Team managers: Vicky Ault and Phil Broadbent
Team coaches/assistants: Mike Johnston and Tom Hatton
Boy squad: Danny Hyde, Joshua Mo, Jake Evans, Ben Wilkie, Joe Hatton
Girl squad: Zoe Siu, Shreya Kamath, Lucy Ault, Katie Donegan, Emily Broadbent
Think noise – as in drums and air horns. Think four days of entertainment featuring the nation’s top junior talent. Think a heaving mass of far-from-fragrant, youthful bodies. No, it’s not Glastonbury, it’s the ICT!
Six of the ICT squad from 2017, plus four new recruits represented Lancashire at the prestigious and challenging ICT (Inter Counties Tournament) from 5th-8th April. This tournament – the major team event in the U18 calendar – takes place each year around Easter time at Nottingham University, with 32 teams and around 300 players competing in nine rounds of matches spread over four often long and gruelling days. The facilities at the new university are second to none, with a 20 court sports hall providing a perfect venue for the event. After winning for the past number of years, Buckinghamshire went in to the event as favourites, with counties such as Kent, Surrey, Yorkshire and local rivals Cheshire all tipped to push them close.
Lancashire’s performance at last year’s tournament meant that we were seeded to finish anywhere between 9th-24th, but we were realistically hoping to finish anywhere between 6th and 12th. After checking into their hall, shuffling mattresses about and getting their bearings, the team congregated (or perhaps “straggled” might be a more accurate description!) in the main university sports hall for the obligatory team photo.
First of the day’s three matches was against Cornwall. On paper, it seemed as if Cornwall had much stronger girls than they did on the boys side. The first two mixed were evenly split with Josh and Emily losing in two, however, Ben and Lucy levelled things up after winning a tight battle at 2nd mixed. The two boys’ singles were more straight forward with Danny and Jake both winning comfortably in two, giving us a nice 3-1 lead. This was then followed by the girls’ singles which we knew would be more of a challenge. Zoe lost in two, pushing Cornwall’s top girl very close and unfortunately, Shreya was unable to pick up her game, narrowly losing in three sets. After this slight wobble, the team then got back on track with Danny and Jake winning at first and Joe and Josh winning at second. This meant we had a 5-3 lead going in to both girls’ doubles. Thankfully, Zoe and Shreya nicely wrapped things up with a good win, with Katie and Lucy losing narrowly, again in three sets at second. A 6-4 win overall. A bit closer than we would have liked, but overall a nice start.
We were then straight on to our second match, against Herefordshire. We knew that they had a strong first boy, but hoped to use our strong levels pairings to maximise our games. A reversal in fortune this time in the opening two mixed games, with Danny and Zoe and Ben and Katie both winning in two, giving us a nice 2-0 lead. We then lost both boys’ singles, with Jake putting up a good fight against Herefordshire’s top player and Jake being really unlucky to lose 16-14 in the third at second singles. The girls then got us back on track with Shreya and Lucy both winning comfortable and giving us a commanding lead going in to the levels. As expected, top boys’ doubles was a tricky encounter, but Danny and Jake pushed the opposition all the way, only losing to 13 in the third end. We then managed to win all of the remaining levels doubles in two games and finish the match of nicely, giving us a 7-3 win. A top 16 place was secure, which meant we could now think ahead to the Cheshire game in the evening, which we always knew was going to be a tough match.
Time for tea back at the university halls and then a quick dash back across to the sports hall for our late night match against Cheshire. After losing to Cheshire 14-6 in the Shires League this season, we knew we had to try and target which games we thought we could win. Cheshire were clearly a bit concerned about us as they decided not to play their 5th boy against us to try and strengthen their team as much as possible. To get to the point, this was not our finest match and we ended up losing 10-0, despite some games going very close. Shreya and Zoe got the closest to pinching a consolation point for us, only losing 15-13 in the third end. Overall, a slightly disappointing end to the first day, but we had achieved our objective of getting in to the top two in the group and therefore qualifying to play for the top 16 places. We got to back to the rooms about 11pm, time for a quick shower and rest for the next day.
Day two in 2017 had been a real grind for the team with some games slipping away to narrow defeats, so the players were all very much in the mood for making amends, even with three difficult matches on the cards. The day started with some bad news, with Katie having woken up with a back muscle spasm and therefore unable to play. Nevertheless, with Katie getting the treatment she needed, the team ploughed on and got over to the hall ready for the first game. Due to the fact we ended up second in our group we ended up with a slightly tougher draw. First up was Leinster, who are always a bit of an unknown quantity due to their players not being on the English junior circuit. First up, were the mixed doubles. The Leinster top pair were clearly well drilled and Jake and Emily did extremely well to take them to three ends. However, with Ben and Lucy also coming up against tricky opposition, we ended up 2-0 down. We then got back on track, winning both boys’ singles. Danny won easily at first, with Josh having a really grind to take his second game 21-19. At 2-2, we thought we were in with a real chance, however, the girls’ singles slipped away with Zoe and Shreya putting up good efforts. Unfortunately, the Leinster level doubles pairs were clearly very familiar playing with each other and all four went against us. Lucy and Emily came the closest to winning, managing to take their game to 3. An 8-2 defeat and a tough start to the day.
