At 12pm on Wednesday 4th May a nine strong squad of Scottish Junior players, accompanied by two coaches and an army of parents met at Edinburgh Airport to begin their journey to Hasselt, Belgium to take part in the U15 and U17 European Team Championships. The U15 squad was: Alasdair Prott, Harry Barron, Calum Carswell and Orla Young. The U17s squad was: Fraser McCann, Andrew Hill, James Dougan, Georgia Adderley, and Emma Fitzsimmons. The were accompanied by Regional Coaches Phil McWilliams and David Ireson and chaperone Susan Fitzsimmons.
Other than the usual Ryanair checkin nonsense (costly boarding card reprints, baggage weigh-ins being tighter than a big bout boxing match etc) we proceeded to make our way through departures at Edinburgh Airport. In contrast to prior tradition we did not check in as a group online, which meant players, and coaches were even distributed throughout the cabin – probably a good thing for some of the U17 team, who could cram in some much needed revision before their Higher / N5 English exams on the Thursday!
On arrival at Charleroi Airport, baggage reclaim claimed its first victim, Harry’s bag succumbing to the stresses of short haul flight arriving in several pieces, looking more like it had been mauled by a tiger than been placed “carefully” in the aeroplanes hold. 2-0 Ryanair. After a short visit to “customer services” we made our way to the bus terminal at Charleroi airport to get our first connection into Brussels – luckily there were 12 spaces on the bus (just!). We arrived in the centre of Brussels and after a short walk to the train station we boarded a double decker train [as an aside if there is one thing the Belgian’s know how to do…], another hour in the train and we arrived at Hasselt train station. We wandered around aimlessly for a while before finally happening on a bus that seemed to be vaguely related to the squash tournament. It was getting very late though – no time for a practise hit; we decided food then bed was in order.
It was an early start for the teams with the U17s having a 9am match start time. We duly congregated at 7am for breakfast, where team announcements were made. The U17 team would be Fraser McCann, Andrew Hill, and Emma Fitzsimmons. Both coaches felt that James was far too worried about his exams to be focussed on squash, but conversely thought that Emma would prefer to “hit out the stress” in advance of hers. The match looked winnable on paper, with Scotland being the 7th seeds and Norway the 15th, and the team went on and delivered the goods. Fraz and Emma both showed solid performances and finished off their opponents 3-0. Despite possessing all of the weapons to terrorise his opponent, perhaps a nervy debut from Andrew Hill saw a massive number of errors in the first 4 games, however finally hooked up a solid game plan in the 5th to get his first Scotland win 3-2. Great start for the team.
Onto the first U15 match, and the team faced Slovakia. The match went pretty much as predicted with all players securing relatively straightforward wins. Al Beat Filip Sipos 11/411/4 11/3, Harry beat Matus Matas 11/7 11/2 11/4, and Orla beat Kalra Kohlerova 11/5 11/4 11/6. As this match was starting the U17s were busy sitting either their National 5, or Higher English Papers!
Following a quick bite to eat the U17s were back in action against Spain in a tough pool match, although Spain were seeded slightly lower than us we knew it was always going to be a tough encounter. Fraser opened the tie for us again, in what was to become a scrappy affair. The match see-sawed with both players opening large leads in places and both getting long runs of points. Despite looking physically stronger of the two towards the end Fraser made a few too many unforced errors and lost 3/2, perhaps unlucky not to get more out of the match. Georgia was now on in her first match of the weekend, and again the match was scrappy at the start with neither player finding the back corners. The match was precariously balanced at 2-2, but finally in the fifth Georgia found some consistent straight length and width, taking away her opponents volley, and closed out the game 11/2, and match 3/2. James now took to the court for his first match of the weekend. He struggled to put anything into the front of court without providing a big opening to his opponent, so was forced into a really conservative game of squash. Not to be for James as he lost out in 3 very tight games.
Meanwhile at the other end of the venue the U15s started their match against the lower seeded (and very small / young team!) of Luxembourg. Our No 1 Al, was being rested for this fixture, so Harry stepped up to play No 1, which opened a space for Calum in the team in the No 2 spot. Harry duly went on and showed he can compete at this level as a he handed out a fairly severe 11/2 11/1 11/0 dismantlement of the Luxembourg No 1. Up next was Orla who proceeded to rattle of a series of quick points to take the match 11/3 11/2 11/1. Finally, Calum was the final player to earn a cap today, playing in what can only be described as the most height-mismatched fixture of all time. Another bagel in this match as Calum won 11/2 11/1 11/0.
