Preview by Sally Jones
STRATFORD coaches Oliver Plaskitt and Simon Ferguson plus youngster Luke Hammond will be part of the Warwickshire men’s squad bidding for promotion at this week’s Aegon County Cup.
Warwickshire Men, led by new captain Gavin Henderson, compete in Group Five at West Worthing in the week-long competition which starts today (Monday).
And former Stratford coach Natasha Hillyer will be spearheading the county’s women in their push to win Group One at Eastbourne.
Although missing this year’s Wimbledon sensation Dan Evans and Lloyd Glasspool, Henderson believes his combination of youth and experience could pull off a coveted promotion after several disappointing seasons.
Henderson, the Warwick Boat Club head coach, has recruited several of his teammates include his fellow WBC coach Malik from Stratford, the big-serving Richard Partridge from Coventry and Stratford’s Hammond, 20, a tennis scholar at Oklahoma State University.
Junior international Mason Recci, 22, from Solihull partners Stratford coach Plaskitt at first pair, with Sutton stars Max Stewart, and Oliver Nolan as second strings. Nolan, a tennis scholar at University of North Carolina won the prestigious US National College doubles title last autumn.
Relative veteran Tom Wride, 42, from Edgbaston Archery, will partner Luke Hammond, while Stratford coach Ferguson complete the squad.
“We’ve picked proper doubles players, all strong serve-volleyers,” explained Henderson who himself played for Cumbria at County Week for 20 years.
“On fast grass courts you can’t afford to stay back and play baseline singles. There’s great camaraderie in the side too – vital on big points in tight matches, so I’m convinced we’re capable of winning promotion.”
Former national junior champion Lilly Mould, 17 from Solihull and Coventry stars Hillyer, 30, and Soumeya Anane, 25, will spearhead the Warwickshire women’s side as Katie Shaw’s young team bids to take the title they last won in 2008.
The big-hitting Mould partnering the experienced Hillyer at first pair, looks set to play a key role and after a string of impressive victories on the British circuit has been awarded a scholarship to an American university. Anane winner of two ITF doubles titles will partner Katie Malazonia, 19, from Birmingham, who, along with Rugby’s Lizzie Massey, 19, is also honing her game at an American university.
With several Warwickshire stalwarts missing through injury or work commitments, three players are making their County Week debuts, Blossomfield coach Josie Williamson, 23, 16-year-old Sophia Mezzone and naturalised New Zealander Kara Biggs, 29, from Warwick Boat Club.
“We play the reigning champions Surrey on Day One – a tough ask with several big-name absentees,” said captain Katie Shaw.
“We’ll be relying a lot on our experienced players like Soumeya and Tash – but we’ve got some really talented youngsters too and they’ll be hitting freely with nothing to lose. I’ve been impressed by how Lilly, Katie and our other teenagers are learning to scrap for every point even in high-pressure matches, which at top county level can make all the difference between victory and relegation.”