Donal O'Halloran, National Junior Coach:
What a fantastic weekend of badminton during the annual Celtic Challenge u13 4 team tournament held in a Storm Ciara ravaged Lisburn Racquets Club, Northern Ireland.
Twelve intrepid players headed off to compete against the best of Leinster Ulster and Lothian. The team comprising of siblings Saffron Morris and Zach Morris; Amay and Eshaan Patil; along with Llwyd Crump Hector Bult, Johan Varghese plus Bhavana Balu, Amelie Chandran, Ella Halsey and Sot-Sai Thomas, gave every ounce of strength and skill for the duration.
Friday night saw the team arrive in Lisburn and have a practice in the great Alpha Badminton club. After a good hit and an early night they took on strong favourites and most experienced, Leinster, in their first match Saturday morning.
While there was no fairy tale victory, the level of play was excellent but no doubt the highlight of the match was Saffron’s wonderful 21-19 21-14 victory over Irish number 1 Siofra Flynn. Saffron then teamed up with Bhavana Balu to take on Siofra and Nicole Joy and the quality of doubles form all 4 girls was outstanding with the Welsh narrowly going down in 3 sets. The Boys doubles matches were equally exciting with both the Patil brothers and the new Crump/Varghese pairs being squeezed out by tiny margins. Llwyd and Amay both produced superb singles wins and Eshaan fell by the narrowest of margins missing out 22-20 in the 3rd set. And while the new caps and younger members of the Welsh team couldn’t quite draw Leinster blood, the effort and drive of Sot-Sai and Ella, as well as Amelie and Allyssa showed what a bright future they can have. And anyone who watched the buoyant exuberance of Hector and Zach can’t help but be impressed by their effort and skill.
So, the weekend started with a 12-3 loss. This did not take any of the team spirit away and for the second match up came Lothian. While the Welsh “veterans” were again to the fore here we saw even more of the future potential with great games being provided by Johan Varghese and Sot Sai Thomas in their XD and an excruciatingly close 22-20 with Hector Bult and Ella Halsey. Amelie and Allyssa also had an exciting match against Jenifer Feng and Poppy Shell but couldn’t quite get the result. However, every point matters and the combined efforts produced an excellent 8-7 victory for Wales. What an atmosphere they produced with the support in full voice.
Saturday evening saw a group of very tired children eat well and get an early night to try and ease the tired limbs. Sunday morning saw them back on court against the Home Team and yet another battle ensued. Everyone again contributed to the team effort with Allyssa going to three sets (very important) but the key match turned out to be the unbelievably exciting Ella Halsey/Sot-Sai Thomas versus Neve Campbell and Anna Newham. What a see-saw match but in the end the Welsh magicians held their nerve to take the game 21-18 16-21 21-18. Despite losing the overall match 8-7 the combined efforts of everyone meant that Wales ended the event in a deserved 2nd place. Congratulations to all involved. Badminton Wales and the parents can be rightfully proud of the wonderful efforts of each and every child that took part. We are already looking forward to next season’s Celtic Challenge to be hosted by Lothian in February 2021.
Meanwhile, Harper Leigh delighted in Spain;
While most eyes interested in Junior badminton looked to the Celtic Challenge another Regional Academy member made the lonely trek to compete in the Spanish Open U15 in Mallorca.
Harper Leigh travelled with his family to compete in this International event in preparation for the upcoming European U15 Championships and our own Junior Nationals this coming weekend.
Harper has recently produced a series of strong singles results winning 3 Silver singles events but in Spain he proved his versatility in entering the Doubles events with Scottish partner Callan Short.
And what an inspired choice as this young pairing produced a string of fantastic performances to take the Gold medal. Harper and Callan won through their group which included English pair Cook and Whyte. They produced a hard fought and well deserved 21-18 15-21 21-19 victory plus two other strong 2-set victories against Spanish opposition.
Once out of their group the Welsh/Scottish pair went from strength to strength to with the quarters and semis both in 2 sets and then won with a dominant 21-15 21-14 victory against Martín Mosquera and Ramón Rovira of Spain.
Tremendous performance from Harper in a week which includes the Welsh return to Senior International competition, the European U15’s and the Junior National Championships.
Good luck to all.