IF YOU’RE good enough, you’re old enough’ so goes the age-old cliché, although that can be overused when young athletes are thrown onto the front line.
However, that particular expression would certainly not be an overstatement in the case of Reading’s Mila Welch – the 15-year-old goalkeeper is the youngest player in the Investec Women’s Premier Division.
Having clocked up an impressive ten appearances so far this season, Welch has made a name for herself at Sonning Lane since joining Reading in January 2016.
Before that she had played for Marlow Hockey Club for threeand-a-half years, where – understandably perhaps – her young age was a barrier and she struggled for game-time.
A student at Sir William Borlase’s Grammar School in Marlow, Welch endured the setback of failing to make the cut for England Under 16s last season, but made sure to put that right this term.
For such a young age, Welch has already experienced the highs and lows of the sport, but offers a mature and level-headed approach to what she has to do to further her hockey career.
“I moved to Reading because of the ladies team, and all the opportunities I would get if I moved,” she said.
“I also wasn’t getting played as much as I would have hoped at Marlow so I moved in here and got all the amazing opportunities I thought I would.
“I hope to go to University and concentrate on my hockey at the same time. I’m currently in the England Under 16s so hopefully I can improve there and get into the seniors one day.
“I did trial for the Under 16s squad last season, but I didn’t make the cut unfortunately. This year was better and it’s been good to learn more and more there.
“Considering I am quite young, I am happy with how my season’s gone. I’ve played against Team GB Olympians which was quite intimidating at the start, but I’m now quite used to it.
“I believe I matched up fairly well to it compared to other keepers who are older than me. My target is always to have a clean sheet.”
Welch showcased her star potential further when she was selected for the Mercia Lynx team in the Futures Cup in St Albans in September 2016.
Golden girls from Rio 2016 such as Alex Danson, Sam Quek and Kate and Helen Richardson-Walsh have all sported Reading colours in their careers.
But it’s another Rio gold medallist that has caught the eye of the young goalkeeper.
Welch said: “It’s a bit obvious, but Maddie Hinch is an inspiration of mine because she’s the best keeper in the world. But I also admire the Netherlands’ keeper Joyce Sombroek.
“Hockey has definitely got more popular since the Olympics, particularly in the girls section because they’re trying to get more girls into sport.
“Winning gold medals is very inspirational for girls around the country to start playing hockey.”
While the season has been far from ideal for Reading, with the ladies first team relegated from the Premier Division, Welch is happy with the training and atmosphere at her club.
And she insists she will look back fondly on her debut Premier Division season, and on some of her performances which have caught the eye.
“My best moments are saving three penalty flicks this season,” she said. “I remember one against our rivals Slough, but unfortunately we didn’t win the game. Penalty flicks are very scary, so I’m very happy to save them.”
Welch is not the only exciting young prospect at Reading; Abbie Dixon also plies her trade at Sonning Lane, and like Welch has represented England internationally at Under 16 level.
And so regardless of this year’s setback, the future could well shine brightly on the Sky Blues.