An impressive 22 colleges have qualified to represent the North West at this year’s National Championships.
The region was agonisingly close to a podium place at last year’s event, and they go to Nottingham with a squad who, on paper, look more than capable of challenging for honours.
Last year’s result: 4th
Colleges representing the region in 2017: Accrington and Rossendale College, Aquinas College, Blackpool and The Fylde College, Bolton Sixth Form College, Burnley College, Cardinal Newman College, Carmel College, Holy Cross College, King George V College, Lancaster and Morecambe College, Nelson and Colne College, Priestley College, Reaseheath College, Riverside College, Runshaw College, Salford City College, Southport College, St Mary’s College, Tameside College, The Manchester College, Winstanley College, Xaverian College
Star athlete: The standard of tennis at the AoC Sport National Championships is often one of the highlights of the weekend, and if anyone manages to beat Holy Cross College’s Olivia Peet to gold in Nottingham, this year will be no different.
At just 16 years old, the A-Level student has a hugely impressive background in the sport, having moved from Hertfordshire to the North West to benefit from a daily training programme at Bolton Arena.
Olivia is currently ranked among the top 20 in the country at Under-18 level, and is the number one for her age group in Lancashire, and number two in the county’s women’s rankings.
Added to that, in December won the U18 National Winter tour, and is currently competing in the women's 15k tour events - the first step to playing on the WTA tour
If her opponents in Nottingham aren’t breaking out into a cold sweat just yet, Olivia also became the youngest ever player to compete in Senior County Week, held in Eastbourne, playing in Division 1 against some of the top counties in the country.
Unsurprisingly, the teenager sailed through the regional tournaments to qualify for the National Championships and will undoubtedly be a hot favourite in Nottingham next month.
Beyond that, she has big plans for the future too.
“Hopefully after completing my A levels I will attend American university which will give me the chance to have an intense tennis and physical programme but also maintain my studies,” Olivia said.
“After I have completed University, it will then give me a better chance of competing on the WTA tour and playing the women's pro events.”
One to watch: For those who pay close attention to the AoC Sport National Championships, the name ‘Hutchings’ may ring a bell.
Charlie Hutchings won gold at last year’s Championships in Tyne and Wear, and the name could be on the title again in Nottingham, this time through younger brother George.
The 16-year-old is currently studying for an Extended Diploma in Sport at St Mary’s College Blackburn and sailed through the North West regional tournament. But it’s little surprise given his achievements to date.
George has represented Great Britain at every age group since Under-10, and is currently ranked number one in Lancashire for U18s, having been crowned the county’s junior champion an impressive seven times. He was also ranked number one nationally at both U12 and U14.
And St Mary’s Head of Sport, Howard Best, believes his student has a great chance of bringing another gold home to the North West next month, but acknowledges it might not be plain sailing.
“I obviously have high hopes for George at the National Championships, but the competition will be a lot tougher than the regionals and tennis is a sport where it is easy to lose a match if things don’t quite go to plan,” he said.
“George is particularly concerned with short sets – you can easily lose if you start slowly. However, I know that George is a fierce competitor who is always capable of finding a way to win”
But George is staying confident and believes the experiences passed on from big brother Charlie could serve him well.
“I was really pleased for Charlie to win it last year and it would be great to do the same this year,” he said. “Whilst there is always some rivalry between brothers, all I can do is play my best to beat what is in front of me.
“I am expecting the competition to be tough but I am confident that if I play my best I have a good chance of winning. I try to focus more on my performance than the result and I know from experience that matches are won on the outcome of a few decisive points.
“Charlie has given me some background info to how event is staged, and I have had lots of experience of playing on the Nottingham courts so I am confident of feeling at home when I play.”
National Championships veteran: This year’s National Championships look set to be pretty special for one Blackpool and thy Fylde College student in particular.
Cross country runner Jessica Rogers is competing in her second Championships, has been named North West team captain, and could well be returning home with a medal this time out.
The 17-year-old, who is currently studying for a Level 3 Extended Diploma in Sport, missed out on a place on the podium in Tyne and Wear last year, but after 12 months of hard graft and an impressive run of form behind her, Jess could be among the favourites in Nottingham.
“This is the second year Jess has qualified for National Championships - it’s a fantastic achievement,” said College Sport Maker Rachel Walker.
“I know she has worked hard in training over the last year and will be determined to challenge for a medal position at this year’s event.
“In addition to representing Blackpool & the Fylde, we’re all very proud that Jess has also been chosen to take on the role of North West female captain for 2017 and know she will do a fantastic job!”
The North West female captain is currently the number one ranked U20 in Blackpool in both 1500m and 3000m, and is the 2016/17 U20 cross country champion at her athletics club, Blackpool, Wyre and Fylde AC. In addition, she also won the Mid-Lancashire cross country U20 league in 2016/17, at both team and individual levels.
And it’s a run of form that has rightly left Jess high in confidence.
“I am really looking forward to joining up with the rest of the North West cross country team at this year’s Championships,” she said.
“Last year’s event was a great opportunity to meet and then compete with the top college runners from across the country and I’m hoping having experienced the event before will stand me in good stead for this year’s race.
“The facilities in Nottingham look amazing and I’m excited to take on the challenge of going there as female captain for the North West.”
What they say: “To have the opportunity to represent the North West region in only our second year of existence as a basketball program is a fantastic testimony to all the students and staff that have worked tirelessly to ensure these boys are successful on the court and off the court.
“Competing in the AoC Sport National Championships is going to be an excellent reward for not only the players and myself as a coach, but as a whole college going forward.
“It is going to a fantastic experience and an opportunity to reflect on how much we have developed.”
Dominic O’Neill – Men’s basketball coach, Carmel College