The Scotland U19 Team consisting of Rory Stewart, Fergus Richards, Craig Valente-Wallace, Claire Gadsby and Elspeth Young travelled to Helsinki, Finland with West RPN Head Coach, Martin Woods and Sue Young as chaperone.
After being seeded only 15th, Scotland were drawn in pool B with France (2), Germany (7), Israel (10), and Austria (18). Reaching the quarter-finals would require a second place finish – doable but challenging. Second seeds France were always likely to be very strong, with Germany and Israel having a dangerous line-up as well.
The first tie of the tournament for the Scots was against France. Thinking ahead to the match against Israel, we rested Rory, our No.1 boy. The first match on was Claire versus Lea Van Der Zwalmen. Despite losing the first game 11/5, Claire came back strongly, losing the second game on the tie break 12/10. Claire gathered momentum in the third, taking it on another tie break 12/10. With the match on a knife edge, the first match of the tournament went to France, with Van der Zwalmen taking the fourth 13/11.
Next on was Fergus, playing against the French No.1 Auguste Dussourd. Using the game as a warm up for Israel later in the day, Fergus was working on taking the ball into the front. As expected, the French player proved too strong for Fergus, winning the match in three, but it served a useful purpose for Fergus.
Last on in the match and making his under 19 Scotland debut was Craig Valente-Wallace against Baptiste Masotti. Despite going down in three, each game was hard fought and the Frenchman was never able to settle properly. The improvement in Craig’s game since moving to Edinburgh was clearly obvious and he looks set to make his mark in the senior rankings in coming years.
Our second tie against Israel was our first crucial match. Knowing that the Israeli’s have two strong boys but a weaker girl meant that victory was possible but would require one of our boys to beat a more experienced opponent.
First on again was Claire against Maayan Rosenthal. As predicted, Claire was too strong for her Israeli counterpart and won the match 11/3 11/3 11/5. Claire really dominated the front court and at no point in the match did her opponent look like putting the result in any doubt.
The next match on was Rory against the seasoned Daniel Poleshchuk. The English based Israeli got a shock very early in the match when Rory pressed hard, attacking his backhand and using his holds to great effect. Despite losing the first 16/14, Rory frustrated his opponent more in the second, taking the next game 11/8, levelling the match at 1-1. With Rory playing so well, things were looking bright and an upset suddenly seemed possible. Poleshchuk however, came out in the third and fourth playing steady squash and with Rory starting to tire, Israel closed out the match 11/2 11/3.
With the tie now sitting at one all, the pressure was on Fergus to beat Roee Avraham. The match started well for Israel with Fergus losing the first 11/7. With a renewed focus on using his drop to move his opponent into the front more, Fergus played some great squash to take the second 11/6. However, just as Poleshchuk was able to do against Rory, Avraham kept his nerve and was able to close the match out 11/4 11/7 in the next two games. To come second in the group would now require some help from the other match results and it was more likely that we would be looking at going into the 9–16 playoffs. The next day would be a key day as finishing 3rd would give us a better draw in the playoffs than finishing 4th in the pool. So after a slightly disappointing day for the team, the pressure was on to win both remaining pool matches.
The first tie of Day 2 saw us play Germany. Despite being slightly weakened by the withdrawal of their No.1 boy through injury, the German team were still very strong right through the order.
With Boy 1 on first, Rory went on to play Lucas Wirths. In a see-saw match, where Rory found himself both 1–0 and 2–1 down, the fifth game was a thrilling encounter with both players showing excellent retrieving and shot making skills. In the end Rory was victorious, taking the fifth 12/10.
The second match was Elspeth Young against Nele Hatschek. Elspeth never really managed to settle into the match and went down 11/7 11/6 11/5. As in the match against Israel, the decider came down to Fergus playing Niklas Becher. Against an opponent who looked remarkably like Thor, and also hammered the ball like the Asguardian Superhero, Fergus was going to have to make his opponent move in order to get the result we needed. Fergus started out playing good squash taking the first game 11/8 and the second a very close 12/10. With everything looking good, Thor came out and played a superb third game whilst Fergus lost his way, losing that game 11/0. With Thor in the ascendancy, Fergus rallied well to bring him back into the match but still lost the fourth 11/8. With the match now capable of going either way, Fergus found an inner strength to work his opponent hard, forcing a string of errors from the German giant, and winning the fifth 11/8. This gave us a great chance of coming third in the group now, with only one pool match left to go.
The last pool match put us up against Austria, the lowest seeded team within the group. Despite this, we were aware they had a strong girl, having watched them playing Germany the previous day. Rory was first up against Paul Mairinger, who had shown his energy and movement around the court in their other pool matches. Rory controlled the game well with a mixture of good delay and excellent volleying, dispatching the Austrian No.1 in straight games, 11/5 11/5 11/7. In the next match, Elspeth Young came in to play Jacqueline Peychär, who we knew could be very dangerous. The match was a long one with Elspeth working hard to stay in the rallies. Despite losing the first game 11/8, Eslpeth fought back with grit and determination, taking the second 12/10. The next two games were equally as tough, although it wasn’t to be Elspeth’s day, losing the next two tight games 11/8 and 12/10 respectively.
Again in the situation being 1 – 1 in matches, we really needed to make sure of the last match to avoid blowing the group wide open and losing our grip on third place. Fergus however had no intention of letting that happen, beating Patrick Strobl 11/6 11/2 11/6 in a short encounter.