Only 2 jobs left to do today. (1) Eat. (2) U17s have another English Paper to sit…. the joys….
No exams! Yay! The U17s were looking a lot less stressed today, hopefully this would set them up well for the matches ahead. The U15s kicked things off with their critical pool match Switzerland. Al “The Highland Hammer” kicked things off for the team and secured a solid and professional win for the team. Harry “Gigantor” Barron opened up the second match and played some really consistent squash, getting ever close to his opponent in each game, but couldn’t quite convert this consistency into a game and went down 3/0. Orla “The Snow Queen” Young then went on in the decider. She was unfortunately playing a much bigger and more powerful opponent, and try as she might she just couldn’t get the ball past her opponent’s racket, also going down 3-0.
The U17s took on Poland next in what should have been a quite straightforward fixture, however we decided to rest our No 2 Andrew and save his legs for a critical match with France later in the afternoon. Fraser “The Mole” McCann opened up the match with a solid 3-1 win over the big Pole “Max”. Up next was James “Skoda” Dougan; “The Skoda” played much better than yesterday, and pushed his opponent all the way recovering from 2-1 down to take the match into a decider, but unfortunately losing out to Micky (aka Crasnaa). This time Emma Fitzsimmons was called up to play the decider, and put in a professional performance, beating Emilia Kaniewska 3-0.
The final pool matches of the weekend saw the U15s take on Sweden and the U17s take on France. The U15s were confident in their abilities to beat the Swedish team. We chose to play The Highland Hammer, Calum “C-Dawg” Carswell, and The Snow Queen. All players delivered quality performances with only C-Dawg dropping a game.
The U17s match would decide whether the team made it into the 1-8 playoffs, or instead whether they played off for 9-16. The Mole opened the match against the talented French No 1 Victor Crouin. Fraser described this as the toughest match that he has ever played – he went down 3-0, but can hopefully use this as a learning experience to take into the next matches. Andrew “The Mountain” Hill was up next. The Mountain was playing a very skilful French boy who had some fairly obvious movement deficiencies, but also some very good ball control. The Mountain dealt with the pressure of the occasion very well and calmly looked to take on board the advice that the coaches gave between games, but unfortunately the French No 2’s racket skills were too good today and he lost the match 3-0. Georgia “G-Bae” Adderley was on last to take on the European No 3 Fanny Segers. G-Bae played some extremely patchy squash. She was either all over her opponent, or hitting the ball straight down the middle. After some game plan simplification G-Bae eventually managed to string together enough rallies to allow her to close out the match 3-2.
The first match of the day saw the U15s take on Spain. The one thing that often sets Scottish teams apart from their European counterparts is their dedication to supporting their team mates when they are playing. The level of volume that 8 teenagers can make whilst doing this can only be liked to an AC/DC concert. The atmosphere for this match was unreal. This time Harry “Gigantor” Barron opened up the match for the Scots. He played very good squash in the first 2 games – probably his best 2 games of the weekend, and was getting so close to the Spanish No 2, losing the first 12/10 and the second 14/12, unfortunately the wheels slightly came off the wagon in the third, and he went down 11/3 – hopefully the big man can use this experience for future years. Al “The Highland Hammer” Prott was up next – on fire – The Spanish No 1 had no idea where the ball was at any point during the match. A win for the Hammer 5,3, and 2. Last but not least Orla “The Snow Queen” Young was on in the decider. It’s amazing to watch a 13-year-old girl cope so well with a screaming army of partisan and non-partisan supporters raising the roof after every point. The match toed and froed point by point. Orla’s lob serves were causing all sorts of damage for her opponent, but her opponent’s physical size advantage was forcing a lot of work from Orla, in the end a great performance from The Snow Queen – she played out of her skin to take the match to 2-2, but her opponent’s physicality was the difference today and she managed to take the fifth game 11/7 – match to Spain. Not to be for the 15’s this year, but they can take something out of the fact there was only 4 points in it.
The U17s by contrast had a much more straightforward match against Austria. The team was Fraser “The Mole” McCann, Andrew “The Mountain” Hill, and Georgia “G-Bae” Adderley. All players won their matches 3-0. The afternoon matches saw The U17s up against a decent Danish team. The Mole, and The Mountain were on as the 2 boys. Both put in some decent performances and eased past their opponents fairly easily. Emma was up in the dead rubber, and played well but lost 2-0.
