When Kendal Ladies Hockey team take to the field on Saturday a journey will be completed which many believed was scarcely possible.

A decade ago, the club were plying their trade in the Netherwood League which is a far cry from the elevated perch they now occupy.

Fast-forward ten years and Kendal are set to embark on a new dawn and make history as the first-ever Cumbrian team to play in the Investec Women’s National Conference North.

It has been a rapid rise and one player who has been in the heat of battle for the duration of the ride is current skipper Nicola Martindale.

And the 28-year-old admits she never envisaged strutting her stuff and representing the town at national league level when joining the club as a teenager.

“We’re definitely proud as we’ve really developed over the last ten years and the progression has been amazing,” she said.

“It’s always been a bit of a pipedream but to actually achieve it is fantastic.

“A decade ago, I wouldn’t have thought we would be able to make it to this level as it’s a massive step from where we were. We have just built and built as time has gone on.

“As a player your ambition is always to play at the highest level you can but this seemed out of reach. There is plenty of excitement around the club at the moment

“It’s been hard at times preparing for this season because it’s all very new to us but we’ve really stepped up as a club.”

Given their progression through the ranks, Martindale and Co. have not been part of the furniture in any league of late – a balance she hopes can be redressed over the coming years.

Kendal rounded off their pre-season preparations with a narrow 3-2 defeat against an England Masters side last weekend, after previously recording victory on the road at Bowdon.

The fixture list has been kind in so far as the campaign starts with a home tie against Whitley Bay and Tynemouth at Kirkbie Kendal School.

And with many teams in the division well-established at this level, Martindale is keen to evoke the underdog spirit ahead of the new season with a firm intention to spring the odd surprise.

“It’s good we have got the home game to start with where we can try and get off to a positive start,” she added.

“A lot of the teams in this league have their own clubhouse or their own hockey pitches and we’re the only ones playing at a school with no clubhouse.

“So it’s all a bit different and a big step for us but hopefully we can use that to our advantage and be something of an unknown quantity.

“It’s going to be hard work and a challenge and the aim is to avoid relegation, stabilise and build from there in the years ahead.

“Teams won’t know what to expect and hopefully we can work hard as a team and pull out some results.

“We don’t know exactly what we’re up against or what the season will bring but I have great confidence in the squad and the players we have to perform and get results.”

Evoking memories of Great Britain captain Kate Walsh, who fractured her jaw ahead of the London 2012 Olympic Games, Martindale has endured a similar fate.

The midfielder suffered injury in the warm-up game against the England Masters which rules her out of action for the time being and prevents her taking the field for Saturday’s curtain-raiser.

“I’m really proud to captain the side, it’s going to be an amazing year,” she said.

“Sadly though I got injured last weekend when I cracked my cheekbone and broke my nose so I’m not going to be able to play on Saturday unfortunately.

“I’m absolutely devastated but I’ll be there in the dugout cheering the side on but it’s heartbreaking not to be able to play in the first game after all the hard work.

“Hopefully I will be back in two or three weeks.”

Although Kendal finished third in the North Premiership last term they gained promotion due to the teams above already having representation in the National League.

Despite the new kids on the block tag, Martindale believes there is plenty of talent at coach Jon Elleray’s disposal to send out a few shockwaves during the upcoming campaign.

“Last season was tough but despite coming third I still believe we were the best team, we just didn’t always show the consistency needed to get the results we deserved,” she added.

“We’ve changed formation this time around to suit how teams play in the national league and I’m confident we can put in some strong performances.

“We have a good blend of youth and experience in the squad with the likes of Vicky Jones who has been a key player over the last ten years.

“There is also Rosie Dale, who is only 15 but a real star of the future and we have a host of skilful, young players that will go far in the game.

“Having built a squad as we’ve gone through the divisions, we have really good balance with everyone in the team having an important role to play.”

Reporter: Ross McLean, The Westmorland Gazette

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