Having fallen agonisingly short of the runners-up spot at last year’s National Championships, the West Midlands will be hoping the short hop over to Nottingham and rivalry with host region the East Midlands will propel them into contention at next month’s showpiece event.
The region takes a strong squad, made up of athletes from 15 colleges, to this year’s National Championships, where they could well push the South East and South West all the way.
Last year’s result: 3rd place
Colleges representing the region in 2017: Birmingham Metropolitan College, Bournville College, Cirencester College, Dudley College, Hartpury College, Henley College Coventry, Hereford Sixth Form College, Joseph Chamberlain Sixth Form College, King Edward VI College Nuneaton, King Edward VI College Stourbridge, Newcastle under Lyme College, Sandwell College, Shrewsbury Sixth Form College, Stafford College, Stratford Upon Avon College
Star team: Newcastle Under Lyme College have traditionally been a heavyweight in both the men’s and women’s volleyball competitions over the years, and 2017 looks to be no exception.
With the women’s team claiming silver last year, and the men’s team winning gold, the pressure will be on Newcastle Under Lyme, with other colleges eyeing a big scalp.
But they won’t be heading to Nottingham with any complacency.
Two of last year’s men’s team, and six of last year’s women’s squad will be returning, so will be fully aware of the level of competition, while their preparation on the court has been intense.
The squads have already played at the student University Cup this year and are training up to four times a week linked with a local club, playing regular fixtures through local leagues, National league games, friendlies and also AoC Sport fixtures.
The squads also contain a couple of real stand-out players for their opponents to try and nullify, with Alex Hague – an England junior – and National League women’s player Ineke Drijfhout, heading to Nottingham.
Volleyball administrator Richard James, said: “Our volleyball teams have their work cut out for them, but they will get the result from all the hard work and commitment they put into training.
“They all have the ability and with a few of last year’s players there also, they can bring the experience to the new students who will love the feel of the event.”
One to watch: A surprise package at this year’s National Championships could well be Birmingham Metropolitan College’s women’s basketball team.
The relatively inexperienced side have already upset the odds en route to Nottingham, beating a traditionally strong Sandwell College and last year’s National Championships winners Bournville College in the regional tournament.
And looking to build on their initial success, BMet are preparing seriously ahead of next month’s event, working on pressure and intense situations for what they anticipate to be a tough test at the National Championships.
“We’ve been looking at different line ups for different situation on the court, whether it be a defensive five, a big five or even our best possible offensive line up; we are really pushing hard in training and focusing on a getting a high level 10 minutes of basketball,” said Head Coach Jason Gordon.
Despite their high levels of preparation, coach Gordon isn’t setting expectations too high for the National Championships themselves, highlighting the inexperience of his side.
“We are hoping that this exposure to intense basketball helps the girls see the level that they must aim at in order to get better in years to come.
“A successful tournament run for us would be the girls rising to the occasion and competing consistently at a high level. Coming home injury free and having had an amazing experience while at the Championships is all the success I can ask for.”
Even though they are keen to play down their chances in Nottingham, BMet have stand-out players of their own for others to fear – not least captain Sandra Hewakowska who is averaging 32 points, 14 rebounds and six assists per game in the league this season. And she has been ably backed up by strong performances from point guard Chantae Allen, with Shanice Jarrett also adding depth.
“I’m very proud of the girls this year, they have competed well all season,” added Gordon.
“We have found ourselves with a huge opportunity to win our league, and on top of this, beating the respected national gold medallists (Bournville) and a strong Sandwell team in the regional tournament was a massive success for BMET College and the girls.
“I know my team and I know my girls will represent the region, the college and themselves at a high level. I’m really excited to see us going into battle. Let’s go Mets!”
National Championships veterans: King Edward VI College Nuneaton’s Jack Cooper finished 5th out of eight in last year’s squash competition, and he’s got his eyes on a bigger prize in Nottingham.
Jack was one of the youngest students competing in the squash event last year, and will surely benefit from the experience this time around.
The 17-year-old A-Level student is a member of Clever Squash Club, and having represented Warwickshire and West Midlands from Under 11s to Under 19s and finished 9th in English Championships, looks set to be among the favourites for the title in Nottingham.
“I expect Jack to take what he learnt from the Championships and compete at an even higher level this time around,” said College Sports Maker, Andy Long.
“I believe Jack has a good chance of winning the squash competition.”
And Jack is also confident of a strong showing in Nottingham.
“Attending last year’s National Championships was fantastic and I gained invaluable experience,” he said. “This will hopefully allow me to compete at a higher level at this year’s Championships.
“Eat, Sleep, Squash, Repeat!”
What they say: “Sandwell College are delighted and excited to be returning to the AoC Sport National Championships for another year, for what promises to be a brilliant Championships using the fantastic facilities at Nottingham University.
“Our female table tennis pair (Jade & Roisin) are hoping to go one better than the silver medal acquired at last year’s Champs, although the opportunity to be part of this event is a great experience made even better by the location and facilities on offer this year.
“Although Sandwell College are travelling with smaller numbers than last year, it is always a real honour to be a part of the Championships in any capacity and we are really looking forward to the event, probably even more so than previous years given the anticipated 'feel' at the new venue.”
Matt Hammett – Sandwell College, FE Sports Coordinator