The U15s played France in the evening to decide whether they were playing for 5/6 position or 7/8 position. Up first was Harry “Gigantor” Barron. You could see watching him that he was learning with each match, and was much more able to stick to a solid game plan for much longer as each match went on. The first 4 games were really tight, and at 2-2 there were hopes that Harry’s physical size would be enough to get past his opponent, but unfortunately the French No 2 managed to put in a few extra shots that we had no seen so far, and push past Harry 11/3 in the fifth. Al “The Highland Hammer” was up next. A summary of the match would be “sometimes, if you can’t win pretty, you have to win ugly”. Not pretty today from Al, but at least it was functional. Into another decider and it was down to Orla “The Snow Queen” Young again. It was hard to imagine an atmosphere that could surpass the atmosphere of the earlier Spanish match, however Orla duly delivered on this and provided some heart stopping moments for the crowd. Loses the first 12/10, then after some focussed words between games she ran through her opponent in the next game 11/2, then a complete role reversal in the third, loses it 11/2! Into the fourth and heart in mouth stuff, Orla manages to just take it 11/9; another fifth!!! My nerves were completely shot at this point. However, Orla’s gritty determination spurred on by some ridiculous support from a very strong Scottish crowd (players, coaches and assorted others), saw her gluing the ball to the side wall with every shot! Takes the game 11/6, and match to Scotland…. What a day!
As is normal with these kind of tournaments, the day had barely begun. Coaches Dave and Phil and ex-Airforce Chaperone Susan, decided that it was necessary to put each of the players through a motivational discussion to prepare each of the players for their matches head. Typical phrases: “Do you tip?”; “Who the hell is Harry Barron?”, “Findlay Martin can hit the ball harder than you.”, “Wait, we ask the questions”, “What’s your life plan?”, “How much are you prepared give up?”. “You’re built like an albatross”, “I’ve seen pterodactyls with smaller wing spans”, and finally “He who hoots with the owl by night, shall not soar with the eagle by day – discuss”. Just what you want at 11.30 on a Saturday night…
Hoping that their motivational discussions had proved valuable the squad gathered for breakfast and reflected on their individual and personalised conversations last night. We travelled to the venue for our matches – both teams playing at 12pm, but for a change we were playing on adjacent courts which was so much better for getting that traditional and unique Scottish support in full voice. The U17s managed to get on slightly earlier than the U15s, and Georgia “G-Bae” Adderley kicked off the match for us. Probably her most consistent match of the weekend. And in typical “G-Bae” fashion she saved the best for last getting a cheeky bagel in the 3rd game. Fraser “The Mole” McCann was up next. Fraser struggled a little bit in the first and second games to find the fire that we had hoped from the previous night’s discussions, however a bit of a pep talk after the third saw him come out firing in the third game – a massive increase in intensity. Takes the 3rd game and then the 4th, with this much higher tempo style of play. The 5th game was very nervy from both with neither player wanting to risk taking the ball short. Unfortunately for Fraser the Huganrian No 1 managed to just hang in and take a ridiculously close fifth game 17/15. Lastly on court was Andrew “The Mountain” Hill in the decider. Andrew went 2-0 up and was playing some decent squash, but disaster! Picks up a small leg injury which hampers his movement. The Hungarian No 2 slowly claws his way back into the match, taking the 3rd and the 4th. In the fifth, the Hungarian No 2 looked to be hurt physically, but Andrew just couldn’t seem to keep the ball off his opponent’s racket, eventually going down 12/10. Tough day, but the team should be proud with their performances to finish inside the top 10.
Over in the U15s match, and Orla “The Snow Queen” Young has already managed to deliver a comprehensive 3-0 victory over the Irish No 2 girl – the Irish choosing to rest their No 1 girl for this match. She had earned a well-deserved rest after playing every match this weekend #toughask. Up next was Al “The Highland Hammer” Prott, taking on the Irish No 1 Sam Buckley. Al had been suffering from a cold all weekend and it hadn’t seemed to affect his performances so far this weekend, however it finally seemed to catch up with him this weekend and he went down 3-1. Last up was Calum “C-Dawg” Carswell, stepping up to the No 2 boy slot. Calum looked to be in control in the first taking it 11/7, however seemed to have a bit of a “moment” in the second losing it 11/3. Eek. After another “life chat” from Phil, Calum managed to assert himself on the match and close out the next 2 games – great guts and determination. U15s finish 5th.
A brilliant 5 days of squash with some amazing people and some fantastic prospects for the future. Sad to see it end. Home though for some well-deserved sleep! #nervesshot #behavegeoff #thatholdthough #teamscotland #dontplayaballyoucantclear #proud