Hucknall’s flag no longer flies as high as it once did in non-league football. But the town’s name remains a byword for success in the sport of water polo.
To prove the point, Hucknall Water Polo Club brought home another national title this week. For Hucknall Ladies lifted the Women’s Championship Two trophy for the second season running in the British Water Polo League.
Their triumph, at Leeds University, also guaranteed their place in the Second Division for next term and capped a remarkable revival in their fortunes. Newly promoted, they started the campaign with four straight defeats. But they’ve ended it with nine wins from ten matches, including three from three at Leeds in the four-team, end-of-season play-off event.
Encouraged by a vocal band of supporters, they defeated the veteran team English Roses 8-6, City Of Birmingham 8-2 and finally Manchester Comets 6-4. English Roses were stunned by a revelatory display that underlined how well Hucknall have developed over the year and tempted rich praise from proud coach Tim Dunsbee.
“The first three periods were unbelievable!” shrieked Dunsbee. “To dominate such an experienced team in the way we did was truly epic.”
Goals from ever-prolific captain Rachael Endy (4), Cara Saunders (2) and Giorgia Bosworth raced Hucknall into an 8-1 lead by the end of the third quarter, with Cass Mercer leading a defensive lockdown at the other end. Dunsbee’s troops only lost control in the last quarter when a bizarre decision by the referee penalised Endy for a brutality offence, meaning they had to play for four minutes with a player short.
Roses pulled back five goals, but goalkeeper Naya Patel made some outstanding saves and an exhausted Hucknall side held on.
Against Birmingham, the locals stuck to a game-plan that kept the opposition pegged back. But their promising junior players shone too, with determined defence and quick breakaways, following the example of Stacey Roe, who swam down attacking opponents, stole the ball and marshalled offensive plays.
The goals were shared by Laura Woodfield (2), Helen Reader (2), Saunders (2), India Wilkinson and Rose Bitowt, but Lynsey Wilson and Amelia Peters were also excellent, harassing Birmingham into poor passes.
Hucknall needed different tactics against Manchester, a well-trained, young side with fast hands. But in an end-to-end match, all players swam flat out to combat the Comets and build meaningful attacks. Both Woodfield and Reader completed hat-tricks to cap a weekend to remember in the history of Hucknall water polo.