Ipswich pacesetters face do-or-die duel
PANIC is a word you won't hear mentioned in pre-finals talk involving the Hancock Brothers women.
After breaking a 33 year premiership drought in 2012, Hancocks have been regular grand finalists. This year they wrapped up the minor premiership virtually by the halfway stage of the Ipswich A-grade season.
It's a sign of the quality players the club has produced.
However, Hancocks were overrun 4-1 by Wests in last weekend's major semi-final, leaving the early pacesetters facing a do-or-die situation on Sunday.
After looking certain grand finalists for several weeks, Hancocks have suddenly been thrust into a preliminary final against a resurgent Norths side.
It's a predicament experienced coach Brendan Eleison has seen many times during his loyal service to Ipswich hockey teams.
"There's no panic stations,'' Eleison said, in his third season with the side.
"We can't look too far ahead.
"This weekend is another elimination final and Norths have proven they can step up in the finals' arena by beating Swifts/Thistles, who are very experienced in finals' campaigns.
"That's a bit of a wake-up call for us.''
Eleison knows he has a well-equipped side built about Australian Country player Sara Rogers, tenacious defenders Caitlin Sippel and Justine Parkes, and having firepower up front from Jade Hooper and Elyse Smolenski.
Loyal Hancocks juniors like Natalie Davison, Elyse Smolenski, Kelly McNamara and Brendan's state and national schoolgirls representative daughter Layla add speed and enthusiasm to the midfield.
But after some recent lapses, they need to regain their winning momentum after promising so much this season.
"That (playing the preliminary final) can work to your advantage, not having that weekend off,'' the coach said.
Hancocks have overpowered every opponent this season - in the Ipswich and combined competition with Toowoomba - except for Wests.
Last weekend's qualifying final was the latest instance of the Magpies surprising the minor premiers.
"They certainly played better than us and deserved their win,'' Eleison said of Wests, who have this weekend off before preparing for the grand final.
"We struggled to capitalise on any opportunity we created.''
Eleison concedes he's yet to work out why Wests have some sort of hold on his team.
However, he wants nothing more than a shot at them in the grand final if his team can eliminate Norths from the title race.
"It (the loss to Wests) was one of those games where we were just below par in all aspects of it,'' Eleison said, providing his usual honest assessment.
"We know we can improve on that.''
A 6.30pm preliminary final at Raceview on Sunday will test Hancocks' character.
"It's not ideal to play the last game of the weekend,'' Eleison said.
"But Norths are in the same boat.
"It's just a matter of us preparing the best we can and hopefully come out with a bit more enthusiasm and bring our game plan together.
"We're full strength. No real injury worries.''
The men's A-grade preliminary final between Hancocks and Easts is at 5pm on Sunday.
Most of the senior preliminary finals are being played on Sunday due to the Ipswich Hockey gala awards function tomorrow night and the junior grand finals on Saturday.