9:30 Sunday Morning - let Preston Championships begin.
It's cold, but no snow or ice and no rain - phew. Whilst 9.30 was the start time for the days events, plenty of volunteers and competitors had already been busy setting up our table tennis hall and the main sports hall. In total there would be 12 tables in play. Competitions included the Cadets (U15), Juniors (U18), Singles, Veterans Singles (over 40), Over 60's Singles, Handicap Singles and Doubles. Taking part were players from all 3 of our divisions, others who attend our Monday night coaching sessions and those who previously had stuck to playing at our Friday night social sessions. Age of competitors varied from 10 up to, well, a lot lot older.
As with any well run event, the day required the support of event Organisers Tony Rigby (who was also competing), Tony Kendal and John Irving along with many unsung "others" who helped provide the PA system, collect the money, sort out the draws and ensure everything was set up and ready for play. A big thank you to all the volunteers and helpers - players included - who helped put up and take down equipment and score matches.
First off were the Cadets. The winners and runners-up from the two groups would progress to the semi-finals. In Group 1 Toby Ellis (Jacobaeus A) qualified in top spot. Noah Chappell-Elgie (Preston Colts) was runner-up.
In Group 2 Aakanksha Tripathi topped the group after a winning a hard fought match 3:2 against youngest competitor in the Championships and current England Girls National U10 Champion, Bethany Ellis (Preston Colts).
The group results meant the first semi-final would be an all Ellis family affair which older brother Toby (aged12 and ranked 5 in England in the U13's and 15th in the U15's), won comfortably 3:0.
Is the second semi-final, Noah Chappell-Elgie continued to impress in his first season playing table tennis. Noah produced a composed display to defeat Aakanksha Tripathi (England Girls U15 ranked 42) 3:0.
In the final, number 1 seed Toby did what was needed with an efficient 3:0 victory over Noah who despite his defeat will have gained invaluable experience of competition play.
[Coming soon, video's of most semi-finals and all finals on our website and Preston Table Tennis YouTube channel]
Veterans [over 40]:
At the same time the Cadets were playing, the group stages of the Veterans competition was taking place. Last years winner John Porter (Jacobaeus A) found himself in a tough group which included Keith Lee (Gryf A).
The week before, John and Keith had played in a league match which Keith won 3:2. Keith was to repeat his victory today and in doing so qualified from the group at John's expense. The defending Veteran's Champion was out. Keith followed up his victory over John by progressing to the semi-finals where he continued his good form in defeating 7 times Veterans Champion Andy Michnowiec 3:2. It was an intriguing and tense battle. Earlier in his quarter-final, Michnowiec (URCL) hampered all day by injury, overcame Brian Oldfield 3:2 in one of the matches of the Championships.
In the bottom half of the draw, Ian Felton (Astra A) comfortably progressed to the semi-final stages where he defeated a resurgent and determined Mike Armishaw 3:0 to set up a final with Keith Lee.
The Veterans is the one event (minus the over 60's, which Ian was pleased to remind me he was too young to enter) Ian had yet to win at our Championships. This was a record Ian was determined to put right but the final against Keith Lee didn't quite go according to plan. Keith took the first game.
But from there on in, Ian raised his game. Despite playing solid match play table tennis, Keith was unable to maintain his momentum. Ian came back to win the match 3:1 and in doing so win that missing Veterans title.
[If you want to know more about who has won what at our championships, all our champions from all our events are recorded on our "Honours Board" which you can find on our website. The results go back as far as 1928].
Next up was the Junior Competition and what a terrific competition it proved to be providing some of the matches of the Championships.
Although under 18, three of the semi-finalists are already playing in our Premier Division, Adam Oldfield (Deepdale B),
Oliver Garmston (Kirkham A) and Toby Ellis. The fourth semi-finalist, Ogi Kostov (last seasons Best Newcomer award winner) continues to make excellent progress in Division 1 with Astra D.
In the first semi-final, Adam played Oliver. Both are friends and training partners so this was going to be a tough match. Adam, who's one of the most improved young players this season, started hot with forehand drives and loops coupled with punched backhand blocks denying Oliver time and forcing him back. Adam took a 2:0 lead and things looked grim for Oliver. But experience of handling pressure gained in his first season in our Premier Division coupled with progressing through Preston Cadet and Junior teams in the North West Junior League [a competition Adam also represents Preston in) and elite group training at Garstang, stood Oliver in good stead. As his own forehand began to fire, Oliver slowly worked his way back in to the match levelling it at 2:2 before going on to win the decider. It was a match Oliver later described as "one of my best to date" and one I'm sure he'll enjoy watching back on YouTube.
