FOR the fourth year on the trot the Vale of Lune travelled to the Isle of Man for the Blitz Squash Tournament.
The Blitz is a season-ending amateur cup competition run over two days with 22 teams from all over the country bidding to win a first prize package of £525.
This year the Vale entered two teams for the first time, the 1st team fresh from their North West Division Two league win had already won two IOM trophies but were runners-up last year to a strong Rochdale side.
Only two Vale players from previous campaigns made this trip, captain Craig Mercer and Marc Jackson. Their team mates this year were Steve Hollinrake, Marc Atkinson, Steve Rowsby and veteran stand-in Ian Donnellan. Ian came in for the injured Russell Lambert who made the trip as team motivator and supporter. The 2nd team consisted of Dave Jewitt, Shaun Gorry, Karen Dunk, Ian Garbutt, Ian Row and Mick Lougheed.
On the first day the teams were split into four groups with the top two teams from each group qualifying for the quarter-finals on Sunday.
The groups were split between two venues, the National Sports Centre (NSC) and Mount Murray Squash Club. Each team had six players who would each play five eight minute games during the session, with all team points accumulated to create a final team score.
The Vale 2nd team played in the morning session at the NSC and played fantastic squash squeezing into second place by just three points. All the players had some superb victories especially Dave Jewitt playing at number one. Dave beat players from Division Two and Three playing excellent squash, clearly the eight minute format suited Dave’s game.
Much to the surprise of all the teams competing the Vale 1st team were drawn in the same group as Rochdale 1st, the teams have played in the final for the last two years so qualification was going to be tight. At the end of the session Rochdale 1st had the highest points total and the Vale were 30 points back in second.
However in the head to head the Vale beat Rochdale but didn’t beat the other teams as convincingly, therefore had to settle for the second qualifying place. All the players performed well with Steve Hollinrake, Marc Jackson, Craig Mercer and Marc Atkinson all remaining unbeaten throughout the day.
As both teams celebrated qualification in the bars around Douglas news came through of the quarter-final draw – it was going to be Vale 1st v Vale 2nd.
Finals day started at 1pm on Sunday and Vale 1st overcame a spirited fight from Vale 2nd to make the semi-finals.
The 2nd team would eventually finish sixth, a superb result and debut for the boys just getting into the prize money.
The 1st team faced Hallamshire in the semi-finals and comfortably won ensuring they have never failed to make the final in four years. Yet again they faced Rochdale in the final for the third year running. With Rochdale winning last year the Vale wanted revenge and a hat-trick of Blitz titles. It was going to be another tight battle.
Ian Donnellan started the final playing at number six with an outstanding effort. The contest was tight for the first few minutes, however Ian found some superb form and shots to pull away winning 17-11. The best possible start for the team.
Playing at number five Steve Rowsby played Rochdale’s highest points scorer from Saturday. The game was close all the way, however Steve’s determination came through as he never gave up and snatched a one point victory.
Marc Atkinson, playing at number four, started slowly but gained some momentum as the eight minutes ticked on. Marc, who was flawless in all his matches, came good and extended the Vale’s lead by another two points.
With a nine point lead Craig Mercer, playing at number three, was looking to extend the lead but Rochdale had other ideas. After a marathon first rally the Rochdale player pulled away to lead 9-3 and things were looking good for a Rochdale comeback, however Craig managed to pull back to 9-8 when the eight minutes ended.
Next on court playing at number two Marc Jackson faced an in-form player who has had an excellent league season. Marc won the game against this player on Saturday so was full of confidence. The game was of a high standard and Marc didn’t disappoint with an awesome three point victory.
With an 11 point cushion it was down to Steve Hollinrake to seal the win and he started the best possible way taking a 4-0 lead. The Rochdale player responded but was never going to pull back the deficit and the game ended in a draw meaning the Vale won their third title in four years. The win capped a league and cup double for the Vale who have had flawless season. Well done to both teams.