Tess Howard taking the biggest step

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On the 17th November, six world-renowned international hockey teams descended onto Changzou, China to compete in the 23rd FIH Women’s Hockey Champions Trophy, in a week of high-quality sporting action.

Amongst the visiting teams this year are reigning World League Champions, Netherlands, 2016 winners Argentina, but most importantly for us, Great Britain.

Even more significantly, this year Durham second-year undergraduate Tess Howard was called up to join the eighteen-strong squad, to help them follow their Olympic gold medal-winning performances in Rio two years ago.

I spoke to Tess about how she was feeling ahead of the tournament, and just generally about her hockey career so far.

“I guess I’ve had a hockey stick in hand for around eight years now”, she tells me, having originally played rugby until the age of eleven before switching to play for Cambridge City Hockey Juniors on a Sunday instead.

It was here that she first fell in love with the game: “anything can happen,” she explains, “the rules of the game are designed to allow for team and individual flair.”

And the ability for individual flair has certainly not been lost on Tess. Playing in the centre of the park she is always at the centre of the action, well known for her creativity, having last year been DU women’s top goal scorer.

Tess’ career trajectory is certainly as impressive. Whilst playing for Cambridge City she was invited to train with the Ladies’ 1st team aged only fourteen, whilst on the very same day she “received a surprising letter that I had been selected to trial for the under-sixteen England squad.”

She didn’t get selected that year, but did not give up there, and was later selected for her debut in 2014.

Moving from this, she won a European Bronze medal in 2015 with the under-eighteen’s squad. As recent as this summer she was playing for Great Britain under-twenty-three’s team in the six nations.

Despite all these successes, Tess remained with her feet on the ground, stating “I never expected a call-up to trial for the Great Britain senior team,” going on to say how “proud and grateful” she is to be given this opportunity with such a great team, with “an inspiring legacy and future.”

We then moved on to how Tess has been able to balance her university work as well as her sporting commitments. She thanks her love for both the sport and the work saying “there is no motivation needed to do both.”

In fact, she said that balancing work and sport was her “normal”, having done it for so many years, but that the hardest thing for her has been trying to balance social commitments around this as well.

Clearly being a top-level athlete requires a little more time on the sports field, and a little less time on the floor in Klute or Jimmy’s.

The Castle second year was clear to me in her commitment to both her sport and her degree. “I will do both sport and studies with the same effort and diligence as I am passionate about both”, she tells me.

Tess does concede however, quite clearly, that for the few weeks her hockey is her main priority.

Despite this she has thanked the support of the university, her team mates, and Team Durham with her work whilst being away from the North-East.

And with her lectures all being recorded, she is still able to keep up with the world of Geography.

Looking ahead to the Champions Trophy, Tess says she feels “no pressure at all”, at being the youngest player in the Great Britain squad; “I am very ready to just go out and express myself.”

Despite being the youngest player in the squad, she is not the only debutante travelling to China.

In fact, Erica Sanders will also be joining the team, having played with each other at under-twenty-one level for some time now, Tess was pleased that they were playing alongside each other once more, saying that they “connect very well, so it will be a special moment to play with each other on the big stage.”

At the other end of the scale, the Great Britain squad is littered with players who command immense respectability, having donned the shirt over a hundred times during their careers.

Tess was incredibly positive about playing alongside them, stating “it just lifts me, inspires me and makes me work even harder.”

Great Britain’s first match was against hosts China on 17th November, on the opening day of the tournament.

Tess however remains focused: “I don’t think I will be nervous about playing,” she tells me, “I just will focus on playing the game I love with exceptional teammates and trust the process.”

She will certainly be supported all the way, with both of her parents making the long trip to Changzhou as well.

Support has also been arriving thick and fast from inside the team. As part of her move into the senior squad Tess was thrown a welcome ceremony on the Monday of her arrival at training; describing the event, she called it “the highlight of my experience so far.”

During the ceremony, the head coach David Ralph told her to “stay true to who you are”. This was followed by words from the captain, Hollie Pearne-Webb, on what joining the senior team meant.

This clearly left an impact of Tess, who said she left the evening feeling “incredibly fortunate and inspired”.

So with just a few days until the first game, there seems little left for Tess to do but stay focused and look forward to what is sure to be a life-changing experience.

Not that it sounds like she needs it, but we certainly wish her the best of luck!

Photograph: Will Palmer

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