When losing is winning for champs

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The Southern women’s ice hockey team, the defending national champs, are used to regularly losing seasonal matches – because they play against men.

Despite the losses, Queenstown-based centre Julia Freeman hopes they’ll retain the title at this year’s New Zealand Women’s Ice Hockey champs starting in Auckland tomorrow.

“We’re used to losing,” Freeman laughs.

“The only way you’re going to get better is to play people who are better than you, so that definitely helps us out. We play a lot of defence instead of offence.”

The team, comprising Queenstowners Ashling Swirtz, Kristyn Ouimet, Ali Macharg and coach Dave Dubnick, play in the Southern men’s non-checking league during the season.

Other team members live in Gore, Dunedin and Invercargill.

“It’s just a practice for us because we’ve got nobody else to play because it’s too far to travel to Canterbury every weekend,” Freeman says.

The women have had one win this season – a hard-fought 5-2 victory against Gore – but losses against Alexandra (12-0) and Gore (10-1) were par for the course.

“Even though the scores didn’t reflect how we played … [the men] know they’re obviously better than us but they’re still supportive because we’ve got nobody else to play.

“They certainly don’t go easy on us, they don’t let up just because we’re girls.”

The women have been hunting for sponsorships to help pay for the Auckland trip – it costs each player $850, Freeman says.

“We’re a really focused team and we want to go up to the nationals and win the whole thing.”