There were contrasting fortunes for Warwickshire’s women’s and newly-promoted men’s tennis sides at the AEGON County Cup, Group 1 at Eastbourne.
The men, originally tipped for relegation, unexpectedly finished as runners-up to favourites Hertfordshire but the depleted women were relegated to Group 2 with Leicestershire as Surrey took the title. It was the first time for decades both Warwickshire sides had been there together.
Both teams, mainly made up of youngsters with a few experienced stalwarts, were expected to struggle at this level: the women who had won the title three out of the past four years were missing crucial players in the shape of Hannah Grady and Louise Latimer, while the men were without nationally ranked Dan Evans.
However captain Gary Naughton admitted he felt bullish about the prospects for his rising stars Maniel Bains, Andrew Fitzpatrick and debutant Elliot Barnwell, while women’s captain Katie Shaw who opted not to play herself for the first time, called in several inexperienced teenagers: sisters Manisha (15) and Anjoli Foster, 17 and Celia Fraser, 17 plus Aimee Jarrett, Hannah James and Jess Jackson.
Day one revealed the extent of the challenge the sides faced as each took on highly-fancied Hertfordshire, the men suffering a 9-0 whitewash, the women going down 7-2 to powerful opposition that included Holly Bagshaw and Kate Elliot.
However despite the decision to split the experienced pairing of Luisa Cowper and Leyla Ogan to strengthen the team overall, they fought bravely to cling on for two hard-fought victories.
From then on the two sides’ results diverged spectacularly, the men side winning their next four matches in style but the women only managing to defeat fellow struggler Leicestershire.
But with some gritty play on show from the whole line-up and particularly impressive performances from several of the newcomers, Shaw remained upbeat about her side’s chances next year.
“I’m certainly not disappointed” she said. “We always knew that without Hannah (Grady) and Louise (Latimer) and so many teenagers brought into the side, we were going to struggle.
“But I was pleased with how everyone kept fighting and I was specially impressed by Jess Jackson and Hannah James who looked one of the best pairs in Group 1. Leyla and Luisa played their hearts out, as always and our youngsters weren’t at all overawed.
“I think it will do us good to have a year to regroup, get into the winning habit again against Group 2 sides and then go all out to bounce back into Group 1 with a year’s extra experience under our belts.”