At Hinckley’s new Squash Club, situated on Maple Drive, just off the Coventry Road (next to KFC), the players from their league teams were engaged in some serious pre-season training during September, under the watchful gaze of their coach, Guy Pearson, in preparation for the start of the 2017-18 squash season, which runs from this October through to next April.
Top priority for the Club’s 1st team will be to try and retain their position as Champions of the Leicestershire Squash Leagues, for what would be the sixth year running, but they are mindful that it will be a particularly testing season, as several of their likely opponents have strengthened their squads in the close season.
The 2nd team did exceptionally well last season, gaining promotion to the top division, but they start their campaign knowing full well it will be particularly stiff test, given that they will now be competing against the very best teams in the area. The 3rd Team finished 3rd in the 2nd Division last April and will compete at that level once again; the 4ths just missed out on promotion last time and so will continue in the 3rd Division, while the 5ths remain in Division 4, having finished mid-table, last time out. The surprise news is the formation of a 6th team.
The club has gained so many new players in recent months that were keen to compete for a team place that it was decided to enter an extra team this season, once Rory Long had been ‘volunteered' as captain. In fact the honour of kicking off the season fell to Rory and his team when they welcomed local rivals, in the form of the Leicester Road Club’s 2nd team, to Maple Drive on the first Sunday evening of October. It was the first taste of team squash for most of the team and what a baptism it turned out to be. Ato Stephens, playing at number 5, was first up on court and proceeded to produce a 3-0 win. He was followed by Martyn Davies, who in spite of going one down came back strongly to win 3-1; then it was Matt Hardman’s turn, up against Leicester Road and Leicestershire League stalwart Mike Blasdale, and Matt had to work very hard for his win. Next up was the ‘Ginger Barista' (aka Jonny Sprigens) wanting to maintain the success and he did so in style, 3-1. That left the top game and Paul Purser passed a late fitness test to face the talented Kevin Holt, who was returning from two years away from the game. This was a real ding-dong of a match with games going first one way, then the other, until Paul finally came out on top with a 3-2 win that provided the team with a match total of 20 points with just 4 against. It was a great start for this embryonic team - who were quick to thank the members that had turned out to cheer them on, also to acknowledge the hard work and support from behind the scenes, particularly from Club Captain Heath Jennings and 5th team captain Simon Eves.
Two days later the Club’s two Division One teams faced each other: the 1sts keen for an opening win to help retain their crown as county champions, and the 2nds for their first taste of life in the top echelon. It didn’t help the 2nds that key player Andy Beel, was unavailable due to injury, and although the 2nds fought bravely, there were wins for all the first team players: 3-0 for Gary Sykes v Joe Matharu; 3-1 for Ollie Holland against Dave Wood (the latter competing gamely while struggling with a back injury); 3-0 for Guy Pearson v Heath Jennings and for Lewis Walters v Danny Brown. The top game was a hard fought battle which eventually went the way of Mark Fuller, although Luke Parker did get two valuable points for his side. The final match score was 20-3 in favour of the champions.
That same Tuesday evening the 3rd team played their opening game of the season, away at Rugby Stags. Although Ben Fenwick and Ben Daniel (at 5 and 3 respectively) each won their games 3-1, Andy Harvey lost 1-3 and both Paul Purser and Duncan Anderson each went down 0-3. So it ended in a 2-3 loss but they salvaged 7 points, which may well prove vital, come the end of the season.
The 4th team played their first game of the new season on Wednesday 4th October when they entertained Rugby Stags 2 at home. It proved to be a winning start for Hinckley against a strong Stags line up. Tim Parratt got the ball rolling with 9-2, 9-2, 9-5 win in the 5th string match. In the 4th string game Ben Fenwick then picked up a good point to add to the pot, while in the 3rd string match, Tim ‘clubman' Solley fought for a brilliant 3-2 victory against Neil Taylor, a player some 250 points above him in the league ranking system. The team captain, Andy Harvey, then produced a rather tepid performance (his own words) in the 2nd string match, going down fairly quickly in a 0-3 defeat before Ben Wood confirmed the team victory with a comfortable 3-0 win on his first foray back on the squash court in nearly six months. The result was 15 points for the home team, against 8 for their opponents.
