TABLE TENNIS: Youngsters return in annual county tournament
Young table tennis players from across Northamptonshire were back in competitive action for the first time in over a year
Youngsters from across Northamptonshire had the opportunity to play competitive table tennis for the first time since March last year as the annual Northants County Junior & Cadet Tournament was held at Westfield Table Tennis Club in Wellingborough.
Eighteen of the best young players in the county aged between seven and 17 came together to compete in the cadet boys (under-15), junior boys (under-18) and girls events.
The junior age category had just five entrants this year and this was reduced to four when one of the players withdrew due to illness.
Alex Cochrane went into the tournament as the number one seed and reigning champion and was joined by fellow Northants County squad team-mates Virgil Birch-Annan, Vincent Pham and Caspian Wagner while Mia Solomon, who was playing in the girls event, also joined in as a ‘guest’ player.
The format saw all the players playing each other in a round-robin format.
The two matches that stood out the most were Pham’s encounters with Birch-Annan and Wagner.
In the first of these, Birch-Annan managed to edge out Pham 20-22, 11-6, 10-12, 11-4, 11-9 in what was arguably the match of the day.
Pham did taste success in another five-set match with Wagner, taking the honours 12-14, 13-11, 5-11, 11-7, 11-7.
However, it was Cochrane who put down a marker, dropping just one game as he became a two-time Northants County Junior champion. Birch-Annan took the runner-up position with Pham in third place and Wagner fourth.
The lack of girls playing across the county at a competitive level was highlighted by the fact that the field was down to two on the day, which meant a one-match play-off between Solomon and Gabriela Koszyk.
Koszyk put in a very good display and did put her experienced opponent under some pressure but Solomon held firm to record an 11-5, 11-13, 11-8, 11-5 victory and become a county champion for the first time.
The boys cadet event had 12 entrants plus the runner-up in the girls event as a ‘guest’ player.
The players were split into two groups with the top two in each going into the semi-finals.
As a guest player, Gabriela Koszyk’s results would not be counted when working out the final group positions.
In Group A, the experience of Ben Aldridge Lucas Turnbull-Stubbs and Rushabh Patel showed as they all gained wins against newer players Luke Pettitt, Fabian Squires and Bart Koszyk.
Aldridge gained a clear 3-0 success over Patel and, with Turnbull-Stubbs defeating Patel 3-1, the final match would decide who topped the group.
And it was Aldridge who took the win with a 12-10, 5-11, 11-9, 4-11, 11-9 success to remain unbeaten while Turnbull-Stubbs finished second.
In Group B, Ansh Shah confirmed his status as the second see with five victories, dropping just one game to Adam Koszyk in the process.
The match between Koszyk and Arthur Warburton was always going to be vital in the battle for second place and, with the former taking it 11-9, 13-11, 11-7, Koszyk secured the runner-up position.
In the playoffs for final positions, Prasad Sardesai defeated the youngest Koszyk sibling in the 11th/12th place match, Daniel Pettitt (ninth) saw off the challenge of Squires (10th), Prithvi Menon (seventh) took out Luke Pettitt (eighth) and Warburton (fifth) claimed the spoils in his match with Patel (sixth).
Aldridge found himself up against club colleague Adam Koszyk in the first semi-final and although tested, he was able to record a 3-1 win to move into the final.
In the other semi-final, Shah recorded a comfortable win over Turnbull-Stubbs to set up a final between the top two seeds.
In the play-off for third and fourth, it was Turnbull-Stubbs who claimed a 6-11, 11-8, 11-9, 11-7 victory to secure third spot.
The final proved to be a fitting climax to an excellent day.
Aldridge drew first blood 12-10 and then moved closer to retaining his title when he moved 2-0 up courtesy of an 11-7 scoreline.
However, Shah hit back to take the third 13-11 and then levelled with an 11-7 game.
In the decider, Aldridge looked like he had regained control of the match as he earned two championship points when he edged 10-8 ahead.
But a run of four consecutive points from Shah turned it around and Shah became the Northants County Cadet champion for the first time.
Westfield Table Tennis Club chairperson and coach Kevin Bird said: “It’s been a difficult time for many over the last year and in particular for those of school age so it was great that the Northants County Table Tennis Association were able to run this event and give the young athletes the opportunity to finally play some competitive matches.”
And Northants County coaching officer Henry Arthur added: “Sport and physical exercise can be so important to many people and the benefits of sport on an individual’s mental wellbeing is well documented.
“It has been a tough time for many people and there were some concerns about returning to play but it was fantastic to see the sports hall buzzing again and be able to provide the opportunity for the young athletes to get back to doing something that they love and take so much enjoyment from.”