Warwickshire avoid the drop.
The second weekend of the Premier Division County Championships for 2018, brought back memories from the 2016 season for the Warwickshire Senior ‘A’ team; in that they went into the final weekend having not secured a single point following the first three matches in October, despite the efforts of Warwickshire’s number 1 lady; Kate Hughes who was 4/6.
The team were hoping to benefit from the availability of England over 50’s Veteran Adrian Pilgrim, as well as Paul Lenormand, an attacking French player who has recently moved into the Warwickshire area. Loz Sweeney, Kate Hughes and Rachel Pilgrim maintained their positions in the team following the first weekend. Unfortunately due to work commitments, Captain Ian Ferguson was unavailable, and had passed on the captaincy role to Hughes. The team, as ever, were prepared to battle hard, even more so following the loss of Warwickshire number 1 Kenny Lindsay who tragically passed away in November in order to achieve mission impossible for a second time and to honour Kenny’s memory for his adopted County.
The first match on Saturday was against Middlesex. Despite their number one player Gabriel Achampong missing, Middlesex fielded three strong men including James Sprackling, Israel Awolaja and Gaurav Aravind; in addition to Sarah Horsnell and Sarah Menghistab. After the first 5 matches, Warwickshire trailed 1-4. Hughes having recorded a 3-0 win (7, 2, 8) against Menghistab. Pilgrim battled hard in a close 5 setter to defeat Aravind 11-9 in the final set. At 2-5 down, Warks number 1 beat Sprackling 3-1, followed by Hughes demolishing Horsnell 11-5, 11-2, 11-9. Paul Lenormand making his debut for Warwickshire, stepped up to help achieve Warwickshire 1st point of the season. However, despite playing brilliantly against top 10 Junior Awolaja, a very competent chopper, Lenormand lost out in the final set 7-11, with some very unfortunate luck going against him in the 4th end. The final score was a 4-6 loss for the Bears.
The second match of the day was against Devon, who had been promoted back up to the Premier Division once again this season. Men’s number one for Devon Dominic Sussex secured two wins against Pilgrim 3-0, and Sweeney 3-1. However, these were the only wins Devon achieved in the match, with Pilgrim beating Edward Haskell 3-2; Paul Lenormand securing his maiden victories, beating both Haskell and Harry Cutler 3-2; as well as Sweeney adding to Cutler’s woes. Hughes and Rachel both beat Sally Cutler (nee Smith); along with Cutler’s daughter who was only 5 years of age, and playing to avoid Devon facing any fines for incomplete teams! This recorded the Bears first win of the season; a score of 8-2, taking Warwickshire off the bottom of the table (although only just); up into 7th place.
On Sunday morning, Warwickshire faced current title holders Sussex. With the two Bennett brothers (Josh and Jack); George Hazel, Yolanda King, and Rose Rainton, it was always going to be a tough ask! Hughes enjoyed beating Rainton 13-11, 11-7, 11-6 (friendly revenge after losing to the same opponent at Women’s British League the previous weekend). In the last game of the match, despite being 1-8 down, Adrian Pilgrim knew the importance of every set and end, and played superbly against George Hazell, securing a win 13-11 in the 5th set. Rachel Pilgrim was unlucky to lose out to Rainton 2-3. Despite the 2-8 loss; Warwickshire had had a good warm up in preparation for what could be a crucial final match of the championships.
Going into the final match, Warwickshire were fully aware of their task. A win against Derbyshire would guarantee another season in the Premier Division; but would only be by the finest of margins going down to sets secured. A draw or a loss, and it was back to Division 1. This was going to be a real challenge, with the Derbyshire line up of Sam Perry, David Arrowsmith, Tim Denby; as well as Latvian Internationals Inta Zdanovska and Diana Rusinova.
Team Jelly Babies, Haribos and Jaffa Cakes certainly helped a few of the Warks. team at this point. Adrian Pilgrim played his heart out against Sam Perry, securing a 3-2 win (12-10, 8-11, 13-11, 9-11, 11-6). This was then followed by a win for Lenormand against Denby 3-1. Kate Hughes then recorded her ‘win of the weekend’ against Inta Zdanovska 11-9, 8-11, 11-6, 4-11, 11-9. This was another fantastic win for Kate who had lost to this opponent 0-3 at the recent WBL. Loz Sweeney then played superbly to battle back from 0-2 down to defeat David Arrowsmith (8-11, 8-11, 12-10, 11-8, 11-4). At 4-0 up, Warwickshire began to see some light towards the Premier Division next year; however, the following few hours were going to be a little stressful (especially for acting captain Hughes). Rachel Pilgrim lost 3-11, 13-15, 10-12 to Rusinova. Score line went to 4-1. The reliability of Adrian Pilgrim proved successful again, beating Denby 3-0. This was a great win for Pilgrim who had been defeated last season against the same University student. Rachel couldn’t match Zdanovska losing 0-3. Score line 5-2. Warwickshire had to win one of the three final matches to secure the win….. Sweeney and Perry had a topsy-turvy match. Sweeney being 2-0 up; only for Perry to level 2-2. Sweeney had a little luck go his way and sneaked through in the 5th. Despite feeling some relief, Kate Hughes went on to defeat Rusinova 3-0 (11-3, 11-3, 11-9); and Lenormand defeated Arrowsmith 11-6, 11-4, 3-11, 19-21, 11-7, the 4th set being the highest score recorded over the weekend.
Warwickshire had done it. The 8-2 win against Derbyshire had secured a place in the Premier Division for the 2018/19 season. The team finished in 5th place (with 29 sets) a 5 set positive advantage over Derbyshire on 24. Derbyshire were also very fortunate to remain in the Premier Division, having been level with Berkshire on 24 sets (but had a slightly better games difference percentage).
It was a fitting end to a difficult year for all concerned with the County set up, but all the players and coaches involved knew how proud Kenny would have been and the team would like to dedicate their great escape to Kenny as he was the inspiration behind their success.
Loz Sweeney: 4/8
Adrian Pilgrim: 5/8
Paul Lenormand: 4/8
Kate Hughes: 7/8
Rachel Pilgrim: 2/8
Acting captain, Kate Hughes would like to thank all players for their hard work, effort, and determination throughout the weekend. There was a fantastic team atmosphere, supporting one another in every match. Additionally, thanks to the Pilgrim family; for all their support from the side line, along with Rugby member Sarah James, and Colebridge members Alan Buttle, Inky Moss (and Ian Ferguson via text messaging)