The air starts to get a little crisper, the leaves start to get a little browner, the days start to get a little shorter; summer is slowly but inevitably giving way to autumn, and a new lacrosse season is upon us. Ever since the final whistle on the flags final back in April, lacrosse players have been starved of their favourite weekly opiate, sustained by the occasional weekend at Bluesfest, the Summer League, or maybe even a European tournament. The return of the Premiership means that the perennial questions of who will be champions, who will be challengers, who will be relegated and who will finish where in-between will all be answered over the next few fantastic months of action….first of all though, your premier lacrosse equipment and apparel retailer Pioneer Sports will review last year’s season and attempt some predictions of this year’s lay of the land.
As the reigning champions, Hampstead are the first club to be examined. This time last year our predictions where uncertain, as no one but club chairman Dennis Tobin knows exactly who could be turning up at the Westway on any given Saturday. Few could have predicted a litany of Lizards, and the litigious outburst their arrival and involvement in two crucial games in consecutive weeks caused. Opinions aside, the powers that be did not intervene and after wins over title rivals Spencer and Hillcroft (and boosting of what turned out to be crucial goal difference), Hampstead were crowned Premiership champions after surviving a nervy game against East Grinstead. In a truly David versus Goliath match up, the team who would ultimately be relegated led the champions elect all the way into the final quarter before conceding a flurry of late goals. Although doubts remain about who will be on the roster from week to week, Hampstead have proven they have the infrastructure in place to win the league, but only time will tell how their season will pan out.
One final thing to mention on the subject of Hampstead is the fantastic fund raising efforts of Dennis and the club for the victims of the Grenfell Tower disaster. Hampstead’s home ground is in the shadow of the tower block and the club raised hundreds of pounds after an exhibition match with the English national team. The money being donated to the clubs de factor club house, The Pig and Whistle. A laudable action which the club should be applauded for.
Hot on the heels of Hampstead and eager to return the non-existent premiership trophy to their ever swelling trophy cabinet will be Earlsfield based powerhouse Spencer. A successful summer which saw victories at: Bluesfest, the Bath 8s and most recently Spencer Day, saw a number of fresh faces reinforcing the already formidable ranks. In a somewhat surprising move, Andy Price’s arrival could nudge Rick Bone out from between the pipes. Just in front of whoever wins out the Spencer goalie battle will be a new pole, at least while Tom Leahy nurses a shoulder injury sustained while representing England at the Box Lacrosse European Championships. Although there may be one or two question marks at the back, from the midfield forward Spencer are still spoilt by a plethora of talent, and may be in the fortunate but difficult position of deciding who to leave out.
Once more looking to dethrone the incumbent champions and depose the perpetually successful Spencer is Hillcroft. The team who finished in third place last year eradicated the costly draws and losses against teams lower down the league which had impeded their progress in previous years. Another club with a switch in goal, the arrival of Tobias Cleaver-Ross from Blues will fill the void left by Matthew O’Leary while he serves a 6 game ban. With a strong core of players pushing for international spots over the next year, if Hillcroft can produce wins in two or more of the four games they play against Spencer and Hampstead (as well as avoiding any other blemishes) this could be their year.
Outside of the top 3 and taking up the Arsenal position is Blues. The return of England international Oliver Barratt and Tangerine warrior Benjamin “Button” Scola will bring talent and dynamism to the defence, while Dave Cluney’s adventures in Turku, Finland over the summer will bring another level of craftiness to the attack. Although Blues may have experienced a malaise of sorts, any team will write them off at the peril. Battling Blues in quite the opposite colour is the Wildcats of Reading. Although the gravitational pull usually drags young professionals from the clutches of Reading to the Big Smoke, this year could see a reverse with a number of young players heading Westerly for their Saturday lacrosse. A strong Loughborough contingent of Ben Buchanan and Ed Pete will be two fresh faces buttressing the Reading ranks.
Between hovering just below the top half of the league and teetering just over the precipice of relegation are Cambridge University, Cardiff Harlequins, Hitchin, Bristol Bombers and Welwyn Warriors. Over the summer, Welwyn have cast themselves as the next (potential) Leicester City, returning to the league much stronger than they were just prior to their departure at the end of the 2014/15 season. In what seems like an endless summer of goalie changes, Ben Stowe will don the black and red and attempt to recreate his Iker Casillas esque feet saves in the Premiership. For the other teams around them, the season may bring trials and tribulations, but consistency and commitment will be the recipe of both survival and success.