An incredible 19 colleges will be heading north to Tyne and Wear as part of the West Midlands team at the National Championships.
With such a vast array of talent heading north, the team will be hopeful of ending the southern domination of last year’s Championships and breaking into the top two.
Here’s all you need to know about the 2016 West Midlands team.
Last year’s result: 3rd place
Colleges representing the region in 2016: Cirencester College, Hartpury College, Herefordshire and Ludlow College, South Worcestershire College, Worcester Sixth Form College, King Edward VI College Stourbridge, Halesowen College, Bournville College, Joseph Chamberlain Sixth Form College, Dudley College, Sandwell College, Walsall College, Birmingham Metropolitan College, Henley College Coventry, King Edward VI College Nuneaton, North Warwickshire and Hinckley College, North Shropshire College, City of Stoke on Trent Sixth Form College, Newcastle-under-Lyme College
Star team: Sandwell College’s Ability Counts football team won their regional tournament with ease, beating reigning national champions Walsall College en route.
For several years the team, whilst competing regularly, have struggled to win games on a regular basis, although the emphasis has been on enjoyment and participation over results. But thanks to a partnership with West Bromwich Albion’s community foundation, the team have gone from strength to strength, and finally got their reward this season.
“Up until this year we haven’t been anywhere near National Championships qualification,” said FE Sports Co-ordinator, Matt Hammett. “Due to the development of the team and links created with the Albion Foundation Disability Football over the years, led by coach and college tutor Steve Poole, the college have been able to develop on the pitch and also attract better calibre AC players to the college.”
The team won each of their matches at the regional tournament, before facing what they knew would be an incredibly tough test against Walsall College in the final game. But they managed to keep their 100% record, securing a 2-0 victory over their rivals, and their place in Tyne and Wear.
“Although Sandwell College have had a presence at several of the recent National Championships in individual events, the Ability Counts players become the first team that we have ever sent, so we are very proud of them,” said Matt.
“To put this into perspective, West Bromwich (where the college is located) has just been named the second most deprived town in England, so we face challenges that many other colleges simply do not, making this achievement all the more pleasing.”
One to watch: Isaac McNulty is one of three brothers who have all captained Henley College Coventry’s rugby team.
Josh (currently full-time with Gloucester RFC) and Sam have preceded their younger brother in leading the side out at the National Championships, so Isaac has plenty of advice, experience and encouragement on hand, as he hopes to lead his side to gold in Tyne and Wear.
National Championships veterans: Hartpury’s netball team have a strong history of not only competing at the National Championships, but of securing a placing too, with medals in four of the last five years. With golds in 2011 and 2013, silver in 2014 and a bronze in 2012 – and only narrowly missing out with a fourth-place finish last year – Hartpury will be among the favourites again in Tyne and Wear.
Despite being a new group of players this year, the team qualified strongly through the regional tournaments, scoring 97 goals over six games, while conceding just 14. But the squad are taking nothing for granted, and will be returning to college a week early from their Easter break to resume training ahead of the Championships.
“The competition has got a lot stronger over the last three years in particular, so we never go in thinking we will be guaranteed a win just because of the hours of training they put in every week,” said coach Sarah Pretty. “The winner will be the team who performs best over two days and takes on whoever is in front of them regardless of history or perception.
“Every team has won their region and beaten teams to be there which makes them no different to anyone else.
“What I will say to my team is should they apply their tactical knowledge, use their strength and speed at every opportunity and mentally stay resilient, together and tough, then Hartpury will be hard to beat.”
What they say: “The only down point about qualifying back in November is that not a week has gone by yet without any of the Ability Counts players popping into the office with a barrage of questions about the National Championships!
“Although the excitement has been building since qualifying, it is clearly visible as we approach the Championships now and the lads simply can’t wait to go.
“We hope to do the college and the region proud in both our performances and representation of disability football.”
Matt Hammett – FE Sports Co-ordinator, Sandwell College