On Sunday 29th January the second stage of the U13 girls inter-county squash championship was held at Ilkeston Manor Squash club. The three teams competing were: Cumbria, Lancashire and Derbyshire. Derbyshire was represented by Molly Tomlinson from Duffield squash club playing at number one, Francesca Sulley, also from Duffield, playing at number two, and Gabrielle Barton from Brampton Manor squash club playing at number three.
This was the second outing for the girls as a team, and, following on from Gabrielle’s match win in the first stage, we were hopeful of further victories, particularly considering that we had the home advantage and had Curtis Tomlinson—county squad coach—on hand to offer the girls advice during their matches.
The girls really looked a team, and so intimidating, proudly sporting their new Derbyshire kit kindly provided by pdhsports.com of Duffield.First up was Cumbria, a team we had played and lost to in the first stage. Molly was up against the experienced Rachel Tang yet again, and although she didn’t win her match, she increased her points tally in each game considerably from last time. Molly competed well in the first game just losing out 11-8, and then, after gaining some valuable advice from Curtis during the interval, Molly got off to a flying start volleying the ball when the opportunity arose and quickly established a 10-4 lead only to see her opponent stage a remarkable comeback and take the next 8 points and the game 12-10. Molly again came out looking the sharper for the third game and led for the first few points and chased every ball, but once again her opponent leveled and went on to win the game and take the match 3-0.
Francesca, coached by Paul Hargrave of pdhsports.com, faced Katie Twentyman, a player she had twice played before, once in an open tournament and then in the first county stage, and had lost both times. It was to be third time lucky for Francesca, Francesca clocking up her first county match win. But really luck had nothing to do with it; Francesca just played some lovely squash to seize victory. Francesca and Katie are both similar players, both having excellent short games, and so, with them cancelling each other out at the front of the court, and although Francesca never really got her serve going, usually worth a good few points per game to her, it was to be Francesca’s clinical forehand and backhand drives that told. Francesca held her nerve to take the first game 13-11, comfortably took the second 11-6, but was then tested in the third when Katie staged a comeback to take the game 6-11. For the last game Francesca re-focused, came out determined, and always led to win 11-8.
Gabrielle was playing Rhianne O’Neil, the opponent she’d dispatched in the first round to claim Derbyshire girls’ first match win in ages! It was fairly obvious from the start that the Cumbrian was determined to get her revenge for her first round loss, making it extremely difficult for Gabrielle to settle into any kind of rhythm; Gabrielle went down in the first two games 7-11, 5-11. Gabrielle fought back bravely and nearly took the third game, but narrowly lost 11-13 to lose the match 3-0.
So, in the end Derbyshire had lost the first tie to Cumbria, but we all took comfort from the fact that the team as a whole had certainly improved its performance since the last time we’d played them.
Next came Lancashire. First up was Molly against the Lancastrian number 1—Amie Comer. As predicted after the first stage, we all knew it wouldn’t be long before Molly took her first number one scalp, and, unfortunately for Amie, it was to be her. Although Molly lost the second game, she always looked determined to win and took the match 11-9, 6-11, 11-8, 11-7.
Francesca was then next on. Buoyed by her first county win in the first tie and then at last getting her serve going in the second and third games, which her opponent found difficult to handle, Francesca took the match 11-7, 11-1, 11-3.
It was then that the girls’ achievements sunk in. It was the first time in over five years that a Derbyshire U13 girls’ team had won a tie! What an achievement! Well done girls!
John Sulley—team manager—said, ‘We are really pleased for the girls. In the two county stages each one of them has had some success. Firstly Gabrielle winning the first match for Derbyshire in over five years, Molly taking her first number one scalp, and Francesca winning her first county match. Then as a collective, winning the first tie for Derbyshire girls for ages! We are really pleased how this team is shaping up. They are starting to hold their own now and yet still have bags of development potential. We are very lucky that the team has strength in depth, each one of them being a very good player. What is also so pleasing to see is the great team spirit. We just can’t wait for next season to come around! A lot of people need to be thanked for getting them to where they are. A lot of credit needs to be given to their individual coaches at Duffield and Brampton Manor, Curtis Tomlinson for putting them through their paces at county squad training sessions, Carol Wood—Derbyshire Development Officer—for her passion to get Derbyshire girls back on the map, and Helen Wilson at Brampton Manor for organising the Derbyshire Grand Prix—the feeders to the county squads—which give them invaluable match practice.’
Carol Wood added, ‘These girls are leading the renaissance in Derbyshire girls squash. What is also exiting for the future is that we have another crop of girls coming behind them, the likes of Elizabeth Wall, Libby Leivers, and Hannah Hicken, two of them already holding high national rankings. We still have a lot of work to do to compete with the likes of Yorkshire that can field not just one exceptionally strong team, but two, but we are making progress.’ Carol is always on the lookout for any Derbyshire girls that are interested in taking up the sport, so please get in touch with her (07887 837359 or firstname.lastname@example.org) if you are interested in playing squash, particularly at county level.