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Herts Summer League - Melbourn 2 vs Nuffield 4, 25th June 2024

Melbourn won 12-3

The sun was scorching down. The England Men’s Football team had a game to play in the European Championships. What to do? Let’s play Squash! Well, obviously.

Turns out this was a good choice, because, well, Oh, England! The action on the court was far more inspiring… it’s true that is a low bar, but cleared with great comfort with the first two matches on particularly exciting. These started simultaneously as both courts were available to us (others had made the opposite choice and were being bored silly in front of the telly). That meant Colm O’Gorman (2) taking on Helen Walsh on Court 1 and Matt Walker (3) up against Clive Baker on Court 2.

Colm started well against Helen finding his rhythm, the back corners, putting a lot pace on his shots and with good positioning, he was able to comfortably stay ahead of his opponent throughout, taking it 15-7. However there were signs that Helen was warming up, had excellent fitness and the shots too. The second was a much closer affair, Helen in fact took a lead early on having introduce accurate drop and boasts, catching Colm out of position repeatedly. Colm gathered his composure, along with a lot more retrieving to nick the game 15:13. Ominously Helen was increasingly mobile around the court by the end of game two, retrieving extremely well, and a little unlucky to lose it.
Helen made amends in game three and dominated from start to finish, pushing Colm from corner to corner, his inability to recover his position giving Helen many opportunities to go for the kill. Helen’s fitness was telling as Colm was beginning to fade in the heat. A change of tactics was required, and Colm served deeper, and focused on simpler squash to drive to the back corners. This paid dividends in the sense of staying in the game. It was nip and tuck, at 10:10 anybody’s game. Helen had the greater need in order to stay in the match and some brave drops and boast again caught Colm out of position, Helen nicking the game 13:15 and setting the stage for a decider.
Colm had expended a lot of energy in the fourth, however he doubled down on his tactic of hitting deeper drives to keep Helen away from the front wall or with half court opportunities. This had the desired effect and Colm took a commanding 6:1 lead, then an unassailable 9:3. While Helen fought hard to recover the score, Colm saw it out to win the game 15:8 and was relieved to take the match 3:2.

Meanwhile, next door, the play started pretty loosely, with the ball popping out at unexpected angles. Matt initially struggled to control the chaos which resulted in the opening game being nip-and-tuck – up to 9-9 there had never been more than a single point in it. However, from here, Matt managed to impose some structure on the rallies, pushing Clive deep and benefitting from forced errors as he raced away with the opening game. A similar pattern held in the second, initially loose in rally construction and tight on the scoreboard but once again moving sharply Matt’s way in the closing stages as Clive’s pace around the court slowed up a little.
At 2-0 up Matt clearly felt comfortable and tried to pivot towards his natural game, looking to shorten rallies. The aim appeared to be to rattle through. And, well, it did make the rallies quick… but with the ball sitting up, and Clive rapid around the court, they were breaking in the wrong direction from Matt’s perspective – he was rapidly 7-1 down. From here things stabilised a bit, pulling back to 6-9, but then a further flurry of errors saw Matt fall 13-8 down. At the point of no return Matt stopped trying to force winners, won four straight points with solid rallying to close back to 12-13… and then immediately reverted to “how do I hit a winner here when it’s so bouncy?!?” tinning two balls to throw the game away.
A quick chat with teammates ahead of the fourth focused on long rallies being Matt’s friend – he was winning the vast majority of these – and this was taken on board which saw the crisis of confidence abate as swiftly as it had developed. Matt raced out to an 8-1 lead with some sensible and consistent Squash where he made no errors and simply kept the pressure up until Clive did. This broke the back of things, with Matt able to cruise the rest to win 15-9, 15-10, 13-15, 15-7.

Those results meant Jan Brynjolffssen (1) was able to start against Tom Oliver without the pressure of needing to win – the 2nds already had the three bonus points. But could he make it just a second 3-0 win for the team this summer? Yes he could because, being freed up to play his game, Jan found everything was in working order. And then some. Movement was good vertically and horizontally, shot choices were sensible, and mistakes were rare to non-existent in an opening game that was somewhere near Jan’s maximal level as he raced through it with the loss of just four points. The conditions may have helped somewhat in that – Tom’s game appeared to be touch and finesse based, which is a tricky gameplan to pull off when the ball is bouncing around like a lurcher…
… but the lopsidedness was also down to Jan burning nearly as hot as the day.
He cooled off very briefly at the start of the second, dropping 5-1 down… and then started serving like a demon, putting in a string of pinpoint efforts that either didn’t come back at all or made it weakly to the front wall. This resulted in a run of 10 straight points, part of a wider sequence of 14/15 in Jan’s favour. Game three was all about staying in the moment and not letting the knowledge of how well he was playing undermine him “stay in the moment” as was said in the between-games chat. This was mostly managed, with the pressure previously exerted also contributing as Tom offered up unforced errors at key points; for instance when Jan had made a rare error at 12-7, tinning a makeable drop shot kill, Tom immediately returned the favour by serving out. Two points later it was all done, a sharply taken backhand reverse drop closing out a 15-4, 15-6, 15-8 win that left Jan very happy and just a little bit gobsmacked about exactly how well he had played.

Skipper Colm said afterwards it was “yet another highly competitive tie against a strong Nuffield team, we continue our good run of wins and especially pleasing to see Jan play to his potential with a fantastic performance and a well-deserved win against a highly ranked opponent”