The final game of the first week saw the 5th team in action for their first game of the season - an away fixture against Leicester Road Hinckley's 1st team. Two Hinckley Squash 5 players were out injured (including captain Simon Eves) so Jonny Sprigens was called up to play at No.5 against HLR’s Norman Morfill and it produced an exciting and close-fought match which eventually 3-1 to Sprigens. Ben Fenwick then eased through his 1st string dual against Malcolm Seal 3-0, and although Alan Palmer went down 0-3 to Chris Bull, that and the remainder of the matches were all hard fought with games being traded between the players. Gradually, the pendulum began to swing the right way for Tim Parratt as he beat Ken Muckle 3-2, and to top off the victory Neil Large beat Andrew Orton by the same score. Both teams acknowledged what a close game it had been, with victory going to the Maple Drive club, 4 ties to 1, earning them 17 points overall, compared to Leicester Road’s 8.
Week 2 got under way with Hinckley’s newly promoted 2nds hosting Nuneaton’s strong Cleaver team to Maple Drive on Tuesday 10th October. With injuries denying the inclusion of Dave Wood and Joe Matharu for the home team, Duncan Anderson and Ben Fenwick stepped up and it was the latter who in spite of playing two team games the previous week, got the home team off to a 3-1 flying start, showing maturity and resolve against a player ranked some 500 points above him. Team captain Heath Jennings found himself paired against Lucy Pallett in the 4th string match and despite some fine play from Lucy, the result went the way of the rankings as Heath took the match 3-1. Danny Brown, playing the 3rd string game, battled Paul Gibbs to the end, gaining two valuable team points. Duncan Anderson at 2, was up against an opponent some 1700 rankings points above him, and did well to come away with a point. In the top game, Luke Parker was matched against the legend that is James Bowden, and some terrific squash ensued, before Luke ran out the winner 3-0 and in so doing earned the team its first win of the season, scoring 17 (12+5 bonus) points against 8 for Cleaver.
The 1st team’s opening away fixture of the season took them to Leicester Squash, also on the 10th, and there they got off to a great start with classy 3-0 wins for the top three strings: Lewis Walters beating Dave New, Club coach Guy Pearson overcoming Rob Britain and Ollie Holland getting the better of Ben McNulty. One remarkable rally in the latter match ran to over 100 shots! Of the other pairings, Gary Sykes was up against Adam Bagley and went 2-0 up, but perhaps having driven over 400 miles that day began to have a bearing, because despite a run of good shots and two close games, Adam pulled it back 2-2 and to a decider, which although close also went Adam’s way. The final game involved Richard Jackson and although Rob Vivian took the honours 3-1, Rich came back in the 4th game from 8-3 down to just lose out 11-9, missing out on a decider. Nevertheless it was an important win, netting 17 points against 7 for their opponents.
The following evening the 3rd Team welcomed Leicester Squash 2 to Maple Drive. First on court was Ben Fenwick, who although having played the previous evening for the 2nd team, proceeded to despatch his 5th string opponent 3-1. Paul Purser, playing at 4, wasn’t able to add to the pot on this occasion but Paul O’Hara, at 3, won 3-1 and Ben Daniel, at 2, went one better, winning 3-0. The top match featured Liam O’Hara vs Leicester’s Matt Ysart and in the end, after a fine match, the spoils went Ysart’s way 3-1. The overall result was another 3-2 win, with 15 team points gained.
The 4th team’s second match, on Thursday 12th, was away, playing the newly promoted Leics Tennis 3rd team. Hinckley took a strong team and managed to come away with a good 18 point haul. Ben Wood was first on court with the third string match and while he would be the first to admit he is still looking to find his match sharpness, he nevertheless prevailed in a hard fought 3-2 win, showing real class to pull it back from the brink in the 5th game. Meanwhile Gary Goddard was caught up in his own tussle on the next court: it was certainly not one for the purists but a 3-2 win ensued from 2-0 down, and deserved his captain's nomination for 'player of the week’. A one-sided 3-0 result for Tim Steele delivered the team win from the 2nd string match and captain Andy Harvey followed that up with a relatively comfortable 3-1 victory in the 4th string game before Steve Mars unfortunately lost 1-3 at number one, despite an imperious 9-0 win in the first game.
