The Widnes Wild women’s team can boast another international player in their ranks after Sophie Sinclair-Reeks recently played for the Team GB Under-18 women’s team in a 4-team tournament in Hungary.
The GB team lost 11-0 to Poland and 10-0 to hosts Hungary before beating last year’s tournament winners Spain 4-2 in their final game and Sophie was appointed one of two Alternate Captains for the tournament.
Obviously, it is only the very first step in a long process before she may eventually become a fully-fledged international but she does have inspiration close at hand. Widnes team-mate Leen de Decker is a Belgian international player who played at several World Championships and held the record number of appearances for Belgium and Sarah Hutchinson – who played for the Wild women last season – has just recently come back from Kazakhstan where she played for Team GB in the Olympic qualifying tournament.
We started off by asking Sophie how it felt when she heard that she had been picked to play for the GB under 18 team in Hungary….?
“I honestly just couldn’t believe it, my mum got the email while I was at work, when she picked me up she told me and I was genuinely blown away! Confidence has always been a huge struggle of mine; it was beyond imagination that they had chosen me!”
For people who don’t know how it works, what sort of process did you have to go through to be selected?
“Initial trials were held last January, where the original squad was cut from. Monthly we have training camps at ice Sheffield where players can be cut, or new players added if they have been scouted from games or recommended.”
What does it mean to you to represent your country?
“Pride. When I came home from the trip, I honestly just kept crying! There is genuinely nothing like standing on the blue line with the national anthem playing after a win. Since I was 5 it has been my dream to play for my country, and I genuinely couldn’t believe I was doing it!”
You were appointed Alternate Captain for the tournament – how did that come about? And how did you find the experience?
“We were kitting up for our first training session in Budapest when I was pulled out the changing room! My first reaction was I thought I was going to be sent home! Turns out I wasn’t in the end! We had a brief conversation about the prior training camps and how I had impressed both on and off the ice. Then I was asked how I felt about being given the A. Probably the hardest thing was trying not to cry! The experience was difficult to begin with, primarily because it was so completely unexpected. It gave me an incredible opportunity to show my leadership qualities and bond with the team. It was an incredible honour.”
How were the games themselves as regards opposition and skill levels?
“The games themselves were very difficult, the team was relatively new together and it took time to get used to each other. The biggest shock to me was the physicality of the games, especially against Poland. I played at an academy in Austria over the summer, so I knew a few of the players, especially for Hungary. From every game we took more and more, each classroom session after the games we were learning and it truly showed in our last game against the Spanish women’s side. Everything we had learned came together and each and every member of the team played incredibly!”
What were the overall highlights for you of the trip?
“The biggest highlight for me was beating the Spanish and standing on the blue line with the national anthem playing. It had been a tough week for all of us, especially with the losses to Hungary and Poland, but that final win was incredible.”
How did you get on with the other Team GB girls?
“I was nervous before I went, I hadn’t done England girls so I didn’t know many of them, but it took less than an hour to get to know each and every person. I honestly feel as though I’ve made friends for life there, there’s no mates like hockey mates! Everyone becomes so close in a matter of days; you eat together, play together and sleep together.”
It has already been a long journey from the 4 year old whose first ever experience on ice was on the Trump ice rink in New York City’s Central Park while on a family visit.
Sophie’s mum Mandy takes up the story at this point: “She got into hockey a couple of months later at Deeside when a steward spotted her and suggested she tried ice hockey at their novice night. As soon as she got hold of a stick and puck she was hooked and joined the Deeside U10 squad.”
She played her first game age 5 and played for Deeside U10s for 3 seasons when she moved to Manchester Phoenix where she captained the U10s and played up for the U12s. More recently she decided to switch to the girls game and the following season played for Sheffield Shadows U16s whilst also training with the Widnes Women. As soon as she reached 16 she started playing for the Widnes Women and was also successful in being selected for the GB U18s.”
Talking before the tournament, Team GB women’s coach Cheryl Smith spoke about the selection policy: “There was a lot of competition for places, which shows the women’s programme is very healthy at the moment. Obviously there are a lot of new faces from last year’s tournament and the World Championship in Austria. We have so much exciting young talent coming through the system at the moment. This will be excellent preparation for the squad to play in a competitive environment and some will be doing it for the first time. We will learn a lot about the squad and it is good preparation for January’s World Championship.”
So what comes next for Sophie? Well, she is still only 16 and is studying A Level Economics, Politics and Business Studies at school in Chester. She is keen to enjoy success with the Widnes Wild women’s team and has also joined the Deeside Under 18s to get more ice time and practice.