Ayeisha's thrilled to net All-Star USA honour
Ulster and Ireland goalkeeper Ayeisha McFerran has been handed a major accolade with her selection for the all-American Colleges' team-of-the-year which is regarded as the highest honour in sport at that level in the United States.
The 21-year-old from Larne earned the recognition following a series of outstanding performances for the University of Louiville and beat off competition from no fewer than 66 other goalkeepers in the process.
McFerran is also viewed as Ireland's top keeper and she will shortly be returning to Graham Shaw's squad as preparations for next year's World Cup in London intensify.
A leg injury ruled her out of the European Championship in Amsterdam but she is now fully fit again and looking forward to playing in the showpiece for the first time.
McFerrans' heroics in penalty shoot-outs have become her trademark and she still regards helping Ireland reach the final stage of qualifying for the Rio Olympics as her finest achievement.
She was the heroine of the World League 2 final victory over Canada in Dublin when she saved three penalties although her team mates let her down in the next qualifying event in Valencia a few months later.
Despite an outstanding performance in yet another shoot-out, it was China's win in sudden-death that earned them and not Ireland a ticket to Rio.
However, qualification for the World Cup has gone some way to easing the pain and her latest award has put the icing on the cake for the former Randalstown and Pegasus stopper.
McFerran said: "I'm absolutely delighted to have been picked for the All-Star team along with two other girls from Louisville which is an amazing achievement for the university."
"The team is picked from all 67 Division One college teams that play field hockey in the States, so over here it's a big enough deal.
"It was tough for me missing pre-season with the injury and the start of the season itself and to come in with the freshmen in front of me as it took time to get used to playing with each other.
"But we then had a massive turnaround beating Duke who are ranked second in the country to make it to the final of our Conference.
"That was a great achievement as we'd never made it past the first round before and we then reached the last 16 of the NCAA tournament. With her college hockey commitments tapering off after Christmas, McFerran is eagerly anticipating her return to the Ireland set-up.
She added: "My coaches here are super-supportive of my playing for Ireland and being available as much as possible through the academic year, so I can't wait for the World Cup."
Meanwhile, with the big local derby between Pegasus and Belfast Harlequins falling foul of the weather, Ards, who lost 1-0 to UCD in Dublin, were the only Ulster team in action.
An early goal scored by Abbie Russell proved to be the difference between the teams leaving Ards captain Caroline Adams disappointed. " We were happy with a good, disciplined performance and our work-rate but we made some simple mistakes and, in this league, that is usually costly," she said.
In the only game to be played in Ulster, Rainey have been left to concentrate on Premier League survival following a 1-0 loss to Catholic Institute in the Irish Hockey Trophy at the indoor arena in Magherafelt.
Results: EY IHL: Loreto 1 Cork Harlequins 3; Monkstown 2 Trinity 1; Pembroke 2 Railway 3; UCD 1 Ards 0; yesterday: Pembroke 1 Monkstown 0.
Irish Hockey Trophy: Rainey 0 Catholic Institute 1.