Ex-Services start at the top

ORANGE Ex-Services will today begin their 2014 women’s Premier League Hockey season faced with the daunting task of tackling the competition’s toughest side.

Lithgow Panthers have been the premiership’s dominant force for the last two seasons, dropping just two regular season games in 36 minor premiership fixtures throughout 2013 and 2012.

Although Lithgow didn’t translate regular season success into a premiership in 2013 - Panthers lost last year’s grand final 2-1 to Bathurst St Pat’s - Ex-Services coach Mitch Kennewell is preparing his understrength outfit for a tough 2014 season opener.

“They’re always strong, they’re a tough side,” Kennewell said, with Ex-Services hosting Panthers on Saturday at the Orange Hockey Centre from 2.35pm.

Kennewell added his side must play to its strengths to compete with the might of Lithgow.

“I think in the past we’ve been guilty of watching the ball and getting caught in the arm wrestle against sides like Panthers. We’ve got to play smarter and be a couple of steps ahead,” he continued.

“We’ll struggle this week, but a win isn’t out of the question.”

Ex-Services will struggle, as Kennewell puts it, on Saturday simply because of numbers.

The early March season start means the blue and golds will be light on for numbers to begin another women’s PLH campaign.

Not deterred, however, by the absence of last year’s stars Cat Ironside, Kate Butcherine and Sam Hopwood for the duration of this year’s season, nor the temporary loss of Steph Wilson and Kylie Watts through injury, Kennewell looks set to use today’s round one match as the perfect chance to experiment position-wise.

Ex-Services finished last season’s minor premiership in third as the highest Orange women’s PLH side, and Kennewell is determined to again see the blue and gold succeed in 2014.

“We’re a bit light on this week,” Kennewell said.

“We’ve got a few girls playing in new spots so this week will be a good chance to have a look and see how they handle that.”‘

nick.mcgrath@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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