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Essex League Cup Final Roundup

Last Friday saw the culmination of the Autumn-Spring season with a new cup competition introduced to finish the season. Essex League teams were offered the opportunity to enter the cup competition and it was pleasing to see over half the teams opting too.

The final of the Sanderson Cup (Premier teams) saw Hamptons go up against Connaught. In a different order to a typical Essex League match, it was our number one seeds who got us underway. It was nip and tuck between two of Essex’s brightest young talents in Jamie Brown (Hamptons) and Yusuf Sheikh. Jamie started the match the strongest but saw his early 2-0 lead wiped out and fell 7-2 behind before mustering a response. It was some response as some excellent drop shots and court coverage saw him overturn the deficit and win the twenty-minute match 18-9.

Second up was the number 3 strings with Jamie’s younger brother Louis Brown representing Hamptons against Connaught’s Paul Blom. There was nothing to choose between the tricky teenager Louis and the vastly experience Paul. With the game tied at 5-5, Louis pulled a hamstring which saw him retire. As a result, the score was recorded as a 5-0 for Connaught.

In our third match of the evening, seasoned Essex talent in Dave Smith (Hamptons) came up against a hungry and relentless Rob Thirst. Despite Smith’s best attempts early on in the match to keep pace with Thirst, he quickly fell behind and Rob won the match 30-5. This result saw Connaught take an impressive 44-23 lead with two matches left to play.

Our fifth string saw an Essex master’s player in Mark Shildrake (Hamptons) face a national Racketlon player in Keith Lesser. Mark started the match with a point to prove and raced into a 10-2 lead. As they started the match twenty-points behind, Mark knew that he needed to secure maximum points to give his side a chance. The Essex veteran was surprisingly speedy around the court and despite Lesser’s attempts to stay with him Shildrake took the match 30-7. This was enough to see Hamptons take a two-point lead overall into the final match.

Finally we saw four strings Dan Burns of Hamptons face Mark Barlow of Connaught. It was a nervy start with both players knowing the importance of keeping the ball tight and getting points on the board early. It was Burns who found early success and took an impressive 7-2 lead after just 6 minutes of squash. Barlow was not to be beaten easily but wasn’t getting the shots he needed to turn good play into points. As the match went on, Burns fitness shone through and he was able to put together a steady run of points. Barlow knew the task was now too big and the match finished 28-7 to Hamptons.

This was enough to see Hamptons run out overall winners 81-58 and be crowned the inaugural champions of the Sanderson Cup. The cup is named after Barbara Sanderson, a stalwart of Essex Squash who has given decades to the game we’ve all learned to love. Thank you Barbara.

The Webster trophy had a local feel with Woodford Wells 2 facing teammates and friends in Woodford Wells 3. The first match of the day saw the number fours meet, with an intense battling ensuing with no quarter given throughout. Harry Best nicked the match 16-15 against a hardworking Mark Kapinos to give Woodford Wells 2 an early one point advantage. Next up was the number ones, with Laura Neill making her cup debut for Woodford Wells 3. She faced an experienced Essex League opponent in Sam Weatherhead who was able to dominate the game early on and develop a big lead. Neill fought back but was too little too late as Weatherhead ran out a 19-13 victory.

The number two’s followed with George Rapley (2) facing Roy France (3). There was nothing to choose between the two and the match finished as tightly as it started, with the players locked together at 18-18. String 5 was our penultimate matchup of this final, with Chris Blackham (2) meeting Adam Waring (3). Chris Blackham had lost just one match all season, and took his imperious form into the final, getting the better of Adam Waring and winning 28-20. The impressive margin of victory gave Woodford Wells a very healthy lead into the final match. Last up was Essex League veteran and tournament organiser Jon Caton (3) facing Thomas Noetzel. Much like the other matches it was closely fought with nothing to choose between players in the opening ten minutes. As the match headed towards its conclusion, Jon Caton stepped up a gear and got over the line to win 16-14. Unfortunately the late win for Woodford Wells 3 wasn’t enough to stop Woodford Wells 2 from taking a 94-83 win and the Webster Trophy.

Unfortunately, the Woodhouse Trophy was an uncontested final as David Lloyd 2nds pulled out on the night. It was a real shame as it promised to be a great final between the league winners Old Brentwoods and an entertaining David Lloyd 2nds. Therefore the Woodhouse Trophy winners for 2024 were Old Brentwood, making it a league and cup double – well done guys!

The cups were a great addition to the regular Essex League season and it would be great to see these continue in the future.

Note from Essex SRA Chair:

I had the privilege on Friday evening to watch some amazing squash played at the Wells in the finals of the Essex Cups. It was great to see players battling for a point till the last second thanks to the format of the tournament, and the post-match celebrations demonstrated the respect and comradery within the squash playing community.

I would like to extend our thanks on behalf of the Essex Committee to Jonathan Caton and Mike Hegarty who dreamt this up and worked hard in the organisation of the tournament, Woodford Wells Club for hosting and making us all feel welcome. And of course, you, the players and teams that entered making this such a successful tournament.

The finals night also gave us the opportunity to present the league trophies and a special presentation to Sue Woodhouse for her long service to Essex and national Squash. We hope you all enjoyed the County Cup tournaments and look forward to supporting this again in 2025.

Once again, thank you all for a great night of Squash.

Two men playing squash.

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