Smillie heaps praise on Witches

“THIS is the best squad we have assembled since 1998.”Those were the words of Ipswich Witches team manager Mike Smillie at a wet and windy Foxhall Stadium yesterday, as the 2006 Suffolk side were introduced to the press for the first time.

“THIS is the best squad we have assembled since 1998.”

Those were the words of Ipswich Witches team manager Mike Smillie at a wet and windy Foxhall Stadium yesterday, as the 2006 Suffolk side were introduced to the press for the first time.

And it was quite a claim bearing in mind the 1998 side went on to win the Elite League, KO Cup and Craven Shield - an impressive treble and an impressive team.

Not that Smillie was indicating there would be a repeat of that type of success in 2006 - just that the Witches have a good look about them and few would disagree.


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“The play-offs are a must for us this season,” said Smillie.

“The team spirit is excellent already and I would say everyone in this team is capable of upping their average. That is key to having a successful side. We have a lot of potential in the side and a good mixture of youth and experience.

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“Behind Coventry last season we won more away meetings than anyone, but we dropped too many points at home and that is something we hope to put right.”

Although no track practice was available yesterday because of the weather, there was a good feel about the new season among the Witches riders and management.

Skipper Chris Louis summed up the thoughts of many of them.

“This is a great squad,” he said.

“We have had a tough couple of years since Scott Nicholls left, trying to replace him. We have done our best and I think this season we are going to be very competitive.

“Obviously Mark (Loram) coming into the side has been the big story and it is great to have him back.

“We have a team of riders who all want to be here and that is important and I must admit I am more excited than I have been for the past two seasons.”

Kim Jansson has had surgery on a shoulder in the winter - a shoulder that he dislocated on a number of times in crashes last year. He is looking forward to testing that out when the weather relents, while Piotr Protasiewicz also said he was glad to be back and that it had always been his intention to do so.

Protasiewicz is the Witches only Grand Prix rider this season and he is fully aware on how his season finished on a low note in 2005 with some below-par performances. He wants no repeat performance on that score.

For Loram the season can't come quick enough. Away from Foxhall for 17 seasons, the Stowmarket-based rider is clearly relishing the opportunity to ride for a club that has been on his doorstep for years, but he has made few appearances for.

The last British rider to win the world championship, in 2000, Loram was bullish about the Witches prospects this season.

“This sport is all about people who can up their averages,” he said.

“I think I can up mine and I don't expect to be sitting among people who think otherwise about themselves. We have young guys who can improve and I have come to a club I feel has a lot of ambition.”

2006 line-up

1 Mark Loram,

2 Kim Jansson, 3 Piotr Protasiewicz,

4 Robert Miskowiak,

5 Chris Louis, 6 Jan Jaros, 7 Daniel King.

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