Host region East Midlands are preparing for this year’s National Championships with a squad consisting of students from 14 colleges.
Last year the region managed to finish mid-table in seventh, but will be hoping home advantage plays a role in helping them better that this time around.
Last year’s result: 7th place
Colleges representing the region in 2017: Bilborough College, Brooksby Melton College, Burton and South Derbyshire College, Central College Nottingham, Chesterfield College, Derby College, Gateway College, Lincoln College, Loughborough College, Moulton College, New College Nottingham, New College Stamford, Tresham College, Wyggeston and Queen Elizabeth 1 College
Star team: Derby College’s cricket team – part of the Andrew Flintoff Cricket Academy - will be hoping the experience of their fifth-place finish at last year’s National Championships stands them in good stead to challenge for medals this time out.
“We expect the team to be very competitive and to play with a lot of passion and pride, and to bring the gold hopefully back with them,” said coach Rahim Ali.
“With the two current players in this year’s squad who represented us in last year’s Championships, we expect them to share their experience from last year to help us to our ultimate goal.”
One of the returning members of the squad is all-rounder Jack Richardson, who will captain the side in Nottingham, and will be key to the side’s success with his leadership skills and experience.
Another player to look out for is another all-rounder, Ahmed Raza. Both players proved pivotal in helping Derby win their regional tournament with relative ease, but neither coach Ali or his players are taking anything for granted as they prepare for the test at Trent Bridge.
They have already taken part in several in-house practice matches and had sessions around both the tactical and physical aspects of the Indoor24 format.
“We want to play with passion and unity, and also to be great ambassadors not just for ourselves but for Derby College, Andrew Flintoff Cricket Academy and the East Midlands region on a whole,” Ali added.
One to watch: For the first time in a number of years, the East Midlands will be sending a women’s rugby team to the National Championships – and they’ll be among the favourites for gold. With students from Loughborough College making up the regional side, they are likely to be a formidable force as they look to take the title from Wales.
A number of the players are part of the RFU’s talent development pathway, so they are more than comfortable with participating in high level rugby.
“I think the team has great potential and I would hope we make a really strong account of themselves,” said coach Chris Parr. “As we’ve not been before there will be an element of not knowing what to expect from the event, but also hopefully other teams will not know what to expect from us and we can use that to our advantage.
“I know the players are really excited to represent the East Midlands and Loughborough College. Our main aim is to really enjoy the experience, see it as a challenge to test ourselves at a major competition and enjoy playing against some quality opposition.
“I think this year we felt with the group of players we have here a college, we could really represent the East Midlands to a good standard and showcase East Midlands’ rugby well. The region is known for producing some really strong players and now we feel it’s a great opportunity to add to that, continuing that tradition.”
According to Parr, captain Amy Relf, along with Amelia Harper and Zoe Warrington are the key players to look out for, although he sings the praises of the squad’s strength as a unit too.
And it’s little wonder with the level of preparation they’ve been undertaking ahead of the trip to Nottingham.
“We have been playing a number of 10s and 7s events alongside the other six AASE colleges across the country; the level of competition has been great for the players and the physical preparation that goes with that is really beneficial,” he said.
“We also ask the players to ensure they get the balance between academics, sport and lifestyle right, so as part of their programmes we try to ensure they prepare well off the field, with the right nutrition, psychology and educational support, especially as the Championships is quite next the start of the exam and revision period.”
Despite the high level many of the Loughborough girls play at currently, Parr still believes the National Championships could act as a good learning curve for his squad, with many having never competed in a multi-day event before, and act as a springboard for bigger things to come.
“I hope it gives the girls a real buzz about playing 7s rugby and a potential springboard to the England U18s FIRA 7s team, UK School Games and longer term, the Olympics,” he added.
National Championships veterans: Wyggeston and Queen Elizabeth 1 College’s men’s volleyball team are returning to the National Championships this year having finished outside of the medals last time out in Tyne and Wear.
Four players from the 2016 squad will be heading to the University of Nottingham, including captain Zak Harris, Qaasim Mohammed, Ben Greenhill and Wojciech Snakowski - and simply an improved performance is their sole focus for this year’s Championships.
In their own words, ‘success’ in Nottingham would be “to not come last and not embarrass ourselves!”
And with their levels of preparation, they should be confident of achieving their goal – and maybe even surprising themselves.
The team train twice a week and compete in the local Leicestershire adult league, while they are also hoping to get some extra help from some old playing contacts to give the players an extra level of competition.
The team’s coach, Jenny Kirk, said: “The two things the lads themselves commented on from last year was the need for them to maintain concentration, particularly against the teams that are similar ability; and to work hard on keeping team spirit high.
“In volleyball there is a real tendency when one head goes down, for everyone else to follow, and team spirit on court can definitely win or lose sets. I’m excited to see the lads rise to the challenge, support each other and play some of their best volleyball!”
What they say: “Competing in the AoC National Championships is an amazing opportunity for Central College students to participate in a special event.
“Having the competition in Nottingham and the ability to play on such high quality facilities at Nottingham University will be inspiring.
“Our students are very much looking forward to the competition and being part of such a large event.”
Diane Garfield – Central College Nottingham, Community and Performance Sport Manager
“Our students are looking forward to competing at the National Championships at Nottingham in April. We have students representing both men’s and women’s teams in hockey and basketball. This is an excellent opportunity for our students to showcase their talents against other college teams and students across the country. Our students have been working very hard in preparation for these competitions.”
Robert Crump – Moulton College, Lecturer (Sports Studies)