Having finished second in the first half of the season, Oxfordshire were nominated to host the Division 2B promotion play-offs against Cornwall, Cumbria and Shropshire in the vets (over 45’s) competition. Unfortunately, Shropshire pulled out at the last minute, leaving some late fixture adjustments to play all three matches on one day instead of over a weekend. In their first match, Oxfordshire played Cornwall and managed to record an impressive 3/2 (16/7) victory. At first string the gutsy Alan Steptoe played with an abductor strain, yet narrowly lost 3/2 (11/7, 10/12, 6/11, 12/10, 8/11) to Neil Counter with both players covering every inch of the court. At two, returning from injury perhaps a little too soon, an off-form Chris Burton never got into his match against Tim Smith and lost 3/0 (8/11, 5/11, 5/11). Nick Barnett was far too strong for Mike Morgan at third string and recorded a fairly comfortable 3/0 victory (11/6, 11/8, 11/6). At 4th string, Paul Sayers was equally as impressive, beating Kev Hugh 3/0 (11/9, 11/7, 11/7). Sean Humphreys, Oxfordshire’s latest recruit, played his first match for the county at 5th string and played well to beat Jon Wills 3/1 (11/9, 9/11, 11/4, 13/11).
In the second match, Cumbria beat Cornwall 3/2 (18/6) to create an interesting finale with Oxfordshire. In this deciding match, non-playing captain Simon Street decided to rest Alan Steptoe after his exploits in the morning and Chris Burton was also rested, enabling Andrew Lewis and Simon Pick to join the three winners from our first match. At first string, Andy Lewis played David Gray, who finished the 2013/14 season at number 4 in England in the over 50’s circuit. Unfortunately, Gray was too fit and steady and did not allow Lewis to play to his full potential, with Andy losing 3/0 (7/11, 5/11, 9/11). At two, Nick Barnett finished off a fine weekend with a 3/2 (13/11, 4/11, 11/6, 4/11, 11/7) victory over the vocal Robin Ridley, maintaining his concentration well in difficult circumstances. At three, Simon Pick beat the tricky Steve Edmondson 3/0 (11/6, 11/9, 11/8), with Edmondson trying every trick in the book to get an advantage! Paul Sayers let a two game advantage slip, narrowly losing 3/2 to Neil McCartney (11/8, 11/2, 9/11, 10/12, 7/11). Unfortunately, a similar fate was dished out to Sean Humphreys as he also lost 3/2 (11/9, 11/6, 6/11, 7/11, 4/11) to the extremely talented England over 60’s international Ronnie Bell. In this extremely competitive encounter, Cumbria took the tie 3/2 (16/10) to take first place.
With two teams promoted, Oxfordshire consolidated their fine performance from the first weekend and will join Cumbria in Division 1 next season, leaving Cornwall and Shropshire to remain in division 2. Having enjoyed a great day, all the players would like to thank Abingdon Squash Club for their hospitality and flexibility in rearranging the courts after Shropshire dropped out. In addition, a special thank you to Dawn for her lovely cooking – always a pleasure eating at Abingdon!
Having not fielded a team in the Vets leagues for many years, this was a particularly pleasing first season, especially seeing the team spirit grow so quickly with a squad of players all keen to represent their county. Whilst everyone recorded some impressive wins over the season, Street awarded Nick Barnett Oxfordshire’s player of the year award for his vital contribution to Oxfordshire’s success - recording 4 wins from 5 this year.