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23 March 2007 PR 07/38

Loughborough men’s hockey team qualify for inaugural Champions League

Loughborough University’s men’s hockey team have confirmed their status as one of Europe’s top club sides by qualifying for next season’s inaugural European Champions League competition.

The University side, coached by former Scotland international David Ralph, qualified last weekend with a 2-1 victory over Beeston to cement a top-three place in the English first division.

Their place, however, was not confirmed until an appeal from fourth-placed East Grinstead over a technicality in their 3-3 draw with Hampstead and Westminster in an earlier game, was rejected on Wednesday.

Had the appeal been successful, Sunday’s match between the University side and East Grinstead at Loughborough would have decided who got the third and final place in Europe next season.

“It would have been absolutely massive had they won that appeal because it would have been the decider between the two of us on Sunday,” said Ralph.

“It takes a lot of pressure off us, which means that we can rest a few guys with niggling injuries ahead of the BUSA (British Universities Sports Association) final against Birmingham next Wednesday.”

The league, which is structured like football’s Champions League, involves 24 teams divided into eight pools of three. Each team in the pool then plays each other over a weekend with the top two of the pool going through to the final 16, which then a becomes straight knockout tournament.

Ralph added that qualifying for Europe was just reward for his young side, which has an average age just under 21, and cemented the University club as one of Europe’s best.

“I’m absolutely delighted. To qualify for the first year of this fantastic new competition is just unbelievable.

“We’ve been in the top three or four in Britain for the last five to six years so its good to have broken through to European outdoors competition,” he added. “I think it just confirms that we can compete at this level.”

While the side had secured its future, Ralph said they had not begun to look at next season yet, especially with Great Britain Olympic squad members likely to be restricted from club play next year while some of this year’s squad are expected to graduate.

Ralph said while he was hoping to see a few move on to postgraduate study, the team spirit that had built up this year may convince some of the players to remain in the area anyway.

“A few of them are keen to see it out because they are all so young and they get on so well, the team spirit is just unbelievable I haven’t seen anything like it. They enjoy each other’s company so much.”

Ends

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Notes to editors

Loughborough has an established reputation for excellence in teaching and research, strong links with industry, and unrivalled sporting achievement. Assessments of teaching quality by the Quality Assurance Agency place it in the top flight of UK universities; the National Student Survey ranked Loughborough in the top five among full-time students; and industry highlights the University in its top five for graduate recruitment. Around 40% of Loughborough’s income is for research, and 60% for teaching. The University has been awarded five Queen's Anniversary Prizes: for its collaboration with aerospace and automotive companies such as BAE Systems, Ford and Rolls Royce; for its work in developing countries; for pioneering research in optical engineering; for its world-leading role in sports research, education and development; and for its outstanding work in evaluating and helping to develop social policy-related programmes.

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