With the 4ths away the 5ths welcomed Charnwood’s 3rd team to Hinckley and it resulted in a fine 4-1 home win that would earn the team 19 points. Team captain Simon Eves was first to play and despite a nagging calf injury still managed to earn two points for the team. Four straight wins then followed: Neil Large 3-2, Tim Parratt 3-1, Ben Fenwick 3-0 and Tim Solley 3-1 (at 1).
The 6th’s second match was an away fixture against De Montford University, also on the 12th, and while Rory Long, Ato Stephens and Dean Murrell each posted 3-0 wins (Rory and Dean on debut), Matt Hardman, promoted to 2nd string for the evening, found himself up against a skilful Chris Roberts and went down 0-3. Paul Purser, as number one seed, was last on court and despite a valiant effort he lost out narrowly (2-3) to DMU’s captain Charlotte Fish in a nail-biting five game thriller in front of a sizeable audience. This second win, gave them 11 team points plus a win bonus of 5, while DMU earned 6 points.
Week three coincided with the schools' half-term and only two teams saw action that week. The first was on Thursday 19th, when the 4ths hosted Loughborough Students 3rd team, which had come down from Division 2 in the close season. Gary ‘Salty' Goddard was on and off court in double quick time, having taken all three points. It was much the same story in the next two matches: Tim Solley had a brief lapse in concentration in an otherwise comfortable 3-1 win: unfortunately for him it was a 0-9 lapse that will likely result in a team fine! Captain Andy Harvey was also on and off court quite quickly after picking up his 3-0 win. Next on was Ben Wood, starting to look back to his imperious hard-hitting best and although given a very good game by Ben Gear, he too emerged victorious with a 3-1 win. All pressure was now on 1st string Tim Steele, to see whether he could deliver a further 3 points and provide their first 20 point haul of the season. Things didn't get off to a great start, at 0-2 down it looked like the cherry on top of the cake would elude them, but up stepped Dave 'bad back' Wood to deliver a pep talk which must have been akin to the Alex Ferguson's 'hair dryer treatment', as Tim returned to the court a new man, taking the next game 9-0 and then battling to take the final two 9-3 and 9-5! A team 'full house' was thus achieved. The next 4th team match will be on 1st November, but 53 points have already been gained from the three games - two wins and one defeat - played during October.
On Sunday 22nd the 6th were at home to Charnwood’s 4th team. Ato Stephens started things off with another 3-0 success (9-4, 10-8, 9-6). Martyn Davies was next and he had just returned from a stag ‘do’ at the Belfry and alas it showed, as he went down 2-9, 6-9, 4-9. Dillwyn Rosser, on his debut for the home team, set about his task in a cool, calm manner, collecting maximum points with a 9-2, 9-4, 9-3 win. The introduction this season of the Squash Levels ratings, meant that Paul Purser was obliged to hand over the number one spot to Dean Murrell on this occasion, but that didn’t stop Paul going on to win 3-1 (9-6, 9-7, 8-10, 9-7) in a tight encounter against a particularly tough opponent. Dean then faced their number one and despite taking the first game, in the end he went down 1-3. It was another fine win for this embryonic squad, who sent their opponents home content, having sat everybody down afterwards to steak and chips. The home team scooped 15 points on the night, with just 7 against.
After the break, no less than three of the club teams were in action on Tuesday 24th. The 2nds had the home fixture vs Hermitage, the team that had been runners-up to our own 1st team in recent years. A very tough match was envisaged and so it proved, as despite some plucky performances, losses were posted by Liam O’Hara (1-3), Rich Jackson (1-3), Danny Brown (0-3) and Duncan Anderson (0-3). The home team blushes were spared by Luke Parker in the top string match against James Wright, for even though he lost the first game 9-11, some scintillating squash followed, during the course of which Luke proceeded to take the next three games 11-8, 11-9, 11-6 for an eventual 3-1 win. With only 5 team points to show for their efforts, the 2nds were finding life in the top flight very different to Division 2.
The first team found themselves away at Nuneaton’s Cleaver that same evening and because of commitments by some of Hinckley's players they were obliged to give debuts to two new team members at 1 and 2. The home team were unable to field a 5th string player so the first game on court was the 4th string pairing of Cleaver’s Lucy Pallett against Gary Sykes and although the Hinckley player took the three points the individual game scores reflected great credit on Lucy. Ollie Holland, at 3, took on Sam Dally and came away with three unanswered points and Owain Taylor won his debut match 3-0, only conceding 8 points across the three games against Jack McElvenny. The top match had newcomer Adam Auckland paired against James Bowden and it was Adam who impressed everyone by taking the honours 3-0 and ensuring the Hinckley team went home with a maximum haul of 20 points.
