Tess Howard is having to pinch herself after capping a whirlwind year by scoring one of the goals that sent Great Britain women’s hockey team to next summer’s Tokyo Olympics.
The 20-year-old former Cambridge City Hockey Club midfielder produced an instinctive finish to get the first goal of the second leg against Chile on Sunday, as GB secured an overall 5-1 play-off victory.
It was this time last year that Howard was first called into the GB squad, for the FIH Women’s Champions Trophy in China.
“I do have to pinch myself and try not to get too carried away,” she said. “It was three months since I had watched the World Cup and had the feeling of ‘this is what I want to do, I need to be part of the team’.
“Fast forward, and it’s over a year since the World Cup and it’s almost a year to the day since my debut.
“It seems like my whole life has changed but at the same time, the love of the game is still there and that’s why I do it.
“It doesn’t matter where you play, just playing hockey is good fun.”
It meant that the former St Faith’s and The Perse School pupil Howard was immediately back in training at club side East Grinstead, rather than taking the chance to rest up after her weekend heroics.
GB had won the first leg against Chile at Lea Valley last Saturday 3-0, but they had no time to rest.
“It is strange, especially with less than 24 hours between your first game and second game, but we knew that our recovery strategies and our fitness was going to be much higher than Chile’s,” said Howard.
“We had an advantage of playing back to back, and after you win the first game you can’t wait to get out and play again.
“We called it half time so as soon as the whistle went for the first game, we went into a huddle and said ‘that’s one done, next one tomorrow’.”
Howard helped ease the nerves in the fourth minute, with GB’s first shot of the game.
Assisted by Hannah Martin, she flicked up the pass and instinctively hit a reverse-stick shot for her sixth GB goal and 30th international strike at all grades.
“We knew the first goal would be so important as it’s an aggregate score and if they’d scored the first goal we would have been really nervous because they would just need a couple of counter breaks,” said Howard.
Laura Unsworth got a second, three minutes later – the fifth of the tie – before Chile got a late consolation.
“I’m absolutely ecstatic,” said Howard. “We’ve been building for such a long time.”
She knows that the hard work starts again for the squad as they look to build to replicate GB’s gold-medal winning exploits in Rio, and secure their individual places on the plane to Japan.
“It was really difficult to talk about the fact we were in the Tokyo cycle without having qualified yet,” said Howard. “Every bit of my body wants to be there so it’s very real now and very exciting. I just have to take it one month at a time.”