The North-East will be represented by 11 colleges at the National Championships, as they strive to claim the Wilkinson Sword Trophy on home soil.
The region had a tough time at last year’s event, finishing in tenth place, but could prove sterner opposition this time around as the Championships move to the familiar surroundings of Tyne and Wear.
Here’s all you need to know about the 2016 North East team.
Last year’s result: 10th place
Colleges representing the region in 2016: Queen Elizabeth Sixth Form College Darlington, Sunderland College, East Durham College, Stockton Riverside College, Hartlepool College, Hartlepool Sixth Form College, Middlesbrough College, New College Durham, Prior Pursglove College, Redcar and Cleveland College, Tyne Metropolitan College.
Star team: Hartlepool Sixth Form College’s rugby 7s team have done well in the last few years at the National Championships, but failed to convert their potential into silverware. However, there is a feeling in the North East that this will change in 2016. An influx of young, skilful players coupled with the power and experience of the existing crop of second years suggests this could be the year that the team does something special. Hartlepool went through qualifying conceding just one try, but coach Chris Hyndman still wasn’t fully satisfied, as he believed that his team could have played better. Perhaps this determination and belief could set the foundations for something special in Tyne and Wear.
“We always have high hopes of the teams we send, the competition is always really tough and not something we get the chance to replicate in our warm up competitions,” said coach Hyndman. “Last year saw a couple of outstanding players like Joe Marchant on the pitch which highlights the level of players the lads get to compete against and also shows that winning medals in this type of competition is never easy.”
One to watch: Tyne Metropolitan College’s LD football team have represented the region for the last few years. They didn’t manage to claim gold last year but did so in 2014, and are determined to replicate that success this time around, with their A team winning all their matches to qualify for the Championships. Playing on their home patch, where they expect to have plenty of support, is an added incentive for the team who are coached by Geoff McKnight. If their 100% record in the regional tournament and home advantage isn’t daunting enough for their opponents, the team have been also playing regularly in LD festivals across the region, organised by Kieren Laverick from Durham County FA, helping them prepare for the Championships. “The experience of being in this league will support Tyne Met’s efforts in the National Championships, as it has given the players the opportunity to play in competitive fixtures in a number of different environments, testing their abilities against teams from across two counties who they may not have the opportunity to play against otherwise,” he said.
National Championships veterans: Middlesbrough College’s men’s and women’s volleyball teams will be representing the region this year and have done so for several years thanks to the work of Academy Director David Goodchild and coach Paul Walsh. Dave has held the role of the Middlesbrough College Volleyball Academy Director for the last 15 years, winning countless national titles with the college. This has given Dave the solid foundations to progress into one of the country's most respected elite level coaches. He is currently GB Women's Assistant Volleyball Coach and also coached GB Women in the 2012 Olympic Games, finishing in ninth place.
What they say: “It’s great to have such a prestigious event, and what could be described as the pinnacle of college sports competitions, held in the North East. This part of the country has a wealth of sporting talent and history and I’m sure more will be made in April.”
(Ben Robinson, Director of Student Transition and Progression at Hartlepool Sixth Form College, and AoC Sport Operational Group Chair)