Young Gun...

The Hockey Paper - - FOCUS ON YOUTH - MILA WELCH

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.

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