The first round of Junior Premier County Championship matches was held at the Cippenham Table Tennis Centre on the weekend of Saturday/Sunday 16/17 October with one match Saturday afternoon and two on Sunday. Having finished runners up last season after promotion the previous season Essex had high hopes of going one better this time.

 The opening match on the Saturday afternoon was against Cleveland, the winners of Division 1A last season, who with two girls ranked in the top twelve in the ETTA Ranking List had to be considered as a team to finish at least in the top half of the Division.

In the first match Luca Mariano faced Paul Smith. Losing the first game to 6 Luca was then 10-7 down in the second but pulled it back to deuce before winning 13-11. With the third game won to 6 and Luca 7-3 up in the fourth things looked good for Essex. Not so. Paul came back strongly with a string of winners to take the game to 8 and so to a fifth. A wicked edge to Paul at 6 all seemed to swing the game his way and with the next two points 9-6 up. Luca came back with the next four points and although losing the next point won the next two for an opening win. Alex Holland on next but little went right for him against Shannon Walker losing the first two games 2 and 6 and although he won the nail biting third 15-13 he could not maintain the momentum losing the fourth to 6. Having beaten Jessica a couple of weeks ago Evangeline had high hopes of repeating that performance. Alas she lost 3-0, an atrocious 90° edge late in the third killing off any comeback. Jared then played Anthony Pheonix going quickly 2-0 down and saving a match point before winning the third 14-12. With the fourth won to 5 had the momentum changed for the fifth set. Not a bit of it. With the score 6-6 Anthony took the next four points but not to be outdone Jared clawed back the next four and then the next two for the match. Nicole then took on England Junior No. 5 Chloe Whyte and a titanic battle ensued. Winning the first to 9, losing the second to 6, 10-8 up in the third was then lost 15-13. An even longer fourth set followed, Nicole 8-4 and 9-6 up finally won it 18-16. 0-5 down at the change round in the fifth couldn’t be pulled back. Essex 3-2 down. Luca quickly went 6-0 up, then 6-7 down playing Shannon before winning 14-12, lost the second to 8 but thereon won the next two quickly, Nicole lost to Jessica 3-0 although holding a game point at 13-12 in the second. Jared then beat Paul 11-2 in the fifth after being 2-1 down. With the other three matches completed the final two games were played on two tables. Alex lost to Anthony 3-1 whilst Evangeline had a superb win 9, 8, 10 over Chloe to achieve a match draw.

 Sunday’s first match was against Yorkshire, a team that Essex had beaten 10-0 last season and, since Yorkshire had lost 10-0 to Sussex yesterday, had high hopes of doing the same again. All went according to plan at the start. Jared an easy 3-0 win over Daryl Gee, Alex, after being 2-1 down beat Michael Fraser 3-2 and Nicole beat Nicole Finn 3-1. Sadly in the match against Reece Lo Luca injured his foot and although he managed to win the third game he found moving around the table none too easy and thus lost 6, 5, -7, 12. Evangeline failed to find the target in her first game against Jenny Wood to lose it to 4 but after that 5, 4, 1 speaks for itself. Three 3-0 wins for Nicole, Jared and Evangeline put Essex 7-2 up so the decision was taken to concede Luca’s last match to give it time to see if he could recover sufficiently to play in the afternoon match.

 First on against Hampshire’s number one Jonathon Evans Luca decided to give it a go and was always in control although he lost the third game 13-11. Thereafter Essex won all the matches 3-0 although Nicole found it hard work in the first two games against Chrissie Slot which she won 12-10 before cruising through the third.

The match to escape was surprisingly Jarred’s five set loss to Jonathon. Serving off the end of the table at 9-9 in the fifth doesn’t help.

 After this first weekend’s matches Essex are in second place on sets difference, equal on points with Middlesex and one point behind the leaders Sussex who have yet to drop a set.

Thanks must go to John Holland on the Sunday for coaching the team and to the team players on the Saturday for coaching between themselves.

A good team performance all round. The final round of matches is at Wood Green, Wednesbury on 2/3 April 2011.

 Arthur C. Clark
Essex Junior Match Secretary.