A fantastic year for the Shropshire men’s tennis team saw them wrap up a second national promotion.
Alex Parry’s side, which featured 15-year-old senior debutant Roan Jones, Ed Gibbs, Matt Lee, Luke Henley, Tom Loxley and Sam Chapman, topped Group 5b of the Lawn Tennis Association’s Winter County Cup at Sunderland Tennis Centre.
The latest success follows the county also experiencing promotion joy, from Group 7 of the Summer Cup, at Hunstanton earlier this year.
Proud Parry said: “What a result for Shropshire tennis. To go to Sunderland with such a young team and perform like we did is brilliant. This team has such a fantastic buzz about it and we can’t wait for what 2019 holds.
“I would also like to thank Budgen Motors for their continued support in providing a vehicle to get the team to the north east.”
Shropshire made the long trip to face Northumberland, Cambridgeshire and Hereford & Worcester, doing enough to top a tight group.
They opened their successful weekend by overcoming Northumberland 8-1. Day two saw them beaten narrowly 5-4 by Cambridgeshire, but Shropshire then ended with a flourish, beating Hereford & Worcester 5-2, and that was enough to seal another impressive promotion.
The team’s two youngest players, Jones and Loxley, ensured a flying start on the opening day by winning their matches comfortably. This was duplicated by Parry before the performance of the day against Northumberland was delivered by Gibbs.
Captain Parry said: “Ed took on former US Open junior doubles champion James Nelson, who has previously taken sets off Grand Slam champions such as Roger Federer and Andy Roddick. He started the match in an aggressive fashion, but Ed fought back to win a very tight first set 7-5. With the first set taking so much out of Nelson, Ed started to take control, but was made to serve out the match for a 6-4 second set win.”
Lee and Henley also came out on top in their singles matches.
Next up was a clash with Cambridgeshire. The promising Jones and Loxley took control of their matches against vastly more experienced players.
Cambridgeshire fought back with a straight sets victory against Parry, with Gibbs then beaten in three sets. Lee impressed to win in straight sets, but again Shropshire were pegged back as the Cambridgeshire No. 1 overcame Henley.
The doubles followed the same pattern with Lee and Parry winning in straight sets, but Cambridgeshire levelled the match at 4-4, before Gibbs and Henley, who fought for every point, were beaten as Shropshire were edged out 5-4.
“It was as extremely close tie that could have gone either way,” added Parry. “We needed to regroup for our final match on the last day against Hereford & Worcester. With the way the group results had gone, we needed to accumulate as many match wins as possible for a chance of promotion.”
That’s just what Shropshire did as a strong start saw Jones, Loxley and Parry guide them into an early 3-0 lead, with Gibbs and Lee then also victorious in their matches.
Henley played an extremely good match against ITF top 400 junior player Alex Maggs, eventually going down in three sets, but the way results had gone in the other final tie of the weekend, it meant Shropshire were promoted without having to take to the doubles court.
Meanwhile, it was a tough weekend for Shropshire ladies as, having enjoyed promotion in the Winter County Cup 12 months earlier, they were relegated from Group 4a at The Wirral.
The county ladies were beaten by three strong sides in Durham & Cleveland, Avon and South Wales.
Captain Holly Mowling said: “After being promoted last year, we knew we faced some very tough opposition. We were unfortunately missing some key players, which meant we were all playing much higher up in the team ranks compared to normal.
“Helen Roberts and Rebecca Loxley made their senior debuts and it’s fantastic to get some of the younger generation into the senior team. Rebecca picked up a fantastic win against South Wales and lost out in a very close three-set match against Durham & Cleveland which could have gone either way.
“Helen faced some tough opponents playing at No. 3 singles, but played some great tennis over the weekend.
“We lost 8-1 to Durham & Cleveland, with the only win coming from myself and Cheryl Evans in the doubles. We played Avon in the summer and knew it was going to be very tough and lost 9-0 to a much better team who had strength and depth throughout their squad.
“We then lost to South Wales on the final day, a match we went into knowing we had to win to avoid relegation. Rebecca was the only one to win a singles match and I had a very long three-set match, losing 7-6 in the third, which meant it was already 5-1, so no doubles were played as the result was already decided.”
She added: “It may not have been a successful weekend for the team, but the positives for me were that I had two new players in the team who showed great team spirit and determination.
“It is very important that we now start integrating the younger generation into the senior team to add to the experienced players we have.
“To put it into perspective, myself and Natalie Freegard have been playing in the senior team now for over 20 years and are competing against players in these events who are mostly around 20 years younger than us, so it is time to bring the next generation through.”
The Shropshire ladies team at The Wirral also featured Mia Loney and Sue Dunn.