The South’s season kicks off this Saturday with games in five of the six divisions and Danny Buckland reports on the summer moves and new signings that promise an exciting and high quality season.
Hampstead start their title defence with a home game against former serial-champions Purley who came within two goals of the drop from the Premier League last season.
The intriguing match-up will show how the north London team’s revolving door line-up will shape up this time and how much the Surrey team can use their epic relegation play-off victory as a springboard for better times.
New boys East Grinstead travel to Blues but the Sussex team know what to expect and will be eager to prove their term in East 1 was just a blip.
Welwyn play Hitchin in a local derby and Cardiff have the first of a series of lengthy trips to London to face an ambitious Hillcroft side determined to climb up the rankings.
Spencer entertain Reading in what is always a fast-paced and entertaining encounter. The Earlsfield club looks strong this year and the Wildcats have recruited well so this should be the pick of Saturday’s action.
Some clubs have been reluctant to reveal their armoury before the first shot is fired on Saturday but here are some pointers to this year’s Prem action.
HAMPSTEAD – Champions
The Men in Black were worthy league winners last season and will be setting their sights high again.
The usual high turnover makes it difficult to gauge their strength but the team will be built around the solid core of Payson Bullard, Kyle Witt and Ryan Myerburg – a star for England at the Euros.
Last season’s stats were impressive. They scored 215 goals and lost just one league game, to second place Blues. They only went out in the Flags in double overtime to eventual winners Spencer.
But Hampstead chairman Dennis Tobin is cautious: “We are hoping to do as well as last season and on paper we have a good team though we may struggle to get them out consistently.
“Work and family commitments will hit us throughout the year. We have lost 5 or 6 and gained the same amount so we will have to see how it works as a new team going forward.”
Free-scoring Mikio Yamaguchi departs but in his place Chris Khatri returns. Face-off specialist Jason Gilmartin has also left but they have picked up pole Liam Smith, who was a starter at Providence College seven years ago.
Game 1: Purley (H)
BLUES – 2nd
Blues will be challenging on all fronts with a strong squad lining up behind keeper Andy Hunt, the talented former Brooklands netminder. Face-off giant Matt Birkett misses the start of the season following a hernia op and defender Andy Behles’s work commitments will keep him out of the line-up for a few weeks.
But they have Jon Arthurs back to strengthen the defence and middie Dave Cluney makes the short journey from Purley.
LDO Tyler Steinetz will give extra offensive fireworks and take over face-off duties until Birkett’s return.
“We want to play a more expansive game this season without ripping up the system that worked well for us last year,” says debut captain Hunt. “We finished second and although we got battered in the Flags Final, you still have to get there.
“Tyler will link up well with the attack and give us a bit more firepower upfront and we’ve got a few players refreshed and ready to go after performing well at the Euros.
“The competition will be tough again and I think Spencer are looking strong this season. But we haven’t had too many changes and we aim to go one better in both competitions.”
Game 1: East Grinstead (home)
SPENCER – 3rd
Spencer won the Flags last season but the triumph was still tinged with a hint of disappointment over their league performance. This year they are determined to close out the ‘nearly’ games and mount a big challenge for the title.
Significant changes in D after England u-19 Bill Fisher left for uni in Manchester and Robin Foster looks unlikely to feature until late in the season because of a knee injury.
But they are strengthened by the arrival of D-men Johnny Clarke of Poynton and Tom Bailey from Heaton Mersey.
This season’s LDO is the exciting middie talent Khol Meyer, of Mary Washington, in Virginia. The athletic, free-scoring #10 can also face-off and Spencer will unveil another offensive threat in an Australian attacker who will slot in with the power duo of Sam Dunwoodie and Rob Holmes.
“We came up a bit short in a few games last season which was disappointing and we certainly want to be challenging for the title this time round,” said captain Liam McGreavy. “We’re in good shape and really looking forward to the season.”
Game 1: Reading (H)
HITCHIN – 4th
Hitchin have gained Cardiff captain Adam Grey who has moved to the area for work. Daniel Wills goes in the opposite direction
Game 1: Welwyn (A)
HILLCROFT – 5th
They proved they could live with the big boys as the central core of ex Warwick University players continued to mature alongside some seasoned veterans and stylish signings.