Next up, were the winners of the past few ICT competitions, Bucks. We knew this would be a very tough match, so we decided to mix things up a bit. The team really went for it and put in a fantastic effort. Josh and Shreya had a great win at 2nd mixed and Jake took Ethan Van Leeuwen, the top U18 player in the country, to three ends in the singles. This was actually the only set that the Bucks player dropped all tournament! Ben and Joe also put in a superb fight at 2nd boys’ doubles, again taking it to three and Lucy and Emily had a brilliant win at 2nd girls’ doubles. Overall, another 8-2 defeat, but a great team effort and spirit all round.
A quick trip for an athlete’s lunch at McDonalds followed, with all the team keen to see if they could return from Nottingham with a Mini or £100,000 thanks to Monopoly vouchers! It was back to the sports hall and Staffordshire were next. We knew this would be the game that we had the greatest chance of winning. First up once again were the mixed doubles. Josh and Shreya had a good win at top mixed winning in three ends, but Jake and Emily sadly lost a close second mixed. This was followed by Ben playing 2nd boys’ singles and Zoe playing at 1st girls’ singles. Both put in fantastic efforts and won in three ends, putting us 3-1 up. Sadly, the next two singles for Jake and Lucy went against us, with Lucy unlucky not to go to three ends, meaning we went to 3-3 in the match. The girls’ doubles followed with Shreya and Zoe and Lucy and Emily both winning to put us 5-3 up and in with a great chance of winning. Both boys’ doubles went on last and what was an extremely tense half an hour. Josh and Danny had a great match, but sadly lost 16-14 in the third, having had the chance to close the match at 14-13. This was followed by Ben and Joe who again were unfortunate not to convert game points in the 2nd end, losing 15-12, 17-15, putting us at 5-5. On the side of the court we were frantically adding up the games and soon realised that luck was against us, we had lost the match by 1 game. We were up on the points overall, but having had some games that we could have won in two ends, not three and having had the chance to convert some game points, there was great disappointment amongst the team. Having lost to Staffordshire, that meant that we would be playing for places 13-16. Had the Staffordshire match gone our way we would have qualified for places 9-12 and guaranteed a minimum of 12th. It just shows how tight some matches can be and how every game and every point really does matter.
We headed back to the halls of residence and ordered a Dominos to soften the blow. It had been a long day and the team and managers were all extremely tired. However, the team still had a great spirit and despite the teams being separated between girls and boys across the accommodation, there was a great togetherness. It was time for a shower and to relax. There were some shouts of ‘Colin!’, down on the boys corridor and the managers were wondering what all this was about. It was only until later in the tournament, we were told it was something to do the training the players attended back in Lancashire. It was safe to say that despite the other teams having no idea who on earth ‘Colin’ was, they certainly were sick of hearing the name by the end of the tournament.
On to day three and the team were determined to prove that they were more than capable of fighting against the top counties. First up were Hampshire. Having seen them draw 5-5 against Cheshire the previous day, we were surprised to see Hampshire in the same group as us. However, it appeared that their team had some strong top end players, but perhaps not the depth of other counties. We therefore had a difficult decision in team selection to try and predict how they would play their team. We were also hampered by the fact, that Danny’s wrist injury, which he had coming in to the tournament, had severely worsened over the long two days of badminton and he was unable to play to his full potential. In spite of this, Danny and Zoe put up a great fight at first mixed against Hampshire’s top girl, taking it to three ends. Unfortunately, the other mixed also got away putting us 2-0 down. Ben and Zoe had two great wins in singles to bring us back level, but Jake and Lucy were sadly unable to convert their games, again putting us on the back foot. On to the level doubles, Ben and Joe had a good win to put us back in contention, but sadly the other three games got away from us, leaving us with a 7-3 defeat, a score which did not truly reflect how close the match was.
Next up were Oxfordshire. Having the match straight after the previous game, meant that Danny was really feeling the effects of his injury and was only able to play one game. The two mixed games again got away from us with Oxfordshire really strengthening their pairings. Shreya then had a great win at 1st singles, but losses for Jake and Lucy really put us on the back foot at 4-1 down. The team then put in a tremendous fight back starting with Ben winning his singles and Shreya and Zoe playing a great game in their doubles. Next up were Lucy and Katie in what could only be described as an epic game. It was point for point all the way with both sides having chances. With the drums and air horns going, the tension was immense and the third end reach 20-20 with the next point winning the game. Thankfully, Katie and Lucy got this point putting us 5-4 up. Finally, Joe and Ben took their game to three, but took the third end comfortably, leaving us with a 6-4 win. A superb team effort for a 6-4 win and a good end to the day. However, it seemed as if the badminton Gods were against us again! In the titanic girls’ doubles, Lucy had dived for a shot in the final points of the third end. After playing on and winning the game, Lucy then came off saying her wrist was hurting. A trip to the physio at the end and the news wasn’t good. It was a suspected fracture and a trip to A & E!
