A group of young Northern Irish hockey stars matched the blazing temperatures in Nottingham with some red-hot performances as they earned rave reviews for their displays.
The Ulster Pumas, formed of elite Under-13 players from across the province, headed to the Under-13 Girls’ Regional Trophy in Beeston and not only drew the plaudits but also came away with the victory.
Led by captain Ruby Johnston, the Pumas overcame Tensworth, West Panthers and South Wales in the group stages before setting up a Final against South Wales again when they defeated Staff Marauders in the last-four.
And in a much tighter game than their group match, the Pumas emerged victorious thanks to Sophia Simmons’ strike as they held on for a 1-0 win to lift the trophy.
It was an outstanding tournament for the young Ulster girls, who were hailed by those in attendance for their professionalism as well as their fantastic performances, which saw them rack up 23 goals and concede just two in their five matches.
The Pumas have been set up to maximise the potential of these elite players and the sessions are led by specialist coaches, each of whom are leaders in their field and who are invited in by the Pumas to take sessions.
The programme is unique in that the players receive the benefit of elite coaching across various sporting disciplines and from a range of different coaches.
And that expert coaching shone through as, in temperatures peaking at 33 degrees, the girls battled through the heat and showed their class by winning four of their five outings on their way to the silverware.
It is hoped that many of these girls will go on to bigger and better things, with captain Johnston named Player of the Tournament, with a call-up to the UK Lions squad accompanying that.
Katie Heron and sisters Rebekah Lennon and Rachel Lennon — daughters of head coach Ivor Lennon — are all members of the Irish Under-16s squad that recently featured at the Eight Nations tournament in Spain, while the trio, as well as three more of the Pumas team, have been part of the Ulster Under-16s squad as well.
The team was set up by Lennon when Rebekah and Rachel reached P7 age and realised there was nothing for them at that age, and it certainly appears to have worked with the pair of them called up to the Ireland under-age set-up.
Ulster Pumas squad: Emily Dunwoody (RSA/Portadown LHC), Kirsty Fong (Banbridge Acc/Lurgan LHC), Sophie Tate (Banbridge Ac/Portadown LHC), Ruby Johnston (captain) (Banbridge Ac/Dromore LHC), Maggie Scott (Royal School Armagh/Portadown LHC), Tara Kennedy (Banbridge Ac/Dromore LHC), Nyla Mallon (Strathearn/Pegasus HC), Zara Hopkins (Friends SL/Lisnagarvey HC), Lucy Megaw (Clounagh JHS/Portadown LHC), Nancy McCusker (Banbridge Acc/Banbridge LHC), Sophia Simmons (Royal School Armagh/Portadown LHC), Alana Thornton (Strathearn/Pegasus HC), Abigail Emerson (Lurgan JHS/Lurgan LHC), Millie Dowds (Lurgan JHS/Lurgan LHC), Beth Cuthbert (Lurgan JHS/Lurgan LHC), Grace Adamson (Killicomaine JHS/Portadown LHC).