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Woodford’s Leel looking forward to a new chapter with Harvard hockey

PUBLISHED: 14:00 15 May 2020

Lucy Leel playing for Saxon Tigers in the Futures Cup (pic Stephen Leel)

Lucy Leel playing for Saxon Tigers in the Futures Cup (pic Stephen Leel)

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Former Crostyx player Lucy Leel is taking her hockey talents Stateside to play for Ivy League Harvard.

Lucy Leel playing for England (pic Stephen Leel)Lucy Leel playing for England (pic Stephen Leel)

And the England junior international, having won national awards for Crostyx and Southgate, cannot wait to embark on a new and exciting life adventure.

“I’m thrilled and can’t wait to get to Boston and meet the whole team in person,” said Leel. “Given the global situation many things are up in the air on timings, but getting back to sport is secondary compared to protecting people’s lives.

“I’m spending lots of time training in the garden and the Harvard coaching team have a strict programme in place, including weekly online catch-ups and advice from the coaching team on wellbeing, keeping fit and updates on how the season may play out. It’s already intense remotely!”

Sixth form pupil Leel is in her last few weeks of school life at Forest School, where she is deputy head girl.

Lucy Leel in action for Forest School (pic Forest School)Lucy Leel in action for Forest School (pic Forest School)

“The school have been fantastic in supporting me during my university application process which started 18 months ago and the remote study programme they have put in place currently is working so well for all pupils,” she added.

“The Forest sports team have also been amazing, going as far as delivering disinfected gym equipment to our front garden. I promise they will get it back!”

Paris-born Leel has been a lifelong resident of Woodford, starting her early years at Churchfields Primary School, and with a Scottish father andWelsh mother, nationality has always been a household topic.

“My Dad was really upset when I first played for England but he came round to it,” she said. “The whole family have been so supportive of the training regime that requires serious commitment beyond just the player. But Six Nations rugby is a very interesting time in our house!”

Lucy Leel in action for Southgate (pic Peter Joarder)Lucy Leel in action for Southgate (pic Peter Joarder)

Leel began playing hockey at Crostyx at the age of nine and stood out early on.

“Originally I was a tennis player, but one day at Churchfields the Crostyx team turned up as part of the club’s community programme to give a hockey taster session. That was the end of my tennis career – hockey became an obsession!” she added.

Former Crostyx coach Simon Blockley said: “We spotted Lucy’s potential at an early age and she is a player who naturally operates on many levels in a game.

“We nursed her into our second team when she turned 13 where she experienced the world of senior hockey under Carla Preston, our incredible captain who is a keystone of the club’s development programme.

Lucy Leel in action for Southgate (pic Peter Joarder)Lucy Leel in action for Southgate (pic Peter Joarder)

“When Lucy was ready we brought her into the first team squad and she made a huge impact on and off the pitch. We worked closely with the England Hockey coaching team to ensure her club programme was aligned with the national focus.

“Lucy has been the trailblazer for a programme that continues to run at the club to this day which focuses on developing young talent to its full potential.”

Leel added: “Crostyx is a unique hockey club with a big family-orientated focus. Everyone looks out for each other.

“The junior and senior sections are so well integrated that my early hockey heroes were the senior players at Crostyx! I wanted to be just like them and the coaches, umpires and players always made time to help me when I asked. Crostyx allowed me to develop at my pace – something that doesn’t happen at all clubs.”

Jo Everett, junior development co-ordinator at Crostyx, said: “Crostyx junior programme is all about inclusion whatever your ability; we want our athletes to have the lifetime benefit of making friends and connections whilst learning sport as a life skill.

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“No-one knows where the discipline and commitment of sport can lead but in Lucy’s case it’s helped her secure a place at Harvard and we look forward to Lucy helping us to inspire the next generation of local youngsters.”

Leel moved to National League club Southgate in 2018 and helped the under-18s win the National Indoor title, finishing second in the Golden Stick as tournament top scorer.

“That was a difficult decision for me, as Crostyx will always be my hockey home, but I wanted to play National League hockey and test myself on the big stage,” she said.

“Crostyx were fantastic and helped me through the transition. A lot of Crostyx members would come and support me at Southgate when possible and that made a big difference.

“It was an amazing weekend – very intense as the tournament went down to penalty shuttles against Repton. All of us in that squad and our families were in floods of tears when we won.

“The years of hard work and commitment for all of us just burst out in the players, coaches and the families. I will never forget that one.”

But now a new chapter awaits on the other side of the Atlantic and Leel cannot wait, with Ivy League games going to golden goal seven-a-side extra time if ending level.

“When I was invited to visit Harvard back in February I was amazed at the facilities and professional level at which the Ivy League is run in the States,” she said.

“They play an intense three-month season in the fall, with multiple games per week played on the east and west coast. All games are streamed live via ESPN – it’s the premier hockey league globally and has a very international profile in terms of players and audiences.

“I’m really looking forward to that aspect of the game, It allows players to work as a team but then let their individual talents out of the bag when the time comes.”

Coach Tjerk van Herwaarden has redesigned the Harvard hockey programme and put in place a formidable coaching team including former US national players Liz Jacobson and Kelsey Kolojejchick.

He brings his Dutch national coaching experience to Harvard in a bid to turn round the team’s fortunes of the last five years and Leel said: “I’m really enjoying working with Tjerk and his coaching team already from afar. I have always admired and wanted to learn the Dutch style of play as the Netherlands are masters of our game.

“Harvard entry is a long process which involved writing essays on global social, economic topics and sitting international SAT exams which were tough. During my visit in February to meet the coaching team, I also had to be interviewed by the Harvard Admissions Board and explain my personal values, goals in life in addition to my views on many important topics of our age.

“Harvard has extremely high academic and social commitment standards which all students must strive to in order to make the world a better place for us all.”

Leel plans to study Physics at Harvard, although that may change as the US system offers subject flexibility for students, but knows she will miss Woodford.

“The Essex hockey family have been so supportive to me over the years and continue to be,” she said. “So many of them are involved in protecting us all in the coronavirus fight, their selflessness is humbling. One of our neighbours Pauline is an incredible nurse – when I get my first Ivy League goal it will be for all of them.

“I have a huge list of people who have coached and helped me at club, county, regional and international level whom I will never be able to thank enough. These are all people with regular day jobs who just love hockey, share their passion and knowledge of the game freely week in, week out, whatever the weather. They are the real hockey heroes.

“Then there are the local business sponsors who are huge and unsung supporters of junior hockey, without whose involvement hockey would not be where it is in Woodford. I’ll miss all of the hockey community and I hope to see familiar faces in the crowds Stateside occasionally!”

Crostyx president Sarah Belsham summed up another successful, but challenging year, under her helm by adding: “At Crostyx there are a cohort of youngsters we work with who achieve and no doubt will soon register on the nation’s radar.

“We wish Lucy and all our young players heading on to pastures new the best of luck in their next steps. I am sure they all know they will always be welcome at Crostyx and Woodford Wells.”


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