The rest of the team headed back to the accommodation, whilst Vicky went off with Lucy to get her wrist looked at. Another trip to McDonalds to again see if we had more luck there than we did with our injury list, was then followed by some free time which included 5 a side and some badminton spectating. It was then the evening and time for the ICT disco. Our boys were clearly keen to show that they were superior on the dance floor, whereas the girls were a bit more chilled and happy to keep the boys in order. The team managers headed off to the bar for a well earned break and a chance to socialise with some of the other team managers from different counties. It was them time to collect our team from the disco. On the way over, we came across the girls who were clearly sensible and heading back over for a reasonably early and relaxing night. The lads on the other hand, were clearly enjoying themselves and were there until the bitter end. This was followed again by some mysterious chants, including for the elusive ‘Colin’ back on the way to the accommodation.
On to the final day. It was an early breakfast and a chance to pack all the cars, before a trip across to the sports hall to face our final opponents, Shropshire. The team were clearly up for this game, knowing quite a few of their players for the circuit, but sadly Danny was unable to play due to his persisting injury. Unfortunately, once again the two mixed got away from us both in three ends. Zoe and Shreya, then got us straight back on track with two good wins in singles. Jake lost a close game at top singles, with the second end slipping away 18-16. In spite of this, the next five games were all won in a relatively straight forward manner in two ends. This meant a final 7-3 victory for us and we thought we had secured 13th or 14th place. Down the other end of the hall, Hampshire were playing Oxfordshire and we could see the final boys’ doubles taking place. It ended up going the way of Oxfordshire and we couldn’t quite believe it that they had beaten Hampshire, who were clearly feeling the effects of the disco the night before. Again, it was a look to the referee’s table to see the overall placement with ourselves, Hampshire and Oxfordshire all winning 2 matches. We were again left unbelievably disappointed when we found out we had finished 15th overall, again by 1 game, with Hampshire still finishing 13th by 5 points despite their loss and Oxfordshire ended up finishing above us, despite our victory over them the previous day. Nevertheless, the team had put in a fantastic shift on the last day and we felt we had given it absolutely everything
In the final on Sunday, the rumours of this being the year when Bucks may risk being toppled from the top spot proved to be inaccurate! They edged out Surrey 6-4 in the final game, leaving Bucks in 1st place, Kent in 2nd, Surrey in 3rd and Yorkshire in 4th.
Overall, the atmosphere across the four days in Nottingham was fantastic. There was a great team spirit and despite having some really disappointing close results going against us and three injuries occurring across the team, the players put up a great fight. Margins were so tight, with Staffordshire who we lost to by 1 game on day two finishing in 11th place. Of this year’s squad, only Ben, Shreya and Zoe will be eligible for inclusion in the 2019 team, and the inevitable influx of new blood will mean that it’s a challenge to maintain Lancashire’s position in the top 15. The likelihood of success will at least partly depend on how our younger players develop over the next 12 months. Having played in the ICT and been there the past two years it really is the highlight of a player’s junior career. It is great to see the pride that the players have in playing for the county and I sincerely hope that this will continue. What is clear to me, is that the counties at the very top of the ICT clearly are well drilled in playing together and are comfortable with the more tactical mixed and level doubles with a variety of different partners. It would be great to see a real team spirit not just at the ICT but all the way across the Shires League and junior season.
As ever, a big thank you must go to all the parents who regularly ferry their offspring around the country, and spend many a day in sports halls of dubious comfort (and warmth) while urging them on from the sidelines. It’s rewarding when it pays off though, isn’t it!? There were many parents therefore throughout the ICT supporting them team and playing every shot with them from the sidelines. Thanks must go to Vicky for managing the team not just at the ICT, but all through the season. Also, to Phil for assisting the team and gaining sponsorship and to Tom Hatton who kindly assisted in coaching the team at the event. I know Vicky was certainly worrying about not just how the team would perform, but also their well being and in this voluntary role, it really is a big responsibility and a huge undertaking.
And of course a massive well-done has to go to all of the players in this year’s ICT squad, some of whom were making their final appearance for the junior county squad, but who will hopefully be moving up to one of the senior squads in the near future, if they are not in one already. It really is a great event to finish as a junior and with a new senior county 4th team being entered next year, I really do hope the players push themselves for this. So, that’s it! Another ICT over and my second time going with a lot of the players. I’d like to thank this group of very talented individuals that have lived and breathed badminton for some years now with the aim of reaching the ICT. It really did make me feel old when I was packing my bag and found my ICT shirt from 2009 and realising that it was 9 years ago. Many of you have been playing together for some time and have produced some awesome displays in the two years I have seen you at ICT. The amazing thing is that every one of you has been a delight to work with … different in personality, of course, but it’s been my pleasure. Please do keep yourselves involved with county badminton, whether it be in the seniors or juniors next season. It really is a great experience and one to relish. Thanks, well done, good luck and, most importantly, enjoy playing.