Wow, another week has gone!
I really wanted this blog to be as professional and as well written as I could manage. However, time is so precious right now that I’ll be satisfied if what I write makes sense and isn’t just gibberish. Proof reading is a luxury I simply cannot afford.
So, what is it that has taken up all my time?
Well, if you remember I had a visitor from Germany, Sebastian Laux. As well as determining his table tennis abilities I was determined to give him the best week in Britain I could muster. For me, that means walking and lots of it. I dragged Sebastian everywhere; North Wales (incredible walk near Rowen, “St. Celynin’s Church and Tal Y Fan” as well as fish and chips at Conwy and a walk on the pier at Llandudno), the Peak District (beautiful walk and BBQ at The Roaches) and the Lake District (Tarn Hows, Ambleside and Keswick) before checking out Lyme Park on the way to the airport. Did you get all that?
On the table tennis front Sebastian, Jonny and Scotty ran a hugely successful two day training camp for 12 kids at the Barrow Table Tennis Centre. From the reports I have received from the kids, they thought it was excellent and Barrow Coach Mike Yardley agreed. So, a big thank-you to Sebastian, Jonny and Scotty for their efforts and here’s hoping many more such training camps take place in th future.
As well as coaching in Barrow, Sebastian got chance to meet a lot of the team as we trained and ate lots of Chinese together. I have to say that Sebastian is a great guy; he fit in well and is a true team player. Not only that, he is a good table tennis player. This left-hander with a good brain will be causing a few teams problems in next seasons British League Premier Division.
So, that is a quick update. I’ll sign off with a couple of small pieces of team news. We have signed England Number 3 and three times England National Under-21 Champion Darius Knight and Britain Number 1 and triple European champion Paul Drinkhall. No, seriously
The Barrow school has three teams in the English Schools Table Tennis Association finals after a remarkable year of success.
The under-13s girls, under-13s boys and under-16s girls teams will all be eager to claim the silverware after coming through county, area and regional events to reach the national finals in Hinckley, Leicestershire.
Under the guidance of teacher Karen Griffiths and former England coach Denis Neale, the three teams have all excelled this year.
“We’re absolutely delighted for the kids,” said Griffiths, herself a table tennis player.
“They have been training and working really hard.
“Last year we managed to get two teams through to the national finals, but to get three teams through this year is a fantastic achievement.”
Neale, too, has been impressed with the success of St Bernard’s against bigger schools from larger catchment areas.
“I think it’s fantastic for a school like St Bernard’s to have three teams reach the national finals when they have been playing teams from Manchester, Liverpool and the like – where there are more than 300 schools to choose from,” he said.
“For them to have three teams there on finals day is fantastic.
“I’ve been working with them for about the past 10 weeks and Karen, being a table tennis player herself, is a big thing in bringing the kids on.
“You can’t tell the team now from 12 weeks ago. They are all really keen and they really want to do well – they have developed a lot from the beginning.”
The under-16s girls team is made up of Shannon Trainor, Emily Edwards, Adele Bassett and Anna Donohue, the under-13s girls consists of Emily Cotton, Robyn Holden, Louise Kenneally and Katie Linton, while the under-13s boys quartet is James Coward, Ross Ahern, Anton Vacca and Brendan Trainor.
The teams have all had weekly sessions with Neale at the Barrow Table Tennis Centre, and in the school, with top local coaches Mike Yardley and Duncan Crawford both also lending their expertise.
“The coaching sessions and the extra practice have been really helpful,” added Griffiths.
“The combination of the practice they are getting in and out of school is a big thing and a lot of the kids are playing four or five times a week, which is what we need to compete with the other schools.”
Neale is hopeful the strength-in-depth of the St Bernard’s teams will hold them in good stead this weekend.
“The key to success at the nationals is having good depth,” he said. “You can have the best two players in England, but if your other two are no good you can’t win.
“With the St Bernard’s teams, they can all play at the same level, which gives them every chance.”Denis Neale and Tristran Swan, made it through to the northern finals of the English Schools Table Tennis Association Championships after strong showings in the county and regional events.
South Cumbrian teams won six of the seven events at the county finals, held at the Barrow Table Tennis Centre, while there were three champions and three runners-up at the North West event.
The Cumbria finals saw Holy Family, Dane Ghyll and Storth in the under-11s girls qualifying group.
Dane Ghyll and Holy Family had a close match, which just swung in the former’s favour, 5-3.
