Friday, December 8, 2023

Massaro and Duncalf help launch Squash Evolution in Essex

England stars top the bill as Essex Ladies Day bring in the crowds 


It was a Ladies’ Day worthy of Ascot when world champion Laura Massaro and England star Jenny Duncalf joined over 50 other players for an Essex Junior Squash-sponsored Squash Evolution tournament aimed at boosting the girls’ and womens’ game.

A full day of competition was capped off by a brilliant doubles match with three Essex-based British champions, Alice Green, Elise Lazarus and Anna Kimblerley, alongside former WSA professional Lauren Selby. That match set the scene for the highlight of the day…a superb hour-long exhibition match between Laura and Jenny in front of a full-house at the sold-out Connaught Club in Chingford.

England number one Laura was full of praise for the event, the first of its kind in the UK. “Wow, what a tremendous idea and what a brilliant turn-out of ladies and girls,” she said. “I couldn’t believe the amount of players on court when I got here. We need to run more of these events and show everyone how good the women’s game is. Essex is leading the way. When Lauren Selby told us about it we said ‘yes’ straight away. Thank you for the invitation. it’s fabulous.”

Essex broke new ground by promoting the ladies’ and girls’ event, headlined Squash Evolution. They were joined in the venture by Sport Active who are committed to widening access and increasing participation in sport and physical activity across Essex and beyond. All profits from the day will be ploughed straight back into Essex Junior Squash.

Connaught-12One glorious photograph (right) summed up the appeal and joy of the event as eight-year-old Natalie Main and 74-year-old Barbara Sanderson spanned the age groups of players competing in the team matches. Barbara, a stalwart of Essex squash, will be competing in the World Masters in Hong Kong later this year and used Saturday’s ladies event a little livener.

In fact, she was part of the ‘Nicol David’ team who finished top of the pile after a seven-match round robin event which tested even the fittest of players. Barbara’s team-mates Grace Gear, Michelle Higgins, Natalie Main and Sarah Webber would have chair-lifted their senior star around the club but were last seen flaked out but smiling.

Laura and Jenny warmed up for their show match by spending time on court with six individual players who had made secret bids to play against their heroes. Watching their ‘victims’ emerge from the courts looking rosie-faced, shattered and thrilled told its own story. 

The doubles match was a delight as the four Essex players put on a demonstration that at times looked like organised chaos. Doubles is not for the feint-hearted but the foursome clearly know what they are doing and Anna and Elise emerged 2-1 winners. Not that the score mattered. Survival and smiling appeared to be the order of the day.

The main event of the evening promised to be entertainment personified and it delivered in full. Laura and Jenny thrilled the audience with an array of shots more often seen on the WSA tour than the journeyman courts of Connaught and their mid-game banter with the world’s worst match ref brought a grin or two from the crowd.

For the record, Jenny won 3-2 but the result was secondary to the experience of watching two of the world’s finest athletes put on a display what will live long in the memory.

Essex Junior Squash chairman David Harris summed up the day. “We cannot thank Laura and Jenny enough for helping to support our Squash Evolution event. They are an inspiration to all players, young and old, and watching them here tonight supporting Essex Junior Squash is just magical.”

The two players then spent the following hour answering questions from the audience, posing for photographs with what seemed several hundred kids, and signing autographs. Truly a memorable day.

Picture by Tom Barley Photography

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