Northants youngsters show great spirit in Shrewsbury and Sunderland

The Northants 18 & Under team line up for the camera
The Northants 18 & Under team line up for the camera
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Heroic tales of diehard distance and dedication surrounded Northants 18 & U juniors’ weekend campaigns in Shrewsbury and Sunderland.

Damage limitation in both Group 5 and Group 4 had been the realistic aim, and ultimately it was achieved as both girls and boys ended three days of competitive action by staying put.

Yet that bare statistic masks epic adventure, a threadbare girls’ squad earning 5-4 and 8-1 wins on the first two days against Lincolnshire and West Of Scotland with coach James Haley before coming unstuck against Cornwall on Sunday.

Mark Taylor’s team hiked north to Wearside and back in the snow on Sunday night where total annihilation seemed certain after 9-0 thumpings by Gloucestershire and North Of Scotland only for a weakened team to produce a rabbit out of the hat on a size scale to Big Buck Bunny, with a 5-4 victory against Northumberland.

No wonder former county-based coach Richard Ward, now living in the Borders, sent Taylor a congratulatory text based around ‘The Great Escape’.

Preparations for the girls’ three-day stop in Shropshire were hardly ideal and with Leah Milligan not linking up until after the opener, they only had six players once Jemima Potter stepped off a train at Shrewsbury station at 9.30pm on Thursday, after the 170 mile trip from Millfield School in Somerset where any earlier release had been refused.

Yet with 14-year-old baby of the party Alex Lewis dosed up on paracetamol to combat sickness, the team somehow contrived to beat Lincolnshire, helped by singles wins from Potter at the head of the rankings as well as Lauren Phillips at three and Kate Clayson at 
four.

Coach Haley said: “We were 3-3 and had a fair idea on the ratings we would win one and lose one of the three doubles so it would all come down to Alex Lewis and Stephanie Reynolds at number three.”

That proved correct with Potter and Clayson securing their win, but having won the first set, Dallington pair Lewis/Reynolds looked on a ‘sticky’ at one set all and 7-1 down in the tie-break shoot out. Yet incredibly, they turned it around and won 11-9.

On a Saturday when the Cobblers were nearby winning at Shrewsbury, the county girls ran out winners against their Scottish opponents before a Sunday defeat halted before the doubles.

Yet even that hid a fighting performance as Haley said: “Both Kate and Alex were a set up while Lucy lost in three and Jemima had a set point before it turned against us. I think the fact we were such a small unit with backs to the wall actually helped us over the weekend and the girls showed a great team spirit.”

County LTC’s Harry Clements epitomised Northamptonshire team spirit by answering a late hour mercy call to make the 300 plus mile journey by train from university at Cardiff to fly the colours at Sunderland.

Without Joe Tyler and Jack Haworth it was always going to be a tough call for Northants, so the Northumberland win was a dream, carved out by singles wins down the order from Cameron Yuill, Mattie Masters, Kyle Rae and Linden Iliffe which at one stage had the side 4-0 up before Arthur Eyles and Rae clinched the match winning doubles 6-2, 6-2 at The Puma Tennis Centre.

“It feels as good as promotion, especially after the first two results,” said Taylor.

“The omens weren’t good going into the last day as Northumberland picked up two matches against each of the other counties and brought in their number one against us which made them stronger all round.

Yuill and Rae were key performers all weekend, while County LTC players Eyles and the Masters brothers Henry and Mattie all had their moments in the limelight, the latter only losing his final day doubles with Clements in three sets.

Taylor concluded: “On the first two days as Cam Yuill lost two matches in three sets while Kyle and Arthur had a match point in the second day doubles.”