Ife Bamigboye and Megan Turnough were unbeaten, while Jessica Livesey featured strongly for Holy Family with two wins.
Holy Family went down 6-2 against Storth, Livesey winning twice.
The decider between Dane Ghyll and Storth was as close as possible.
Two wins each for Caitlyn Walker and Bamigboye secured a draw for Dane Ghyll. The teams were level on countback, but Dane Ghyll won on points, 288-287.
This put them into a final group against Askam and St Columba’s.
Despite some close matches, and a win each for Walker and Bamigboye, Dane Ghyll were unable to prevent their opponents facing off in the final once more.
Wins from Mia Gwynne and Tyra Rushton put the Walney team 2-0 up, before Sophie Ridgway edged Jasmine Halcrow in a real tight affair, coming from two games behind to win for St Columba’s.
Another win for Gwynne made it 4-0, before Askam staged a fightback with wins from Katie Moncrief, Jasmine Halcrow and Robyn Halcrow.
The title was secured for St Columba’s when Rushton came to the table and beat Robyn Halcrow in three games.
In the under-11s boys event, the same two schools reached the final.
Askam knocked out last season’s champions, Holy Family, with a 6-2 win, Brandon Corrie and Luke Greenway winning for Holy Family.
Askam also defeated a St Columba’s B team by the same score, Columba’s winners Louis Rourke and Ryan Cotton.
Luke Reid won all four games played for Askam, with Keir Shepherd winning three from three, Lee Irving and James Wallis two each, and Lian Knowles one.
On the other table, St Columba’s were comfortable winners against Dane Ghyll and beat Storth 7-1. Dane Ghyll lost 5-3 against Storth, Luke Maddox, Aaron Solsby and Cameron Bell all winning.
St Columba’s top pairing of Harry Mellen and Ben O’Flynn started the final against Askam powerfully and recorded straight-game wins against Reid and Shepherd respectively. Morgan Gwynne added to the total with a four-game success against Wallis.
The next three games saw the match hanging in the balance.
Knowles gained Askam’s first win, beating Lashmar.
Then Reid and O’Flynn showed some top-quality table tennis. The St Columba’s player took a two-game lead, but the Askam number one showed his fighting qualities and drew level.
Only at the end of the decider did O’Flynn find enough to take the win.
Gwynne still needed to hold on against Shepherd, before Mellen confirmed St Columba’s as champions.
One of the most keenly-awaited finals came in the under-13s girls, where both St Bernard’s and Dowdales had reached the national finals last year.However, while the St Bernard’s line-up had stayed the same, Dowdales had been strengthened by the addition of England Schools’ player Emily Bolton, who has moved to Year 7 from Askam School. She soon demonstrated her class with two straight-game wins.
Robyn Holden pulled one back for St Bernard’s against Ebony Miles after a close battle.
Despite this win, and Louise Keneally’s victory against Hannah Grimes, it was Dowdales who looked to have victory in sight when they led 4-2, Amy Moncrief and Miles both contributing.
But there were two further twists in the match.
Emily Cotton started a St Bernard’s revival by beating Moncrief.
In the final match, Grimes held a 2-1 lead after taking two deuce games. Katie Linton then suddenly found her touch and, with her own deuce-winning game took a 3-2 win.
This left the match score at 4-4, however, Dowdales took the Cumbria title with a superior games ratio of 16-12.
The rivalry continued in the under-13s boys event.
Both teams had comfortable victories against Dallam School to reach the final, where the strength in depth of St Bernard’s took them to the title.
Anton Vacca won both of his matches, while Ross Ahern beat Adam Brown and Brendan Trainor defeated Chris Lloyd.
St Bernard’s number one James Coward defeated Dowdales number two Jack Walker in four games.
Walker did make his mark with a straight games win over Ahern.
The star of the Dowdales team was number one Luke Walker, who finished undefeated with wins against Trainor and Coward, without dropping any games.
The final event of the Cumbria championships was the under-16s boys.
Here, St Bernard’s gained another win against Dowdales, 6-2.
Stefan Weatherburn and Dien Curtis won both their matches, while Tom Clements and Oliver Shipley both won one. The Dowdales wins came from Daniel Armstrong and Aaron Murray.
However, neither team could match the strength of the visitors from Dallam School, who only lost two matches in the three rubbers they played.
