Gerniers and Gantoise looking to make more EHL history

Gantoise captain Alix Gerniers is looking forward to making an impact on the field this year at the EHL Women’s FINAL8 following a high-energy watching role last year.

They became the first Belgian women’s team to reach the last four of European top tier club competition since Uccle’s silver medal in 1979. 

For Gerniers, it was tough to miss out on the playing side through injury having been part of the club’s first team for over 13 years. 

Last year was Gantoises’s debut in the top level having risen from the fourth tier in 2018’s EuroHockey Challenge II, encompassing a remarkable 93-game unbeaten run between April 2018 and October 2022 in the Belgian league. 

But the captain was not about to let her playing absence weigh heavy on the team. Bedecked in a vintage club shirt, her positive, impassioned image on the sidelines, beamed onto the big screen and the live streams, showed her determination to have some sort of impact on her team mates.

“You can turn it around how you want,” she said of her attitude. “Of course, it was a pity for the team and myself I couldn’t join them on the pitch. What I loved was the girls and coaching staff really wanted me to be there, join them at the hotel. 

“In those times, you can show your bad side and not want to be there. Or you could do like I did! Honestly, it was zero effort and I just enjoyed the experience of trying to lift the team but this time I definitely want to be on the pitch.”

It culminated in a famous 2-1 win over Surbiton in their debut before pushing Den Bosch to the limit in the FINAL4, falling 2-0. In the end, they finished fourth as Junior FC pipped them 2-1 in the Bronze Match.

This year, Gerniers heads up another young outfit with an average age of 23.1 years of age, one not shy of handing places to teenagers – 15-year-olds Fee van den Abeele and Alexi van Remortel have both shone this season since debuting this season.

Gerniers, herself, made her first team entrance at a similar age and she says it is a level of faith the club has in its youth development to give players their chance early on.

“Seven or eight years ago, the club had some difficulties and the staff looked at how they could make it one of the biggest clubs in Belgium. 10 years later, it has gone quite well! 

“There is a good director of hockey and good management behind it training those girls. The effort we have put in it has created that young talent and, honestly, they deserve to be in our team. Some 15 and 16 year olds are in our starting line-up and I love to see it, seeing them grow in the team. As the older ones, we try to bring our experience to help them be the best they can be.”

This week, they start with a nicely poised challenge against Club de Campo de Madrid, the 2021 finalists, before facing either Pembroke or Sanse Complutense.

Gerniers says her side are in decent form but know that first challenge is a vital one.

AMSTELVEEN Euro Hockey League Finals 2021-2022 23 Bronze: Gantoise HC v Junior FC Picture: Alix Gerniers. WORLDSPORTPICS COPYRIGHT FRANK UIJLENBROEK

“We are super excited to start the competition. It’s something we all look forward to, something extra to our championship, and it is great in general for the club to be there again. 

“We had some good moments and some less good in the Belgian league. Maybe we were too busy thinking about the EHL in the last few weeks and forgot about our competition. But last Sunday we wanted to get that good feeling and picked up a 9-1 victory over Leuven. It is a good one for the confidence and we are now ready to go for it on Thursday.

“We definitely know Campo are one of the best in Spain for the past few years and we know it will be a really tough game but also a really nice one. We have good qualities; they have some amazing qualities so it will be the team who wants it the most! It’s a totally different style to us in Belgium but we have a plan and are ready. It is an equal match-up and we hope it goes our way!

“If we win against Campo, we have a big, big chance to get into the final. Of the other two sides, we met Complutense in the Trophy a few years ago and won against them. So there is a chance if we get through to make it on to the final and write history.”