Teams set for merge

Circular Head Hockey Association players and coaches, including (from left) Mustangs’ Dylan Jago and Joanie Coker, Tigers’ Melissa Stokes, president Kylie Monson, Tigers’ Jodi Smith and Irishtown’s J’Quai Horton are set for a change in the roster’s structure as round one starts this weekend. Absent: Robins Hockey Club. Picture: Ashleigh Force.

CHHA. Circular Head Hockey Association will launch the 2017 season this weekend with a change to the roster’s proceedings.

The loss of a Division Two team has resulted in the merging of both grades playing in a combined seven-team roster.

Teams will generally remain unchanged, keeping to the Div Two and Three format.

CHHA president Kylie Monson says the move will increase the standard of hockey within the region by supporting younger players.

“Playing against the higher levels, they will be able to gain experience, learning and developing as players, and bringing up the standard of hockey,” she said.

“The Div Two teams are not going out to overpower the Div Threes but hopefully use these games as tactical games [for] trying new things and helping grow the youth that is the future of hockey.

At the conclusion of the roster, the traditional Div Two and Three sides will separate again into their respective grades for finals.

In addition, the roster has been extended from 18 games per season to 21 including three rounds of double headers with one team taking a bye each week.

The decision has been met with mixed responses as coaches prepare their teams to take to the turf for round one.

Tigers’ Div Two team has lost two valued players in coach Melissa Stokes to the Smithton Hockey Club in the Greater Northern League and Hannah Tuxworth, however gains two of the club’s Div Three players in Taylah Stokes and Frances Archer.

“The girls have put in a great pre-season and are continuing to push themselves and work hard,” Melissa said.

“We’re fortunate enough to already have a solid base, so we will continue to build and work hard on that.”

Melissa said the club would use the roster restructure as an opportunity to develop less experienced players.

“I’m hoping that everyone goes in with a supportive and positive mindset with the merge, especially towards the younger and inexperienced players.”

Speaking from experience, Tigers’ Div Three coach Jodi Smith said she hoped the change would not dishearten younger players if they should encounter large score deficits.

“I hope that doesn’t happen this year, where the Div Three teams get annihilated by a huge amount as it’s not good for the morale,” Smith said.

“I hope it doesn’t turn people away from playing. But in saying that, it does force the Div Three teams to play harder, better and stronger because they need to against the Div Two teams.”

The reigning Div Three premiers will retain half of last year’s Grand Final squad and gain five new players.

“We’ll learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses and how we merge as a team as the season progresses,” Smith said.

“My goals for the club and my Div Three team are to continue to be strong and skilful competitors, show great sportsmanship on and off the field and to help out where we can to make Circular Head hockey the best it can be.”

Irishtown will retain both its Div Two and Three coaches in Alex Mainwaring and Mary Allen.

The Div Two side loses four key players in Donna Porteus, Abbie Hite, Emma Ling and Melinda Brown, however gains the experience and skill of former GNL player Bek Lardner.

“Despite having a slightly different team this year, the team is shaping up to gel together well and deliver some good results,” Mainwaring said.

“As a club, we are always looking to ensure we have a mix of experienced and new faces.

“Of course, we are looking to get the best results possible from both grades, but we’re always looking to see improvement from our juniors, keeping the club in the strong position and seeing enjoyment from everyone involved.”

Mainwaring said the change to the roster “presents a unique challenge” but hopes Div Three squads will “gain valuable experience” from meeting with stronger sides.

Due to players stepping up to the GNL and moving away from the region for education and work commitments, Robins struggled to field a Div Two side this season.

However club veterans Christine Spinks and Jackie Poke say the club will use this opportunity to foster junior development and strengthen the club.

“Hopefully the more experienced teams, when playing weaker sides will use it as a chance to try new ideas and positions but yet still encourage and help the weaker opposition.”

While the club had not confirmed a new full time coach at the time of reporting, former coach Leighton Poke will assist the squad.

Mustangs will welcome Dylan Jago as the Div Three coach as Keegan Popowski returns to coach Div Two.

Popowski said the club is looking strong after retaining most of its players while gaining former GNL players Ali Dennison, Melinda Gray and Mollie Turner. Aysha Gray will also step up from Div Three to play alongside her mother.

“The reliability of the strong defence team of Ara, Tei and Nakore Popowski well supported by Joanie Coker is a hard crew to get past,” Popowski said.

“Our young team of forwards have well developed skills and I look forward to seeing what they can achieve this year.”

Round one of Circular Head Hockey Association will take place this Saturday from 9.30am with Div Three Robins and Mustangs first followed by Div Three Tigers and Irishtown at 11am and Div Two Tigers and Irishtown from 12.30pm. Div Two Mustangs will have the bye.

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