Saturday night of that round.
Thistles remain in A-Grade after last year's success reaching the grand final.
However, the women's A-Grade competition is back to five teams with Norths unable to field a senior side.
In other developments, the annual Combined Competition between Ipswich and Toowoomba will be replaced with two mini carnivals.
With details to be finalised, one option is playing nine-a-side games at a women's carnival in Toowoomba on July 11 before the men field their teams on July 18 in Ipswich.