Not to be outdone, friends and practise partners Ogi Kostov and Toby Ellis provided their own 5 set thriller. In a see-saw match, Toby won the first game 12:10 and the second 14:12. Ogi, with new found confidence from a successful February where he narrowly lost 3-2 in the semi-finals of the Junior Band B event at the prestigious Stiga Blackpool Junior 4 Star Event and a week later became runner up in the Lancashire Schools Junior Championships, fought back winning the third 11:6 and the fourth 11:7.
It's hard playing a friend and practise partner, it's a different type of pressure and Toby who often looks laid back and unconcerned when playing his control game was under pressure. In to game 5 and Toby built a 9:5 lead before Ogi pegged him back again. At 9:9 Toby, with his own experience of playing regularly in top level tournaments around the country didn't panic. An accurate serve set up the opportunity for some aggressive play which won him the point 10:9 . A controlled rally won the next and with it the game and match, a match played with a smile and which ended with a handshake. Both still friends and with plenty of opportunity to discuss what happened.
Then to the final. Oliver Garmston power, speed and aggression vs Toby Ellis, control and spin. Both players contributed to a hard fought, excellent final. With Toby's Preston Coach Jim Clegg watching on, Toby won the first and second games.
Helped by Ian Felton, back came a determined Oliver to take game 3. The match was back in the balance.
With instructions to tighten up his serve, Ellis regained control and took game 4 and with it the match.
At age 12 Toby Ellis has, in the space of a month, won our Premier Division Singles title and now our Championship Cadet and Junior titles. With a laid back style it would be easy to think it doesn't matter to Ellis but I know him and it does matter, it matters a lot. All credit to a 12 year old handling as best he can, the intense pressure of having a growing reputation for being the best young prospect in Preston since Donald Parker. In the 1980's Parker played in Preston under the tutelage of Jim Clegg and went on to play for England's Senior Men's Team in China at the age of 15, so there is a lot of expectation on Ellis's young shoulders. All credit to Garmston too, who with hard work and practise has progressed from being the 2015 Preston 2nd Division Singles runner up to a force to be reckoned with in 2018 in Preston's Premier league and the North West Junior league.
[for details of National Honours won by players from our league, check out our Honours Board section on our website]
Also great to see Bethany Ellis, Noah Chappell-Elgie, Aakanksha and Anupam Tripathi, Brandon Pepper, Luke Suffolk, Joe Johnston and a whole host of new youngsters benefiting from our coaching system which is soon to be strengthened by volunteers Martin Shaw and Danny Johnston who are about to take their UKCC Level 1 coaching qualification and join our coaching team lead by Tony Rigby. The future for table tennis in Preston looks bright.
With the Championships in full swing players, families and supporters watched on engrossed by what they were seeing.
Whilst Tony Rigby, Tony Kendal and John Irvine juggled lunch and player availability to get the Blue Riband Singles event started.
The early stages of the singles is based on a round robin group format with 3 players in each group. The groups are seeded based on a players averages and their league ranking and the winner goes on to the knockout stages.
[If you want to know how you compare to other local league players in Preston and Lancashire, why not check out the "RANKING" option on our website home page]
The thought of playing in our Championships can seem intimidating or even pointless to younger players and those who don't play in our Premier Division. However, the way it's organised gives everyone a guaranteed minimum of two matches and a great opportunity to meet new people and old friends whilst experiencing what it's like to test yourself against some of the best players in our league. There's also the chance that you may cause an upset!
Each player in the group is also expected to score a game.
Whilst those that don't progress are encouraged to score matches in the knockout stages allowing them to get close to the action and feel part of the Championships. Without players putting back this type of support our Championships would grind to a halt.
If you have never tried playing in our Championships, you are missing out. It's a great experience, not just for you but also for family members and team mates too.
With the group winners decided, it was on to the knock out stages. Keith Lee, runner up in the Veterans final was pitted against Toby Ellis. Lee controlled the match and proved too strong and accurate for Ellis winning 3.1.
In his QF Lee defeated Alex Tyson (Astra A), a solid experienced match player with an all round game and aggressive forehand. Lee was through to his second semi-final of the day.
Andy Michnowiec, progessed to the semi-finals by defeating Andrea Harrison (Astra A) who had come through a tough group including Danny Johnston (Deepdale B) and Ronnie Bennett (Kirkham B).
