Once again it’s looking like the South West will be the ones to beat at the AoC Sport National Championships as they head to Nottingham.
The reigning champions are set to be strong contenders again, taking a full representation in all sports, and all of a high standard.
Can anyone stop them getting their hands on the Wilkinson Sword trophy once again?
Last year’s result: 1st
Colleges representing the region in 2017: Bridgwater and Taunton College, Cornwall College, Exeter College, Petroc, Richard Huish College, South Gloucestershire and Stroud College, Strode College, Truro and Penwith College, Weston College, Yeovil College
Star team: Petroc’s men’s and women’s volleyball teams will be among the most well-known names at the National Championships, with the women heading to Nottingham as defending champions, and the men looking to improve on their bronze medal from Tyne and Wear.
Both sides qualify for the Championships year after year (this is the men’s team’s eighth successive Championships, and the women’s ninth) and have a healthy collection of medals between them.
So their pedigree won’t come as a surprise to their opponents, but can anyone keep them off the podium in Nottingham?
One to watch: For the first time in a number of years, it won’t be Exeter College’s men’s rugby team heading to the National Championships to represent the South West.
This time around, the baton passes to Richard Huish College, who will be flying the rugby flag for the region.
The team know they have big boots to fill, with Exeter having brought a bronze medal back to the South West last year, but with pace and power from the likes of Jack Churchill and Vinny Gordon, they may be able to take a few teams by surprise.
Huish have already been training most days to get ready for the Championships and have spent time in their new gym to prepare their bodies for the task ahead. They will also be competing in the Rosslyn Park sevens in preparation.
“This is a great achievement for the players and coaching staff, we have no expectations on them and only ask that they learn and develop through the whole experience to make themselves better players,” said the college’s Sports Development Manager.
“It has been a huge achievement reaching the champs for the first time in the college’s history (for men’s rugby), so we are happy to be there, although sneaking a medal would top it off!”
National Championships veterans: Exeter College’s netball team return to the National Championships this year looking to build on the fourth place they achieved in 2016.
The team were pipped to a place on the podium by champions Gower College Swansea, second-placed Hartpury and third-placed Peter Symonds, but with three of last year’s squad returning this year, they will be both experienced and determined.
“Last year the netball at the National Championships was invaluable for our players,” said Sports Academy Manager Chris Wall. “The level of netball that the weekend allowed them to experience was outstanding.”
Exeter’s netball academy captain, Hannah Barnes, will also bring a wealth of experience to proceedings. Not only is she one of the trio of players who took part in Tyne and Wear last year, but she is also part of the AoC Sport national squad, meaning she has become accustomed to a high level of netball, and may well know a number of her opponents in Nottingham.
But the team as a whole are training hard in preparation. They recently travelled to Marlborough for the National Schools South West round, having won the Devon round, and reached the semi-finals of the AoC Sport Cup.
“The squad is training hard with coaches motivating the players and keeping intensity at a manageable level,” Wall added. “We need a good start and then maintain momentum through the two days and hope that our squad remains injury free.”
What they say: “Strode College has six athletes competing in the AoC Sport National Championships and we are very proud of all the athletes who have worked hard to achieve this. First and foremost I hope all of our students enjoy their experience and take in everything that the championships have to offer. As long as they do their best for themselves, the college and the South West team that is all we can ask for, anything else is a bonus! We are very proud of all six of our athletes and wish them all the best in their events, as well as the rest of the South West team.
“For Strode College to have six athletes at the National Championships is a massive achievement for a college with only 1500 full-time students. Over the years we have averaged one or two competitors so for us to have so many going to Nottingham, we are very proud of them.”
Mike Dear – Strode College, Sports Development Manager