BEN Rhydding celebrated another milestone on Sunday when, for the first time, their under-16 girls' side became qualified for the England Hockey National Finals.
They won their North qualifier after a tough day at Repton School, which left their supporters’ nerves in tatters.
First up were Neston South Wirral and, in an unusually fast start, Ben Rhydding took an early lead, Izzy Weir converting from a short corner before Kirsty McMillan fired home from open play to double the advantage.
Freya Bellamy, in great form throughout, notched two further goals before Becky Hadfield fired in from close range for a 5-0 lead at the break.
Neston regrouped at half-time, however, and came out strongly in the second half as Ben Rhydding failed to maintain their early tempo and gave the ball away cheaply.
The defensive unit held firm, however, Nisha Cant, Milly Fewlass-Jones and Evie Malir dealing capably with Neston's attacking threat.
A much more even game ensued, and a late goal from Anna Pateman, following some great support play from Ella Mawson, sealed a great win for the Yorkshire side.
Next up were Repton, also with a win under their belts and determined to make the most of home advantage.
Ben Rhydding were caught by a barrage of attacks as Repton allowed them no time to settle and confidently closed down any attacking forays.
The Ilkley side looked shell-shocked and struggled to cope with Repton's pace, conceding a goal shortly before half-time, which reflected the balance of play.
A stern half-time talk, however, meant that a different Ben Rhydding side emerged for the second period – one that was determined to match the pace and intensity of their opponents.
A stunning run from Bellamy took her past two defenders down the right flank before she fired in a cross which was superbly deflected by Pateman at the far post to get Ben Rhydding back on level terms.
Repton’s concentration then lapsed and Ben Rhydding piled on the pressure, some great attacking play from Lucy Williams seeing her drive into the D before slipping the ball to McMillan to lift over the diving keeper.
There were ten minutes left on the clock and Ben Rhydding were not about to let their lead slip.
Rachel Scott and Weir marshalled the defensive flanks, driving the ball up the lines to threaten the Repton defence. Hadfield, Williams and Imogen Sunman gave no quarter in midfield, soaking up the pressure and finding space to drive forward.
Repton threw everything into attack but could find no way through, and Rhydding took a nail-biting victory.
In the final fixture against Brooklands, Ben Rhydding needed a draw to win the group.
The ultimate end-to-end game ensued as both sides went agonisingly close on numerous occasions.
Jemima Jaggar worked tirelessly in attack, ably supported by Niamh Brennan, who made some fine runs into space, crossing the ball into the area and forcing the Brooklands defence into action.
At the other end, keeper Sophie Dale had her busiest game of the day, saving her side on numerous occasions with some crucial point-blank stops.
With the midfield visibly tiring, Cant and Malir kept their composure to clear the defensive lines, finding Scott and Weir in space to relieve the pressure.
Both sides saw open play and short-corner opportunities go begging as they strove for a breakthrough, but the game ultimately ended in stalemate – a fair result from two evenly-matched teams.
The result meant that Ben Rhydding topped the group and qualified for the national finals at Lee Valley Olympic Park next month – a huge achievement for the girls and the club.