Elsewhere, in his quarter-final, John Porter eventually overcame an increasingly confident Ogi Kostov 3:2. Kostov who had a fine championships, had qualified from his group with an excellent win over experienced Paul Robinson (Astra A).
The last semi-finalist was Ian Felton, who overcame Astra A team mate Dean Walmsley in his quarter-final.
In the first semi-final, Porter averaging 73% and Felton 85% in our Premier Division, hadn't played each other in the league this season. But Porter had beaten Felton at the semi-final stage in our 2017 Premier Division Singles competition. Felton was determined to make sure the same thing didn't happen again. Right from the start Felton got after Porter with positive play, bossing the rallies, heavily spinning the ball and hitting winners. A tiring and increasingly frustrated Porter was unable to respond and was brushed aside 3:0 by a focused Felton performance.
In the other semi-final Michnowiec with a worsening injury, struggled to compete with a relentless Keith Lee.
Lee took full advantage with a ruthless, clinical display. Note to self, if you step up to the table in a competition match, show no mercy to your opponent. They are there to beat you and given the chance they will. Don't give them that chance. Lee won 3:0.
In a repeat of the Veterans Final, Lee was to play Felton. A fair reflection on the standard of the tournament match play these two men were displaying.
Just as in the Vets final, Lee took the first game. Once again Felton came back to take the second. Would history repeat itself? No. Not this time. Lee took the third 11:5 and the fourth 11:8 and with it his first Preston Championships. During our Championships, Keith Lee had defeated John Porter, Alex Tyson, Andy Michnowiec and Toby Ellis. No one could deny Lee was a worthy winner and 2018 Preston Singles Champion.
For Felton there was still the opportunity to win the Divisional Doubles title with team mate and partner Paul Robinson. But with fixture congestion mounting, we'll return to the doubles later.
Earlier in the day, the over 60's competition had taken place.
Tony Rigby's attempt to win his first over 60's title came to an early end with the distraction of organising and playing in competitions proving too much. It's hard to concentrate on your own match when your mind is elsewhere thinking about how to arrange other peoples fixtures to avoid delay.
The first Over 60's semi-final was between Mike Armishaw (Garstang A) who was having a fine championships and 3 times defending champion, Ronnie Bennett (Kirkham B). Armishaw upset the odds to win a tough encounter 3:2.
The other semi-final would be between Brian Oldfield (Deepdale A) and Barry Crook (one of the toughest match players to play in Preston ) who after an absence of a few years had returned to play in Preston with Kirkham A.
Oldfield, another man having an excellent Championships, proved too strong defeating Crook 3:0.
The final between Armishaw and Oldfield provided us with another classic. Armishaw playing as well as he's probably played in our Championships had a clear game plan. Solid up to the table play mixed with attacking topspin shots and controlled blocks pinning Oldfield down. Armishaw bossed the early games as Oldfield struggled. Games 1 and 2 to Armishaw. A surprise result looked to be on the cards. But back came Oldfield who seemed to change his own own tactics. Taking a step back from the table Oldfield gave himself a bit more time and played with more care and patience. Game 3 to Oldfield. In game 4 Armishaw fought back and served at 9:9 but Oldfield kept his nerve to win the game and level the match at 2:2.
With the momentum firmly behind Oldfield, it looked like he'd run away with the 5th. Not a bit of it. Armishaw continued relentlessly with his tactics keeping the score close until at 6:7 Oldfield put together a run of 3 points. At 10:6 in his favour, surely the match was Oldfield's. No. Back came a dogged Armishaw, 7:10, 8:10. But now the serve switched back to Oldfield who served at Armishaw's pocket. Armishaw stepped to his right favouring his backhand and top spun a reply to Oldfield's backhand side. This opened up the angle for Oldfield who saw the space and quickly top spun the ball back across the table and deep in to Armishaw's exposed backhand corner. Armishaw couldn't recover his position in time and his attempted return found the net. So close but still a fine Championships for Armishaw. For Oldfield, after many years of playing in Preston, his first Preston Championships title and well deserved.
One of the biggest problems organisers have at a large event like this is trying to balance then need to play matches with player availability and fatigue. Players often enter 3, 4 or more competitions and if they make it to the later stages of each competition, getting matches on and finishing on time can be very difficult for the organisers. To compensate organisers have to take every opportunity to get matches played.
What this can mean for players is little rest or, if you are knocked out early, long waits until the next competition starts.
For this reason, organisers often use the Handicap Singles event to try and keep players who are waiting busy and to keep the other events moving. Whilst it can be frustrating for players, it's hard for organisers to balance the needs of those who want a rest, with those who don't want to wait around for ages.
