The Army Squash Championships 2018 were held at the Winchester Racquets and Fitness Club, a first class venue for this premier event.
With over 150 entries across 7 events, this year would prove to be one of the most strongly contested and successful in recent history. The range of players was impressive; from the Army No1 and Ex World ranked player Capt Sam Miller to first time novice Spr Matt Holt. Every event was highly competitive, with special mention to the Novice events which were particularly close and hard fought.
The early rounds of each competition divide the players between the main event and the plate competitions, allowing the players to be ‘sorted’ into evenly matched cohorts and ensuring at least a minimum of a couple of matches over 3 days. With the early rounds complete it was down to business.
The Open had the Army’s best players doing battle for top honours. There were no surprises in the first few rounds with all top 8 seeds making it to the quarter finals. The first surprise of the day came as SSgt Deans Boys, having only be back 1 day from an 8 month operational tour, beat Army veteran Lt Col Phil Ashman 3-1 – an impressive performance from one of the most talented Army players considering how little squash he has played (Dean that is not Phil!).
Maj Luke Dodington showed how much he has improved over the last few years, coming through a brutal 4th round match against Spr Arthur May 3-1 to set up a quarter final with up and coming Army player, and No2 seed, Bdr James Burke. Despite a spirited fight from Luke and some quite outstanding retrieving, James proved to be too strong on the day winning 3-0 to earn a place in the Semi Final. Top 8 place for Luke and a successful Army Championships as he fights for a place in the Army first team.
The final was a ‘David and Goliath’ event with ex-World top 70 and UK Armed Forces No1 Capt Sam Miller taking on rising star Bdr James Burke. After an initial tentative start James got into his stride and played some excellent squash, finding good length and forcing some weaker shots from Sam (weaker by Sam’s standard, still good by mere mortal’s standards!). At times James looked at a loss when Sam retrieved his best shots and at one point asked the crowed ‘How can I get the ball away from him’! As we had all been beaten and were out of the competition we had no meaningful advice to offer – he was on his own! The consistency, experience and quality of Sam’s game was too much for James and he eventually lost 3-0 in a match of the highest quality squash.
The entry into the Ladies’ event was a little disappointing this year, largely due to the non-availability of established players through work and injury. Nonetheless the quality remained high even if the numbers were low. The final was contested by the Army Ladies No2 Maj Elaine Radcliffe and Army Ladies No3 Lt Michelle Higgins. In a close contest, it was the fitness and tenacity of Elaine that led her to victory over an experienced Michelle to win 3-0.
The age categories received a high number of entries this year. The reigning U25 champion Cfn Adam Smart proved to be too strong for Lt Jonno Griffiths in the final, winning comfortably 3-0 in a one sided final – more work for next year Jonno! Newcomer to Army Squash Dmr Paul Jones showed his fitness and strength in the final of the O35s. Despite having a 3-2 battle with Bdr James Burke in the Semi Final of the Open earlier in the day, he was able to beat a spirited SSgt Lee Burnie 3-0 to take the title. There was a wide age gap in the O40s; WO2 Matt Price having only recently qualified for the O40s was at the younger end of the spectrum whilst his opponent, Maj Russ Bothwick was at the older end at 56 (oldest player in the competition, sorry for mentioning it Russ!). Youth was to prove too much for Russ in the end, after 3 long days of competition Russ looked much more tired than his younger (relative to Russ!) opponent. Matt was the eventual winner 3-0. The O45s was one of the strongest age events with many of the Army Masters players choosing to play in this event. One of the top masters in the country and Ex WO1 Craig Webb also took time off work to enter. The final was contested by Lt Col Phil Ashman and Craig Webb. This was perhaps the most interesting match of the age categories with a clash of styles; technical shots from Craig that sent Phil the wrong way to create winners, a more direct hard hitting game from Phil to try and wear his opponent down. However it was Craig’s technical game that proved the more effective, making few mistakes and managing to live with the pace of the game to comfortably win 3-1.
As always it was great to see so many novices taking part in the Army Championships. This is where the close battles take place in every round with enthusiastic amateurs fighting for a place in the final. This year did not disappoint, the most 3-2 matches were in the novice competition; over the 3 days the playing standard of the novices visibly improved as they gained experience, quickly learning from watching the more experienced players. The final was contested between WO1 John Turner and LCpl Lee Wakefield. In possibly the most entertaining match of the Championships John fought hard to stay ahead of a very determined opponent, eventually winning 3-1 to become Army Novice Champion!
Overall a very successful Championships where around 220 matches were played by novices, elite squash players and some veterans of the game – a true demonstration of the growing popularity and strength in depth within Army Squash.