Premiers Wests stick to winning formula
AS defending premiers after a terrific 2017 season, the Wests women head into this weekend's new Ipswich hockey season looking settled and confident.
For A-Grade coach Brent Nicholls, a major part of his ongoing success is sticking to a proven winning formula.
As he has in the past, Nicholls is keen to ease his players into the 2018 competition rather than work them too hard in the early months.
While he's happy for other coaches to do what's right for them, the multiple premiership-winning mentor is mindful of the make-up of his youth-laden Magpies side.
"A lot of the kids play a lot of hockey early in the season,'' he said. "Especially with the amount of games. It's a long season.
"A lot of the kids play rep hockey so I'd rather just build from the start of the year.
"We've got a good enough core group that hopefully we can find our feet pretty quick.''
Wests launch their new season against Swifts in Sunday's 5.30pm match at the Ipswich Hockey Complex.
Wests will field another strong line-up with the return of Ipswich-bred former Hockeyroo Amy Kickbusch and another ex-Australian player Jade Close.
Wagga Wagga-born current Brisbane Valleys midfielder Close has moved into the area and joined Wests knowing some of the Magpies players.
The team's major loss is representative goalkeeper Emily Witheyman-Crump, who is concentrating on her Brisbane commitments.
However, Nicholls has every confidence in regular goalkeeper Tarni Iszlaub, who played in Wests' 8-1 victory over Hancock Brothers in last year's grand final.
"Tarn wanted to step up for us in A Grade and I'm really happy about that,'' Nicholls said.
Dependable duo Amy Nicholls and Eden Jackat will continue as co-captains.
"They work well together and they seem to have an understanding of the whole group,'' Brent said of his wife and the energetic Jackat.
Kylie Harnden returns as manager of the side.
Wests are also fielding two Reserve Grade teams this season - Wests Black and Wests White - coached by Steve Rogers and Damien Goodwin.
Nicholls hopes having a second side helps more junior players bridge the gap from C Grade into higher level teams.
"If you have some good C Graders coming out that aren't quite A Grade, it's hard to break into a Reserve Grade side that is doing really well,'' Nicholls said. "So they've got somewhere to go.''
Nicholls said the opportunity to play in Reserve Grade broadened their experience better, rather than pushing them too quickly through the grades. That augured well for A Grade in the future.
"One of the things that Ipswich Hockey is really trying to do is to keep that age group between that 15-18,'' he said.
As for this year's Ipswich women's competition, Nicholls welcomes news that Hancocks, Swifts and Norths have recruited some handy players.
"You want a strong competition across the board,'' he said.
State of play
A-Grade matches for the first round of the Ipswich hockey competition starting tonight at Raceview.
Tonight (7pm): Men - Easts v Hancock Brothers.
Tomorrow (7pm): Women - Hancock Brothers v Norths.
Sunday (4pm): Men - Norths v Wests. 5.30pm: Women - Wests v Swifts.