Essex secure 2nd place in Junior Premier Division 2/3 April


 The second round of Junior Premier County Championship matches was held at the Wood Green High School, Wednesbury on the weekend of Saturday/Sunday 2/3 April with two matches on Saturday afternoon and two on Sunday. After the first round of matches at Cippenham back in October the Essex First team were in second place, level on points with Middlesex 1 and one point behind the leaders Sussex 1 who were yet to drop a set. Nicole Sydorenko had stopped playing so Ifunanya Okafor joined Jared Patel, Luca Mariano, Alex Holland and Evangeline Collier. The Team were looking to go one better than last season’s runners up position which they snatched from Sussex in the last game of the last match but overhauling this season’s very strong Sussex team would be a mammoth task.

 Their first match was against a Kent team that boys wise looked considerably weaker than Kent teams of previous seasons. Jared and Alex opened up with wins over Luke Savill and Tom Windram respectively and then Ify secured a maximum 7, -10, 9, 9 win over the highly ranked Jasmine Ould. Luca and Evie made the halfway score 5-0 with 3-0 wins over Andrew Lockwood and Emma Tovey. Surprisingly after such a good start Alex and Ify both then lost to lower ranked opponents, Luke (3-1) and Emma (3-2). After taking the first two games to 3 off Andrew and leading 4-1 in the third Jared seemed to relax too much losing the next seven points and the game eventually to 6. Never comfortable in the fourth game Jared eventually won it 15-13. Evie had a tougher match with Jasmine winning 6, 10, -12, 8 and Luca an easy 3-0 win over Tom for an 8-2 match score and retaining second place.

 The second and late afternoon match was against Sussex who had yet to still drop a set. Like the other teams before them Essex found the going just as tough with eight of the matches settled 3-0, Evie being the only winner of these with an easy win over Lois Peake and in the very last match Alex, after losing the first game to 1 against Helshan Weerasinghe put up a far better performance in the next two games being edged out 9 and 8.Earlier he had lost to the vastly improved Mark Scutts 12, 11, 6 after having game points in both the first two games. In Jared’s match with Da Shuai Zhang in the first game he had several game points before losing 16-14 but fell away in the next two games. Luca lost to Mark Scutts 3-1 after taking the last four points to win the first game 14-12 The match of this match however was Ify’s match with Yolanda King, the England No. 6, ranked 1444 points above her. A relieved Yolanda eventually winning -13 (Ify was at one time 10-4 up), 9, -7, 9, 8. After this defeat Essex dropped to fourth in the table but the teams in second and third place both had to play Sussex on Sunday.

 Sunday morning’s first match was against neighbours Hertfordshire and against a team in the relegation battle a much tougher match than envisaged. In the opening match Luca lost 3-1 to Bradley Tuttle, ranked two places above him but Alex, Evie and Jared had comfortable wins against Tom Baines, Annabelle Gibson (a former Essex player before her injury and family move over the border) and Luke Walsh. Ify had all sorts of trouble against the funny rubbers on Natasha Walsh’s bat losing 5, -11, 8, 10 but 3-0 wins for Luca over Tom and Ify over Annabelle put Essex 5-2 up. Jared then had to play Bradley, ranked two places below him. Losing the first game to 4 he was 9-4 up in the second before losing that to 12.Taking the next to 5 he had to save a match point in the fourth to take the match to a decider but always a point or two behind eventually lost to 8. Evie had no problems with the Natasha rubbers crushing her 5, 3, 3 for the Essex Team win which was just as well because Alex, after taking the first game to four against Luke, struggled for the rest of the match eventually losing -4, 4, 8, -10, 9 to give Essex a narrow 6-4 win but more importantly two points.

 The Table position was that Sussex were Champions having just beaten Middlesex 9-1, Cleveland were now second but with Sussex to play and a point behind were Essex and Middlesex, about to play one another, but with Essex having the better Sets difference. Provided Sussex beat Cleveland, who were bringing in Chloe White from their Senior team to support Karina Lefevre and improve their chances of runners up honours a draw for Essex would be good enough for the runners up position as they also had a better Sets difference than Cleveland.

 The opening match between Jared and Ryan Maynard, a player better then his ranking position would seem to indicate was a marathon, the importance of the match obvious to both teams. Jared lost the first two games 15 and 9 with chances to take both, took the next two 9 and 9 to set up a nail biting final game. Both players led at various stages but Jared got two important points from 8-8 to lead 10-8 but shots just missing the edge of the table meant a 12-10 defeat. Alex brought the scores level with a 5, 7, 9 defeat of Tyrone Wells coming back from 6-1 down in the second. Essex went 2-1 down when Ify could not overcome the defensive guiles of Sushmita Limbo but Luca squared the match score by defeating a strangely off colour Ping Ho 11, 9, 8. Evie put Essex in front for the first time with a three 8’s win over Samantha Lai but Alex had no answer to the consistent Ryan returns although he did take the third set to 3 when thes returns kept missing Alex’s end of the table. Ify then beat Samantha 3-1 and when Jared beat Ping Ho 3-0 Essex knew they were runners up as Sussex had just gone 5-3 up against Cleveland. Just to confirm the position Evie beat Sushmita 6, 9, 9  and Luca enjoyed his last ever match for the Junior First team with an exhibition 3-0 win over Tyrone.

 A great team performance for the second year running and congratulations to all the players who played on both weekends, the coaching advice between themselves and their team spirit. We wish Luca good luck in his future years in the Senior ranks.

Juniors Premier Division – Final Table
County P W D L F A PTS
Sussex 1 7 7 0 0 64 6 14
Essex 1 7 5 1 1 43 27 11
Cleveland 7 3 3 1 39 31 9
Middlesex 1 7 4 1 2 36 34 9
Yorkshire 1 7 2 2 3 29 41 6
Kent 7 1 1 5 25 45 3
Hertfordshire 7 1 0 6 25 45 2
Hampshire 7 1 0 6 19 51 2

 Arthur C. Clark
Essex Junior Match Secretary.