Playing in the Handicap competition is also an excellent opportunity for our younger and older players to interact with our top senior players on a level playing field, in short a chance to win and who doesn't like to do that? The Handicap singles is a straight knockout competition, best of 3, played up to 21. Players receive a start based on the division they play in and their seasons averages in that division.
If you speak to a senior player playing in our Premier Division, you will often hear their dismay when they realise just how many points start they have to give to some young kid with topspin weapons and enthusiasm. If you speak to players with a points start, it's never enough! Sometimes you can't please anyone, any of the time! Usually in our Handicap competition, it's someone with a high points start that makes the final and even wins it. This year that trend was broken. The two semi-finals were Dean Walmsley v Brian Oldfield and Andrew White (Jacobaeus B) vs Alex Tyson. White, another struggling with injury, and the only player left not playing in our Premier Division had done well to reach the semi-finals but found Tyson too strong and consistent.
Tyson won in 2 straight.
Oldfield vs Walmsley was a much tighter affair going the distance.
With both players also involved in the doubles semi-finals their match put the championships in danger of not finishing in time. To make matters harder for the organisers, Oldfield triumphed after a long see-saw match, winning the decider 21:19. As it turned out there wasn't enough time on the day to play the Handicap final between Alex Tyson and Brian Oldfield. This will now be played at a later date when both players are available.
Back in the doubles, Ian Felton & Paul Robinson had progressed to the semi-finals where they took on scratch pairing and surprise semi-finalists Brian Oldfield (having a busy day) & Clive Chisnall (Riverside B).
Clive, who's probably having his best season in Division 1 for a few years was thoroughly enjoying himself.
According to form, Felton and Robinson took the first game but Oldfield playing the captains role, and ably supported by partner Chisnall, came back to take game 2. Was another upset on the cards for the scratch pairing? No. Felton & Robinson regained control to win the next two games and the match 3:1. For Felton, it would be his 3rd final of the day, for Robinson it was vindication for having to wait around a long time after an early exit in the singles.
In the other semi-final John Porter & Toby Ellis took on defending champions Dean Walmsley & Alex Tyson. In an entertaining match, Porter & Ellis won the first game 11:3 with what Porter happily called "his best shot of the night", a backhand swipe - John would say glorious drive - from way out wide for a clean winner cross court. It left all four players smiling in disbelief.
But you don't become doubles champions for no reason. At 8:5 up in the second an edge went Walmsley & Tyson's way. A trademark cry of "taxi for Porter!" rang out. Game 2 to Walmsley and Tyson and soon after game 3. In the 4th, Porter and Ellis fought back and had game points to take the match to a decider but it was to be Walmsley and Tyson who took an epic 4th game 17:15 and with it a place in the final.
Organiser dilemma time. At nearly 6pm and after nearly 9hrs of competition there was only time for one more match to play. Tournament Referee Tony Rigby consulted with the players over which final should be played, the Doubles or Handicap Singles.
For logistical reasons the players agreed to play the doubles. The Handicap final will be played at a later date yet to be agreed.
Back in the doubles, Walmsley & Tyson started off strongly and took a crucial first game 11:8. The second followed quickly 11:4. Felton and Robinson showed signs of a revival in the third but it wasn't enough with Walmsley and Tyson winning the third 11:8 and retaining their title, 2018 Preston Championships Doubles winners.
With very few people left, players and organisers all mucked in to clear the sports hall of the remaining tables, equipment and rubbish left on the floor before leaving for home.
It had been a long day. There had been surprises, broken dreams, broken balls. New players have come to the fore and young names have shone and will grow from the experience. Friendships had been renewed, opinions exchanged and battles fought.
Families, interested parties and young new players had come down to experience what it was like to play in Preston Championships. If just one of them turns up at a Friday social session or Monday night coaching, it will all have been worth while.
We hope you enjoyed it.
Thanks to Tony Rigby and Andrew White. Special thanks to Tony Kendal and John Irving for manning the event desk on the day and helping arrange the playing schedule with Tony Rigby. Finally, thanks to all the players and family members who came down to support our event and to those who helped set up and take down the equipment. Hopefully see you all again in 2019.
Report: Paul Grayham
Photos: I lent a camera to players and spectators on the day who were asked to take photo's of whatever caught their eye. Pictures were taken by Tony Kendal, Bethany Ellis, Slawek Walewski and Paul Grayham.
If you ant a copy of one of the photos with you in, please contact Paul Grayham. Electronic Images can be provided free. Image sizes are typically 1.5MB.