Braintree League season review

Rayne A, the eternal bridesmaids, finally made it to the top rung in the Braintree Table Tennis League this season after finishing runners-up for the past six years.

Champions Netts A mixed it with them at the start of the season and briefly held the top spot in weeks seven and eight after a win over Rayne and Rayne’s surprise defeat two matches later to Liberal B, but a defeat to Liberal A knocked them off again and after that Rayne sailed off into the sunset.

They dropped only two points in their next five fixtures.

Netts’ chances of racking up a third successive title always looked problematic after they lost the services of 2022 men’s singles champion Michael Andrews.

Rayne were strengthened by the addition of Maria Boulton, moving over from Netts B, who won 22 of her 24 sets.

Paul Lucas won 36 out of 41, 2019 champion Lee McHugh won 14 out of 15 and with Adam Buxton, who only missed one match, improving his average from 61 per cent last season to 71, they finished a comfortable 19 points ahead.

The new Rayne C, with Steve Pennell and Ian Whiteside dropping down from the A team, finished only eight points behind Netts, while the next four teams, Black Notley B, Liberal A, Liberal B and Sudbury Nomads were covered by just two points.

The Netts club may have missed out on the top title, but compensation came with the success of their B and D teams in divisions two and three.

Netts B’s success was built round two of the strongest players in the division, Szczepan Ziobro and Joe Meleschko, with 31 out of 37 and 34 out of 41 respectively, with the added insurance of the backing of one-time regular first division player Jon Hill, unbeaten in his 17 sets.

Sudbury Wanderers pushed them hard until they faded on the run-in and Rayne D overtook them with three matches to go.

Dave Moles, a reserve for many years, opted to play more regularly this season and he and Richard Whiteside formed the backbone of the team, finishing with almost identical averages of 73.8 and 73.3.

Netts D’s father-and-son combination of Jimmy and Charles Calisin were something of a revelation in division three.  Both improved immeasurably over the previous season, something that might be expected of a junior but Jimmy almost kept pace with his son and they won 85 of their team’s 141 sets between them, including an unbeaten eight successes in the doubles.

Their main challengers were Great Yeldham, a new team who entered as part of the league’s joint initiative with Table Tennis England to provide them with a table and equipment.

They found their own players, though, and seasoned campaigners Lorraine Burgess, Doug Sanders and Kevin Mills ensured Netts D did not have it all their own way.

Had the league been calculated on two points for a win, one for a draw, they would have finished top – with Notley G second.

But that would have involved turning the clock back 59 years.