The only difference from last season for Surbiton Ladies captain Sarah Evans is her name.
The 27-year-old, formerly known as Sarah Haycroft, married Surbiton men’s player Scott Evans in August last year, but on the pitch her side are once again competing for the title with Investec Women’s Hockey League Premier Division rivals Holcombe.
The latest encounter between the two title challengers saw Surbiton, who won an unprecedented fifth consecutive IWHL last season, beat Holcombe 2-0 last weekend.
Evans was one of seven internationals on Great Britain duty for the top-of-the-table clash, but believes the win demonstrates the depth, if not quite the consistency, the squad has possessed this season.
“We have the challenge that we have a number of internationals in our team,” she said.
“But one of the reasons we have been successful for so many years is because the team is so strong even when the internationals are away, we have such great depth.
“We have had some mixed results so far this season while the internationals have been away and as a result our rivalry with Holcombe has definitely got more intense since we have not been as dominant this season as in previous years, but they went into the game with some good momentum by beating East Grinstead.
“To beat Holcombe with the international players away was such a lift for everybody and showed that we are still really strong without them. It was a great performance and it shows we believe we can beat anybody whether we have our internationals or not.”
Evans’ disappointment about the three league defeats this season demonstrates the high standards they set themselves, yet the midfielder revealed it is also the club’s meticulous approach from a young age that has allowed their depth to grow, with subsequent title-winning seasons to match.
“Depth is something that Surbiton as a whole has paid attention to in order to develop the juniors at the club,” she said.
“They are a huge part of the club itself and Brett Garrard in particular has put so much time into developing the skills of those youngsters and giving them opportunities when they’re ready.
“That, coupled with having really good players just outside of the GB setup, is so crucial.
“I have been fortunate enough to witness this because I joined the club when I was 10 when the ladies team were in the Surrey division.
“The club has always been very conscious that it doesn’t want to just have some players in for one year and then leave, and so we create this real family feel about the club. We want people to join the club who want to be there for a long period of time.
“We are very much aware that we want to build such depth and we have done that and that is why we have been so successful in the domestic league, and hopefully we can continue that for many more years.”
However, their more immediate focus will be on Saturday’s game at the University of Birmingham, and despite their position in the bottom three Evans is all to aware of the threat the West Midlands side pose.
“Previously we have been caught out where we have been up for those games against Holcombe and actually it is against potentially lower-ranked teams that we didn’t prepare as well for.
“It is just making sure we don’t drop our standards for the games where we potentially should be beating them by some margin.
“Birmingham have traditionally always given us a very difficult game because they play a relatively similar style to us. It is always an open game and often it can seem very end-to-end.
“It is by all means a very important game for us and one nobody will be taking it lightly.
“We give every single team respect, because we know all the teams lower down have so much to fight for and they are very savvy teams and they know how to frustrate us so we know we have to keep playing our way with our processes to deal with it.”
And it is those slip ups in previous seasons against the sides lower down that has impacted upon their Eurohockey Club Cup campaigns, with the club never having gone past the semi-final stage, and it is something Evans is looking to rectify, starting with their fixture against German side Alster in April.
“The European challenge drives our consistency, but everyone who has competed for us in Europe in the last few years has felt disappointed how we have played each year,” she said.
“Even when we got to the semi-finals, we played well but we knew that we weren’t really able to compete with the likes of the Dutch. We still have that challenge and we feel like we have not quite fulfilled our potential.
“We want to play well in every single domestic game so that at the end of the season we are at the top of our game so that we can do better than last year in Europe and carry on that cycle of qualifying for it.
“The competition is earlier this year, in previous years it has happened in June and the domestic league finishes in April. That has been a very long time and we struggled with match practice and having that match sharpness, so it is much better for us that it is in April.
“This year we have struggled slightly more domestically so I think everyone will have a real determination and confidence going into that tournament. Hopefully we can do better than we did last time.”