Hockey: Slocombe's boost: England women's training initiative

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THIS weekend's break in the women's National League programme, unwelcome as it is for many of the clubs, is a big boost to England's chief coach, Sue Slocombe, and her management team as they continue their quest for a medal in July's World Cup in Dublin.

Nearly 50 hopefuls, with ages ranging from the 17-year- olds - Anna Bennett, of Slough, and Chelmsford's Caroline Gilbert - to the 32-year- old England captain, Sandie Lister, will assemble this evening under Slocombe and her assistants at Bisham Abbey.

Two late additions to the selection are Ealing's Sarah Lawfull, one of the successes of the recent Under-21 World Cup in Terrassa, and Helen Whalley, who, since joining Sutton Coldfield at the beginning of the season, has produced a series of impressive performances.

Slocombe, talking of the new idea of a combined training squad for senior and under-21 players, said: 'It has exciting prospects and is a positive way forward for English hockey. For the younger players, it will give them an early introduction to the demands of international hockey, which these days are extremely challenging.

'We have some talented young players but they need to be fitter and stronger as a unit,' Slocombe added. 'We have a depth of players. The final 16 selection, planned for mid-March, will be difficult.'