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).
Sometimes in sport, as in life, you have just got to be patient and wait for the moment to appear. This was certainly the case for the Dane Court Girls Under 16 Table Tennis team as at the fourth time of trying they magnificently qualified for the National Final of the Butterfly English Schools’ Table Tennis Team Championships. Twice the girls had been Runners Up at the Regional Event but this time they went one better by winning the Southern Event at Bristol on Saturday 3 February.
This time the team had the luxury (well the Filton, Bristol Travelodge) of an overnight stay and so avoiding a 5:00am start from Broadstairs and this might have made a difference? They certainly came flying out of the blocks in the opening match of a three schools contest with only the winners gaining a place at the National Final. The opposition from the Holte School, Birmingham were beaten by a margin of 7-1 but that result was bettered by the third team in the tournament, Budmouth College from Weymouth who thrashed Holte 8-0, which meant it was winner take all in the final game between Dane Court and Budmouth.
This turned out to be a tense and enthralling battle between two very talented and closely matched teams. Budmouth had the advantage of having an unusually strong fourth player but not an outstanding top player so it really was difficult to predict the outcome before the start.
Dane Court made the perfect start with Number One player Catherine Banks comfortably defeating the Budmouth Number 2; on the other table Annabel Cole, the Dane Court Number 2, hung in there brilliantly to beat Budmouth’s top player in five sets to establish a 2-0 lead for her team. Tayla Bayley, the Dane Court Number 3, then made it 3-0 with a win against the Budmouth Number 4 before the Dorset school got back into the match with a win for their Number 3 against Dane Court’s Number 4, Beth Brenchley.
Catherine then extended the Dane Court lead to 4-1 with another win and then the nerves began to jangle a bit as Annabel lost to the Budmouth Number 3 meaning that Dane Court still needed one more win from the last two matches. Cometh the hour cometh the girl and this time it was Tayla who produced a great victory against the Budmouth Number 2 to clinch the victory for Dane Court. In the final game Beth played superbly to take the first two sets against the very capable Budmouth Number 4 but then ran out of steam as her opponent came back to win another five-set thriller; this then meant a 5-3 final score in Dane Court’s favour.
The Dane Court parents and coach had by now aged at least ten years watching the last hour and a half’s top quality Table Tennis but thankfully the team had emerged victorious against talented and stubborn opponents who sportingly wished us well in the upcoming Final.
So, it was job done and Dane Court can look forward to playing in the National Final for the first time ever at Hinckley in Leicestershire on Saturday 10 March.
All four of the girls, as ever, produced tremendous individual performances to see the team home. Catherine, the most experienced player, rarely dropped below her very best, and did not lose a single set in either match, using her favourite forehand hit time and time again to win crucial points. Annabel who ended the match looking as if she had run at least a couple of marathons kept calm at crucial times and pulled off the result of the day by beating the Budmouth Number One; Tayla also dug in at difficult times to win all her 4 games while it is hard to believe that Beth, a Year 9 student unlike the others who are in Year11, had only started playing Table Tennis properly a few months ago. She has come on in leaps and bounds as her technique and knowledge of the game improves and it was great to see her achieve 2 wins in the first match and come very close to beating the Budmouth Number 4.
Thanks to all the parents for their great support and especially to Annabel’s Mum for driving us there and back, and along with Tayla’s Mum, staying overnight with the girls and supporting them during the tournament. Thanks also to the Dane Court PE staff for their support and to many people within the Thanet Table Tennis community who have helped, supported and coached the three older girls to become the players they are.
On Saturday 13 January 2018 the Dane Court swim team competed in the Kent Secondary Schools Individuals Gala. Overall Dane Court won 18 medals.
For the fourth year running the Dane Court Under 16 Girls team have qualified for the Butterfly English Schools’ Regional Finals; this time though they went one better than the last two years by winning the zonal tournament rather than getting to the next stage as runners up.