New captain Alex Twiss said: “I am looking to capitalise on the increasing ability of the players and enhance the team organisation that will allow us to flourish.
Hillcroft has been building for four years and their second team has enjoyed back-to-back promotions and has reached a position to feed players into the first team.
“It’s had a huge impact on the club and also on the first team.
“We now attract more and more graduates from Universities across the country, capitalising on the continued expansion of lacrosse at that level. The competitiveness of the seconds allows these players a chance to play regular lacrosse and impress the first team captain in the process.”
The club’s youthful profile has helped establish a vibrant social side and Twiss added: “There is a great atmosphere throughout the club and, with a couple of new recruits, the first team is better than it has been for a number of years.”
Game 1: Cardiff (H)
READING – 6th
The Wildcats welcome a pair of defensive powerhouses in Will Devlin, a 6ft 3in tall pole who hovered up 44 ground balls during an outstanding season for Mary Washington that won him a slot on the All-Star game. Alongside him will be Colin Shaw of Wagner College in Philadelphia who won regional representative honours.
Game 1: Spencer (A)
CARDIFF – 7th
Game 1: Hillcroft (A)
WELWYN WARRIORS – 8th
The club has worked hard to bring young players through to its first team and coped well with the heat of the Premier League dogfight to stay out of trouble with an 8th placed finish.
The youth policy inevitably means players depart for university and this year’s trio of losses is middies Adam Kee and Alex Deeble along with pole Danny Kelly.
Experienced Dan Reid, last year’s captain, and defender Tom Melvin have left for Northampton in East 2.
But the Warriors, one of four in the South with three teams, have promoted 17-year-old defender Harry Armitage to the first team squad along with middie Alex Harper and attacker Adam Smith.
Veteran Jon Tiley steps down a team and is replaced by former Cambridge Uni keeper Sam Spurrell.
Middies Matt Stephens and Kyle Maundrell join from Portsmouth and Nottingham Trent universities, respectively.
This season’s LDO is defender Kevin Helm, an All-American Div III honorable mention with Bates College in New England whose website describes him: “A physical and disruptive force in the back, Helm led the Bobcats with 19 caused turnovers and collected 30 ground balls.”
Helm also starred for the college at American Football and lead the team in solo tackles as a linebacker. “There have been quite a few changes but we will still be a young team looking to establish itself. Our average age is 22,” said Tiley. “Obviously we need to get the team flowing as a unit and that may take a couple of games but we will be going out there with no fear.
“We did well last year with a young team and will be looking to repeat those performances. We have lost a lot of players to university recently but as they return, the club will get stronger.”
The team will need to gel quickly as they face a tough local derby against Hitchin in the first game
Game 1: Hitchin (H)
PURLEY – 9th
Purley’s attacking threat is seriously ramped up by the arrival of LDO Matt Carey, from New England College. He scored 29 and had 24 assists in his senior season with the Pilgrims. He will be joined by German attacker David Schweizer as the Warlingham-based club looks to improve on its basement return of 74 goals last season.
The club has trained well during the summer and staged a number of six-a-side nights to encourage new and local players.
“We want to be on the move from last season where we struggled over the first half,” said new captain David Copple. “The more rigorous pre-season has helped and a few younger players have come through.
“We’ve placed a new emphasis on getting a strong junior programme and hope to build up to a second team that will provide a stream of players for the 1s.
“It’s clearly going to be a very competitive league this year but I think we’ve got a really good chance. It’s going to be a dogfight at the bottom, but one we’re absolutely ready for.”
EAST GRINSTEAD – Promoted
They were the highest scorers in the South, firing home 258 goals in 18 games and only conceding 39 for a stellar goal difference of 219.
East Grinstead’s roster has remained stable but for the absence of Chris White who went to Birmingham last year and will be confident they can make the grade.
They were unlucky to go down in an ultra-tight lower half of the division in 2011/12 with only six points separating the bottom five clubs.