Warwickshire Juniors headed into the final round of matches of the County Division 1a championships at Westfield TTC, Weavers Leisure centre with relegation for the second successive season a distinct possibility. With only 2 points separating them from both South Yorkshire and Worcestershire and the dreaded drop, Warwickshire needed to secure 3 points from their remaining 4 fixtures in order to cement their place in the division.
Warwickshire were once again forced into bringing in new recruits, with both Emma Kilpatrick and Timmy Cooper unavailable. Lisa Rinnhofer and Lee Dorning were the debutants selected following their recent good form and they were not to disappoint.
Jesse Kendrick Hill, Sam Henderson and Olivia Fletcher made up the remainder of the team and they too were to provide pivotal roles in Warwickshire's attempts at avoiding relegation.
First match of the day saw the Bears face fellow relegation strugglers South Yorkshire in what was to prove to be a crucial encounter, one which immediately from the outset cemented Warwickshire team spirit that was to continue throughout the day.
In a topsy turvy match that saw both sides never more than 1 game ahead, at 4-4 it was left for Olivia Fletcher and new boy Lee Dorning to step into the arena and potentially take a huge step to retaining the County's divisional status. Olivia duly won her match against Roseanne Hurst, leaving a nervous Lee Dorning with the unenviable task of knowing that a win would give the Bears a 6-4 victory. Having won the first game comfortably against Bradley Wood, Warwickshire could be forgiven for thinking the tie would be a formality but Wood had other ideas as he stormed back to take the next two games and plant the seed of doubt in Dornings mind that most debutants would feel in such a crucial match. However, after winning a thrilling 4th game 19-17, having survived multiple match points against him, Dorning levelled at 2-2 and once more there was all to play for. Going into the final game, Dorning once again found himself match point down at 10-9, but the talented youngster remained calm and positive and managed to take the final game 12-10 and secure 2 invaluable points for the Bears. Dorning was duly awarded the man of the match award for his 2 wins, but the importance of the rest of the team couldn't be underestimated as they each chipped in with a singles victory of their own.
The second round saw Warks take on Chesire who were one place ahead of the bears by the narrowest of margins in the league table. Once again a see saw of a match resulted in another 6-4 scoreline, only this time the Bears were on the receiving end and with Lee Dorning appearing to be suffering physically following on from his epic double in the previous round, despite a win each for Lisa Rinnhofer, Olivia Fletcher, Sam Henderson and Jesse K-Hill, Warwickshire still needed a point from their remaining two matches to solidify their position.
The penultimate match of the championships saw Warks take on title favourites Lancashire who had won 6/6 and were top of the league going into the fixture. The impossible almost seemed to be happening as Warwickshire somehow managed to take a 3-0 lead, with wins for Olivia, Lee and perhaps the most impressive victory of the day in Sam Henderson's fantastic defeat of Jack Dempsey. However, Lancashire came storming back into the match with 2 quick victories of their own, before the hard working determination that has become a trademark of Sam Henderson's short career came to the fore as he completed a remarkable double with a 4 game victory over Joel Webb to put the bears 4-2 up and just one set from avoiding relegation. Lancashire however were top of the table for a reason and with what appeared to be in the blink of an eye, found themselves 5-4 ahead and once more looking good for the title. Up step Warwickshire's new found man for the moment; Lee Dorning who had a formidable task ahead of him in taking on Jesse K-Hills conqueror Alex Storey. Dorning played with a maturity that reminded Captain Ian Ferguson of a young Mathew Outhwaite and played beyond his years to gain a 3-1 victory and secure Warwickshire the point that meant they were safe from the drop and put a huge dent in Lancashire's title hopes along the way. With Henderson and Dorning both gaining 2 victories each, it was only fitting that they shared the man of the match award. The result meant that regardless of what Worcestershire or South Yorkshire did, Warwickshire could no longer be caught.
The final match of the campaign, was against a strong Staffordshire side, that had the talented left hander Stephen ward spearheading their team. It was to be Jesse Kendrick Hill, Warwickshire's number one final junior appearance and he did not disappoint. Despite yet another 6-4 loss for the Bears, Jesse was outstanding and beat both Michael Bree and Stephen Ward in 4 and 5 sets respectively. On his day Jesse can compete with the top juniors in the Country and he showed just how gifted he is with some remarkable backhand and forehand looping that proved simply too much for his higher ranked opponents and earned him the man of the match award. It was a wonderful way for Jesse to sign off from his junior career and he will no doubt be a valuable asset to the senior side should he continue to progress and develop as a player over the next few seasons. Further singles victories each for Henderson and Dorning saw Warwickshire get to 4 sets, but both Lisa and Olivia were incredibly unlucky to lose both of their matches, Olivia in particular as she lost both of her ties in the 5th and deciding set, leaving the Bears wondering what possibly could have been.
Despite the loss, Warwickshire were extremely proud to avoid relegation and the manner in which they did it with a draw against eventual runners up Lancashire, simply made it all the sweeter. Each and every player made significant contributions with vital wins at crucial times. Whilst it has been a long time coming, the girls; Lisa and Olivia both played some wonderful Table Tennis and with 5 wins between them showed that they are not far off competing with the strongest girls on the County circuit. Both behaved impeccably throughout the day despite some incredibly tight losses and they were extremely unlucky not have come away with a few more victories between them. This season has been an invaluable learning experience for all of the girls who have represented the County and they are all the better for playing at such a high standard.
Warwickshire can now look to the future with great hope despite losing their number 1 ranked player Jessee K-Hill, as they have found 3 excellent players in Sam Henderson, Timmy Cooper and Lee Dorning who all have next season to continue with their TT progression. Warwickshire can also boast a number of excellent young female players in the shape of Emma Kilpatrick, Olivia fletcher, Lisa Rinnhofer and Milly Bradshaw all fighting for the coveted number 1 position within the County. However with even more players pressing for inclusion in the County side, in particular Anshul Satsangi, the current squad will need to be on their toes as their selection is by no means automatically guaranteed.
Weekends individual results;
Jesse Kendrick-Hill 4/8
Sam Henderson 5/8
Lee Dorning 5/8
Olivia Fletcher 3/8
Lisa Rinnhofer 2/8
County Junior Captain