The remaining away fixture involved the 3rd team vs Loughborough Students 2. Player injuries and commitments prompted Gary Goddard and Andrew Harvey to be called up from the 4th team and although they each won the second game of their respective matches, they both went on to lose 1-3. Paul O’Hara, at 3, gave the Hinckley team some hope by beating Ben Gear 9-6, 9-6, 10-8 but in the event neither Ashley Fry nor Ben Daniel, at 2 and 1 respectively, could lift their games to the level required that evening, both losing in three straight games. So, with the team only coming away with a total of 5 points, it could be said that it really didn’t go too well.
Two days later the Hinckley 5ths travelled to Leicester Squash to play their 4th team. This tie proved to be a straight forward and clinical execution for numbers 5 through to 2 with 3-0 wins for Alan Palmer, Neil Large, Tim Parratt and Tim Solley. The only casualty of the evening was the ubiquitous Andy Harvey, who found Luis Miguel Martins too much of a handful and was outplayed 0-3. Overall though, it was another good win, the team collecting 17 points compared to 3 for their opponents.
On Sunday 29th October it was the turn of Huncote’s 3rds to come to Hinckley’s lair on Maple Drive to play the club's 6th team. Unfortunately the evening didn’t start too well for the home team as captain Rory Long found himself on the wrong end of a 3-2 result against Bevin Leseuer (and that after going 2-1 up). Matt Hardman then took on Richard Potter and although he did win the first game the next three went to the Huncote player. However, Dillwyn Rosser, at 3, produced another cool performance and got the better of John Hall (3-0), and then Paul Purser did very well to pick up three points against Scott Stevenson, after going behind in the first game. That left just the 1st string game and on this occasion Dean Murrell found himself outplayed (0-3) by John Fox and as a result Huncote took the honours three matches to two. The home team did accrue 9 points from this game and altogether in October they amassed no fewer than 60 points from three wins and one loss: a very creditable start for this new and untried team.
Three Hinckley Squash Club teams were in action on the final day of October. The home fixture featured the 1st team against ‘Northamptonshire’ - a team new to the Leicestershire Leagues. Hinckley didn’t know quite what to expect but it turned out to be a comprehensive victory, with each match ending in a 3-0 scoreline. Rich Jackson and Ollie Holland got the team off to a flying start; this was continued by Mark Fuller and wrapped up by really excellent displays from the two latest players to sign up to play for Hinckley: Lewis Walters and Adam Auckland. Another 20 points were gained, to add to the 57 compiled during their three previous wins in the month. Four wins out of four has to bode well if their ambition to win the League for the 6th time in a row is to become a reality.
That same evening the 2nd team visited the highly rated Leicestershire Tennis Club. The difference in levels between the top of the 2nd Division and the 1st Division was again evident, with the regular Hinckley team players suffering a 5-0 match defeat and only scoring with a single team point - the one gained by Luke Parker in an epic battle with brother George. It came from the 12-10 win of the third game of the match - and it could so easily have gone to five games as Luke only lost the fourth game 10-12. Tennis were comprehensive winners on the night and the only other player to come close to winning a game was Heath Jennings, who took Oliver Wood to 13-15 in the second game of their match. It has been a difficult start for this newly promoted team, with only 26 points and one win in four so far, but it is to be hoped that things will improve when some of their injured players return to the fold.
The 5th team were also in action during that final evening in October - away at Burton Squash, and this was to decide who would go into November at the very top of Division 4. Both teams had experienced straight wins in their first three matches and this match wasn't going to disappoint. All players were evenly matched so it was going to be down to 'who wanted it more' on the night. The opening matches started well with Alan Palmer and Neil Large each gaining 3-1 victories. Burton then 'upped the anti' and managed to claw back the next two matches (both 5 setters involving the Tims - Parratt and Solley) thereby leaving the 1st string match as the decider. Up stepped Ben Fenwick to produce a superb 3-1 win, the final game going to 10-9 - a result that leaves Hinckley Squash 5 at the top of Division 4 at the end of October with 4 wins out of 4 matches and a total of 71 team points to-date.
So far so good, but what will November bring ?