Saturday, July 13, 2024

First-timers Inverness reach European clubs after national success

In one of the most staggering success stories in Scottish Squash history, Inverness Squash Club have been crowned Women’s National League Champions in the side’s first year of existence.

The creation of the Ladies National League side has come on the back of the hugely successful ‘Red Kites’ initiative which has completely rejuvenated the women’s game in the capital of the Highlands and surrounding areas.

But now after seeing off favourites Edinburgh Sports Club, Edinburgh University and Glasgow’s Western Squash Club it will be the debutantes from the Highlands who will be representing Scotland at the European Club Championships in Paderborn Germany in September.

Club manager Ailsa Polworth, who was also a reserve in the championship-winning side, has no doubt that this success has provided a crowning glory for the resurgence of the women’s game up North.

She told Squash Mad: “This is the first time we have entered a women’s team in the National League and we walked away with the trophy and I think that surprised the other clubs a bit!

“But we’ve also really seen a lot of our beginners with the Red Kites being inspired by the team’s performance. The other girls are saying if they (the team) can play at that level then we can aspire to as well while also being part of the whole group.

“The home fixture we had at Inverness really underlined that as so many of the Red Kites came out to help with catering and just support and it was clear this was not just about the team but the whole club and getting more women playing squash.

“For the final fixture at Western we had all seven of the squad in Glasgow for the final match but we have a really big WhatsApp group through the Red Kites and everyone wanted to know how we got on.

“So it was a big celebration and we are already looking at getting a supporters bus together to go to the Europeans in Paderborn and that shows just how the women’s game has grown at the club.”

Ailsa added: “This week we have our club championships and in all the years the most players we have had has been eight but this year we have a 16 draw.

“So that underlines that now we not only have more women playing at the club but more wanting to compete and seeing the women’s National League team being successful is providing a huge inspiration.”

The seven player Inverness squad of No.1 Donna Lobban, Kirsty Lobban, Lily Craig-Gould, Carrie Hallam, who played in every match, Alex Haydon, who won the crucial top of the order match at Glasgow Western against Scotland’s top junior Robyn McAlpine, Natalie Main, and reserves Ailsa Polworth and Lily Craig-Dould remained unbeaten throughout the campaign.

Fixtures were played across three weekends spanning one in February, March and April which revolved around three venues from the four competing clubs.

Now Inverness are already turning their attention to fund-raising ventures to cover costs for their trips to the Europeans but first it is all about savouring a special moment.

As Ailsa reflected: “It was a hugely proud moment and what was great is that the likes of Carrie Hallam, who has played National League many times and Kirsty too, said that there is something quite different about this and that is because of what has driven it to happen.

“With the way we have grown the women’s game and building everything on the back of it has been great and we also had significant local press interest which was nice.

“On paper ESC had a very strong team with Georgia Adderley, Alison Thomson (national champion) Katriona Allen, but they didn’t play them all in the same matches and we took advantage of that.

“Western had Robyn McAlpine and a strong No.1 plus also Rowan Niven who is another top junior internationalist, but what helped us was the depth of our team and having a strong No.1 in Donna but also Kirsty Lobban.

“Really the standout match was Sunday’s with Western which was very close and the top of the order tie between Alex Haydon and Robyn McAlpine was a great game with Alex winning 3-2 and very much a highlight.

“But obviously when you have Donna and Kirsty playing the standard is very high and Donna’s squash was just a level above and great to watch.

“So we will all enjoy the moment and creating a little bit of history and then it will be about the Europeans and that is a really exciting prospect for everyone associated with Inverness Squash Club.”

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