With the pool matches now finished, we were pleased to have finished third in the group, although tinged with the thought of what could have been on a different day against Israel.
Day 3 saw the start of the playoff stages with Scotland facing the Netherlands in their first match of the 9-16 playoffs. The players were well aware that a victory would see us into the 9-12 section of the draw and guarantee bettering our seeding, while a loss would put us into the 13-16 section.
With the No.2 boy starting the tie on the Saturday, Fergus was first up against Thijs Van Der Pluijm. Thankfully, Fergus was still showing the form he had played with in our earlier matches and defeated his opponent 11/8 13/11 11/6. With Rory now coming in against Christoph Winzer, we had the chance to close out the match without coming down to the third match. Despite a shaky start, losing the first 11/8, Rory showed great maturity in his squash, only dropping 10 points in the remainder of the match, going on to win 11/3 11/2 11/5.
With Scotland now through to the 9-12 playoffs, the Dutch were now beaten, and so played their reserve, Sanne Veldkamp. against Claire in a best of three match, as is custom at junior level. Despite not having an effect on the match, Claire won the best of 3 contest comfortably and used the match to prepare her for the next match against Wales in the afternoon.
The penultimate tie for the team was against Wales on Saturday evening. In what was going to be a very tough match for the Scots, Fergus was on first against Emyr Evans. Fergus fought well, but his Welsh opponent showed his experience to defeat Fergus in three, 11/6 11/8 11/4.
Rory was next up against the Welsh No.1, Owain Taylor. Hopes were high for Rory, who had shown outstanding form throughout the tournament so far, although Taylor was a tough opponent nonetheless – having defeated Chris Leiper earlier in the season. Taylor took the first game 11/9, where each player sounded out the other’s strengths and weaknesses. Having got the measure of his opponent who has a sound game of squash but without any major strengths to hurt Rory, Rory went on to take the next three games 11/4 11/8 12/10 toclaimone of is best ever wins. Once again, we found ourselves 1–1 in matches and with the right performance the chance to turn the tie in our favour.
In the girls position, Claire faced her next opponent, Elin Harlow. Harlow has a very individual style of play, making great use of the lob serve, and taking the ball to the front with the boast when opponents expect a length. Claire took a difficult first game, 12/10, but worked very hard for it. In the next three games, Harlow frustrated Claire with excellent lob serves, making it difficult to get into the rally. Once in the rally, Claire played well, but was again frustrated by the Welsh girl’s skill at breaking up the rally with her combination of hold and boast, or well executed lob. Becoming increasingly frustrated, but never giving in, Claire lost the remaining games 11/3 11/5 11/2.
The final match of the tournament was against Belgium for 11-12th place, and the final day order of play was B1-B2-G. With Belgium having the recently crowned European Junior Champion from the Individual event as their Girl, Scotland knew they couldn’t afford to let the tie go to another decider and would most likely need to win both Boy’s matches to stand a chance. Rory was first up against Tiago Goriely. The most remarkable thing about the match was how similarly the players were matched, not only in standard but style of play – it was almost like Rory playing a mirror image of himself. In a match where both players displayed a fluidity of movement and great deception, Rory lost a close first game 12/10 but came out strong in the second and third, going 2–1 up by taking the next two games 11/5 and 11/8. The sixth consecutive match of the weekend for Rory was however starting to take its toll, and he lost the fourth 11/7. The fifth was not disappointing for any of the spectators with a high standard of squash on display despite both players showing signs of fatigue. With errors being the critical factor, the fifth game swung to and fro, though in the end the Belgian had a little more energy left in the tank, beating Rory 11/9 to take the match 3–2 for Belgium.
Fergus was up next against Xander De Deygere. Fighting to keep the tie alive, Fergus had a hard task ahead of him. With the Belgian starting strongly and a few errors from Fergus, Scotland lost the first game 12/10. However, realising his opponent wasn’t quite so strong moving into the front, Fergus started to use the front court more effectively, taking the second and third 15/13 11/8, to take a 2-1 lead. In a fantastic fourth game, the deciding factor was Fergus’s front court play. After much cajoling, Fergus started using the counter drop to great effect, playing five in the last game alone and winning every rally he used it in. Fergus took the fourth 12/10.
With the final tie poised at 1-1 (Once again…), Elspeth Young faced the European No.1, Nele Gilis, winner of the Individual event only a few days earlier. Despite preparing well for the match, Elspeth wasn’t quite ready for the skilful Gilis, losing the first game quickly, 11/2. At this point the crowd watching was thinking things would be straightforward for the Belgian girl – Elspeth however, had different ideas. Lifting her game to a superb standard of squash, Elspeth showed her fighting Scottish spirit and took the second game 11/9. With a stunned crowd, Elspeth continued her form in the third game, losing a tight 11/6. Still not accepting defeat, Elspeth fought well in the fourth, finally to be overcome by her higher ranked opponent, 11/5.
Although disappointed not to reach the top eight, every player in the Scotland Team both contributed to the overall result and performed with a maturity that bodes well for the future, and did Scotland proud by finishing 12th ahead of our seeded position of 15th. In addition, the future looks bright with Rory, Elspeth and Claire not only eligible for next year’s event, but also all moving to Edinburgh to study and train next year.
It would seem in Scotland we have an under 19 team with the potential of not only doing some serious damage in future, but of going on to greater things at senior level.