The men’s squash firsts were one of York’s most impressive teams last year, securing promotion after a run of five straight victories without any of their players losing a match. Yet they face a problem this year keeping their team together with some of their key players being tempted away by rugby, college football and postgraduate studies. Today, an under-strength men’s team lost 4-1 to Leeds University seconds, with one of their players only just turning up from a college football match in time to play.
Paul Atkinson let match point pass in the fourth game of his hard-fought encounter on court three. Had he taken it, York would have levelled the overall score at 2-2, but might well have had to forfeit their last game as player Matthew Brennan had not yet arrived from the football field. It would have been a farcical end to a highly competitive match but the situation never arose. Instead Atkinson missed his opportunity and his opponent took the tight final game 11-9 to seal the overall victory – just as Brennan turned up.
It had looked over for York far earlier as their two opening players both lost. Matt Johnson looked comfortable in his opening game, which he won 11-5, yet he was thrashed 11-2 in the next and never recovered – losing a tight third game 11-7 and then the fourth by the same score. Alex Leigh also looked good in the opening stages, winning his first game 11-7 but then lost the next three quickly against a difficult opponent. With Atkinson losing his first game, it seemed as if it would be a quick win for the visitors.
York achieved a glimmer of hope however as Captain Calum Fraser took command of his rubber against the Leeds first seed. He demolished his opponent 11-1 in the first game, but if he was expecting an easy ride from then on he was mistaken. What followed was one the most competitive and thrilling games of squash you’re likely to see at this level. Every point was contested with long fierce rallies, particularly at 8-7 to Fraser where the players fought over the point for nearly a minute, both of them pulling off a range of unbelievable shots. Only a mishit from Fraser ended the battle, but he went on to win the game and subsequently the match.
This, with Atkinson’s comeback on the adjacent court, seemed to put York right back into the fixture. Yet despite coming so close, his opponent was just a little too strong. Matthew Brennan then turned up and entertained both sets of spectators with a typically charismatic performance in the remaining dead rubber. Despite, in his words, a “Herculean” effort – just after playing 90 minutes on a football field – he lost his game 3-1.
Fraser said the loss was “unfortunate” despite a “good effort” from his side. He said he was optimistic about the season ahead in the new league, but the availability of players is certain to be a big problem in the coming months.
Elsewhere the women’s team beat Northumbria seconds 4-0. The team also made a habit of defeating opponents without losing any games last season and they continued this trend today. Captain Ciara Wilder congratulated her team, saying “everyone played well, especially seeing as it was our first match together as a team.”
The men’s seconds also won their fixture, beating Leeds Met thirds 2-1. Captain Will Wainewright said it was a “good start to the season” against a “really strong side.” Wainewright and Tom Armstrong both won their matches, the latter destroying his opponent 11-4, 11-3, 11-3 after losing his first game. Fresher debutant Alex Turner lost his match 3-1, but the result was already sealed for the home team.
Men’s firsts: Calum Fraser (c), Paul Atkinson, Matthew Brennan, Matt Johnson, Alex Leigh
Men’s seconds: Alex Turner, Will Wainewright (c), Tom Armstrong
Women’s seconds: Emily Russell, Charlotte Gregory, Ciara Wilder (c), Hannah Sisman