On 10 March 2018, our under 16 girls table tennis team competed in the Butterfly National School Team Championship Finals held at Hinckley Leisure Centre for the right to be crowned National School Team Champions. Their dedicated coach, Rob Pugh, tells the tale of the girls' battle for championship glory.
All epic journeys eventually have to end and for the Dane Court Girls Under 16 Table Tennis team this spectacular, roller-coaster, unbelievable and for me, as the coach anyway, stomach churning trek finished happily.
From November to March the team went from Gillingham (County), London (Zonal), Bristol (Regional) to Hinckley (National), over a thousand miles in total (surely more than any other school in the country?) to finally emerge victorious in their final match against Lancaster Girls Grammar School to clinch third place in the Butterfly English Schools Table Tennis Association National Final.
For three of the team, Catherine Banks, Annabel Cole and Tayla Bayley this day at the Finals was the high point of their five year Table Tennis career at Dane Court as they move into the Sixth Form from September. It is hard to imagine that the school will ever have three better female Table Tennis players in the same year who have all worked so hard and competed so fiercely to fully deserve the outstanding success they have achieved.
After another overnight Travelodge stay, this time in Leicester, the team arrived at Hinckley on Saturday, March 10, excited (whatever Tayla might have said. I know Tayla you really were excited!) and a little apprehensive, about taking on the other three best school teams in England. First up the Charles Read Academy, Corby Glen, near Grantham, Lincolnshire. Never heard of them? Well by the end of the day they were deservedly the National Champions. Their top three players; Mollie Patterson (Number 3 ranked Junior Girl in England); Darcie Proud (Number 11) and Danielle Kelly (Number 20). Some team to play against in the first match and unfortunately although the Dane Court girls fought hard against these three top quality opponents, they were unable to lay a glove on them and our opponents all comfortably won their two matches. However, the Charles Read Number 4 player was not at the same level as her illustrious team mates and both Tayla and the Dane Court Number 4, Beth Brenchley, managed to make the final score a more respectable 6-2 in favour of the Lincolnshire school.
Next up another extremely tough match against our old rival Okehampton Community College, Devon, who in 2016 and 2017, had beaten Dane Court 8-0 and 7-1 at the Regional Final. Their top three players; Mari Baldwin (England ranked Junior Girl Number 12); Emily Haskell ( Number 28 ); Zoe Bennett ( Number 73 ); Again these girls were unstoppable but again Tayla and Beth beat their Number 4 player to make the final score another 6-2 defeat which was at least our best ever result against Okehampton who then went on to lose narrowly against the Charles Read Academy and so finish Runners Up.
Then the final game against a very good Lancaster Girls Grammar School team who had also lost both their previous contests. They just had the one England ranked player at Number 98 so Dane Court definitely had a chance of clinching third place but it was never going to be easy. Three of the 8 games went to final set deciders but each Dane Court girl held their nerve to win them all and with three other victories this time we were on the right side of a 6-2 scoreline. Catherine Banks, the Dane Court Number 1, really hit top form in this game to win both her matches with some clever chopping and blocking allied with her natural attacking game while Annabel Cole got the first set against her England ranked opponent and then beat the Lancaster Number 3. Tayla again came up trumps to win both her games and with Beth winning one of her two matches the victory was secured. This led to a real sense of achievement that we had competed at the highest possible level of schools Table Tennis and had managed to win a match and earn the accolade of being the third best team in the whole of England.
As far as I am aware (and I am sure Mr Towe will correct me if I am wrong?) no Dane Court school team has ever achieved so highly in a truly National competition and that is why these girls deserve an enormous amount of credit. For me personally it has been a real privilege to see them develop both as people and Table Tennis players (I was also lucky enough to teach all four of them History at some times before I retired and they were all good History students). There have been no egos in this team and they all listen and respond positively to advice although they must be sick of listening to me telling them things that some of the time they knew only too well! I really hope they all continue playing Table Tennis because it is a great sport to be involved with for so many reasons and next year if, she continues playing, Beth will take on the role of Number One and team captain as the school looks to build another successful team around her.
Once again massive thanks to Helen (Annabel’s Mum) for driving us all those miles; for Debbie’s (Tayla’s Mum) unstinting support over the last few years; also to the PE staff at school for their support; all the Dane Court teachers who allowed the girls to miss lessons for Table Tennis and very importantly to those people at Saint Anthony’s Table Tennis Centre and Hartsdown who have coached, encouraged and helped the girls in so many ways (too numerous to mention but you all know who you are).