ORANGE Hockey women’s president Michelle Stevenson believes, right now, women’s hockey in Orange is “between a rock and hard place”.
The finals for the 2014 women’s Premier League Hockey season begin this weekend and, for the first time since 2003, no Orange side has qualified for the post-season following largely disappointing campaigns from Orange Ex-Services, Kinross-CYMS and Confederates.
The slump - the worst since Feds, CYMS, Canobolas City and Ex-Services all missed the play-offs 11 years ago - throws up the question: is there enough talent in Orange for three women’s PLH sides?
“I believe so,” Stevenson said.
“We’ve got seven division one sides in Orange and three premier league teams. So seven into three is a pretty good feeder system.
“Kinross-CYMS have a changing team all of the time ... Ex-Services started the year slowly and probably dropped a few crucial games that hurt their semi-finals chances and it’s only Feds second, third year.
“It took Ex-Services five years to become a competitive team.”
Quashing any potential merger between clubs, Stevenson said the only real drama in 2014 was treading the fine line between blooding junior girls slowly and over exposing them against the current competition guns - Lithgow Panthers, Parkes and Bathurst clubs City and Souths.
“You don’t want 13- and 14-year-olds playing Panthers and getting flogged,” Stevenson said.
Quality is obviously not a problem for Orange hockey.
In the space of two years, Jade Warrender and Edwina Bone, two players who forged junior careers in Orange have played for the Hockeyroos.
Then there’s the likes of Madie Smith, Rachel Divall, Chloe Barrett, Kate and Haley Butcherine, Sam Hopwood and Kate Wilson, to name a few, who’ve all delved into representative hockey at various levels in the last three years.
Yet, in 15 years of women’s PLH, only two Orange sides have emerged victorious - Orange City in 2001 and CYMS in 2002.
In favour of three teams based in Orange, Ex-Services coach Mitch Kennewell believes the woeful season suffered by the city’s premier league outfits can be attributed to an “experience gap”.
“There’s probably a few girls close to retiring and the next step down there’s no girls in their mid 20s,” Kennewell said.
“In four of five years we’ll have those young girls experiencing premier league in their 20s and we’ll have three teams in a similar position to Bathurst now.”
Kinross-CYMS coach Pete Shea said the decision made on the future of any Orange team should come down to two things.
“Whether or not we want to expose the juniors we have to a high level of hockey or do we want to become more competitive,” Shea said.
“And I think if we want to become competitive then we need to have a serious discussion about merging sides. Competitive hockey will also improve the standard of hockey we’re playing.”
He said the flip side to reducing numbers meant fewer opportunities.
“If we reduce teams to two or even one, there’s nowhere for our kids to go.”