Stam and Amsterdam thrilled to finally take on EHL Women’s challenge

Lauren Stam is thrilled the long wait is almost over for AH&BC Amsterdam to finally battle to become the first EHL Women’s champion at Easter. 

The competition is a long time in the making with the introduction of EHL Women announced back in October 2018. Amsterdam duly won the final edition of the EuroHockey Club Cup in 2019 and were looking forward to make the next step last Easter, hosting the new-look competition at their Wagener Stadium base. 

But the Covid-19 pandemic pushed everything back, adding to the excitement for Stam and her teammates as they try recapture some of that 2019 mood . 

Lauren Stam, left, with Kimberly Thompson and Anne Veenendaal following their Hoofdklasse success in 2019. Pic: Willem Vernes/World Sport Pics

“It’s really exciting,” she told the EHL website. “We are really happy to play this year and looking forward to the FINAL4 games. 

“2019 was such a great year, really happy memories. We were in a really good flow with our team. Everything fell into place. We worked really hard together and even when we didn’t play our best, we managed to win which is so important.  

“The flow was really good, the trust in our staff, the improvements we were making that year. Even when we lost games, we kept believing.” 

The club added the Hoofdklasse title that season into the bargain, marking it out as one of Stam’s most cherished memories since joining the club from nearby Xenios when she was 12-years-old. 

Now 27, she has won gold in every international tournament – either underage or senior – she has played in, including the Under-16 and 18 Euros, the Junior and Senior World Cups, the 2017 and 2019 European Championships, the Champions Trophy and the Pro League when she scored the golden shoot-out. 

But, on the club front, things are never quite so simple. The 2017 and 2018 Club Cups both ended in defeat at the semi-final stage to UHC Hamburg in shoot-outs while their rivalry with Den Bosch has been epic for a long time with victories going back and forth. 

In action against Oranje-Rood in 2019. Pic: World Sport Pics

And it is their Dutch rivals they will meet first in the FINAL4 on April 3 with over 15 current Dutch internationals between the respective squads. With such a close bond internationally, it makes for a strange rivalry. 

“It is hard to describe,” Stam says. “We have become friends through the years with the national team but when we are on the field, everyone wants to win, but also wants to entertain.  

“During the game, we are not friends but everyone has that feeling and respect for each other. There have definitely been some heated moments. But it’s always not personal; it’s just in the moment and we can laugh about it afterwards.” 

Indeed, facing the likes of Frédérique Matla, Laura Nunnink, Lidewij Welten and Marloes Keetels is probably among the toughest opponents she will face anywhere in the world. 

“I now know them so well as we are always playing with each and against other; they know what I am going to do and I know what they will do. It’s really challenging but I always look forward to these contests!” 

Amsterdam did get the league bragging rights when the sides met earlier in 2021 thanks to a single Noor de Baat goal but Den Bosch currently have the edge in the league table by two points. 

“We are in a good place right now but it is difficult to get the same feeling as 2019 [in the current environment], especially when you are not able to do all the same things outside the field that you are normally able to do. Those things improve your team development. We try to think of other possibilities but it will always be different. 

“[For example], the girls who are not internationals were not able to play in November and December, it was quite a big change to be able to play one-on-one again.  

“First, they could train in groups of four and then it became stricter; they could be in groups of two and then not within two metres of each other. It was quite a change in January, physically they had to adjust quickly to us [the internationals].  

“We forgot sometimes they hadn’t trained as hard as we were able to. The girls worked really hard are now on the same level so all complements to them. It must be mentally hard for them to train like that. 

“January was a good month to rebuild that trust; we did it well and I think we are in a good place. It was a good game against Den Bosch; unfortunately we lost to hdm but I see improvement in every training, everyone is really focused on the goals we want to achieve this year. I trust the development of the team is going well.”