James Turner, of Millom, won one of those and proved the top Furness player, winning five of his six matches.
It was Cumbria girl power that led the way at the North West Finals against the best teams from Lancashire, Cheshire, Greater Manchester and Shropshire.
The under-13 girls teams from Dowdales and St Bernard’s gained wins against Sir Thomas Boteler High School, from Warrington, and, in very close matches, also defeated Bramhall High School.
The two teams then met for the second time this season, St Bernard’s reversing the result from the Cumbria finals to beat Dowdales.
Bolton was again the pick of the Dowdales players, while Holden showed she has returned to form with good attacking displays.
St Columba’s under-11s girls also enjoyed a good day.
They started their group with a draw against St Mary’s Preparatory School, Blundellsands.
Rushton and Gwynne both won their two matches, while Ridgway and Jenny Williams took games to give the Saints the count-back advantage.
They won their next match against Bradley Primary, from Nelson. Again Rushton and Gwynne won their matches, but there was a notable win for Williams, who is two years younger than her team-mates.
This put them into the semi-finals against Nevill Road, from Stockport, a team who always do well in the North West Finals.
Rushton and Gwynne continued their good form, however Neville Road led 4-3.
Williams played Rana Rofifah in the last match and, although she lost, she won two vital games, enough to take St Columba’s into the final on count-back.
Cumbria’s other representatives, Askam, also made progress from the group but were narrowly defeated by Bradley in the semi-finals.
This meant a replay for Bradley and St Columba’s, and in this match the school from Nelson played with more confidence.
Gwynne and Rushton remained unbeaten, but not before both players had dropped games against Aminah Daar.
Although Ridgway and Williams did not win their matches, they both won important games that meant the score was tied after count-back.
The organisers then had to calculate the total points won and St Columba’s took the title, having won four points more than their opponents.
St Bernard’s under-16s girls beat Lancashire representatives, Garstang, but then met a team they have been keen rivals with since their under-13s days, Bramhall High School.
On this occasion, the Stockport team took the win, but St Bernard’s still qualified for the regional heats.
Perhaps the most impressive performance of the day from a Cumbrian team came in the under-13s boys.
There were 10 teams from as far as Ludlow competing, with the two Cumbria representatives in different groups.
Dowdales finished as group runners-up and progressed to the semi-finals, while St Bernard’s eased through their group and gained impressive wins in both the semi-finals and final to beat Garstang and Calday Grange, West Kirby.
In the under-11s boys, the result went against the form book. Cumbria champions St Columba’s topped their group with victories against Buildwas Primary, from Shropshire, and Oldham Hulme Grammar School, O’Flynn winning all his games.
Askam also made good progress.
Although beaten by Garstang Community Primary, they won against St Mary’s Preparatory School to put them into a semi-final with St Columba’s.
This match was a completely different story to the county final.Askam’s top two, Reid and Shepherd, showed the improvement they have made in recent weeks, while the top two players for St Columba’s showed nerves on the big occasion.
Askam raced into a 2-0 lead as Shepherd beat O’Flynn and Reid defeated Mellen.
Gwynne pulled a match back by beating Irvine, but the Askam lead was stretched with wins from Knowles and Reid, in a five-game battle against O’Flynn.
Saints rallied as both Mellen and Gwynne posted wins, but it was Irvine who won the decisive match against Lashmar in another gruelling five-game battle. The win meant Askam qualified for the regional heats despite losing for a second time against Garstang when the two met in the final.
CUMBRIA ROLL OF HONOUR
Under-19s Boys Champions (not played for): Barrow Sixth Form.
Under-16s Boys: Champions – Dallam School. Runners-up – St Bernard’s.
Under-16s Girls: Champions (Not played for) – St Bernard’s.
Under-13s Boys: Champions – St Bernard’s. Runners-up – Dowdales.
Under-13s Girls: Champions – Dowdales. Runners-up – St Bernard’s.
Under-11s Boys: Champions – St Columba’s. Runners-up – Askam.
Under-11s Girls: Champions – St Columba’s. Runners-up – Askam.
NORTH WEST ROLL OF HONOUR
Under-16s Girls: Runners-up – St Bernard’s.
Under-13s Boys: Champions – St Bernard’s.
Under-13s Girls: Champions – St Bernard’s. Runners-up – Dowdales.
Under-11s Boys: Runners-up – Askam.
Under-11s Girls: Champions – St Columba’s.