Pontefract field strong team in bid to seal play-offs place

James Willstrop.
James Willstrop.

Pontefract Squash Club will play the most significant match in their National League history this week when they take on Birmingham at home.

A win will give Pontefract a place in the play-offs, the semi-finals to be held in Nottingham and the final at St George’s Hill, Surrey in May.

Nottingham have already won the Northern group and the RAC Club, London the Southern group so their places in the play-offs are assured.

Pontefract are nine points clear of their nearest rivals, Warwick/Leamington.

They are able to field a strong side, led by James Willstrop and England’s leading female player, Laura Massaro. England international Chris Simpson, British under 23 champion Patrick Rooney and junior international Eliot Ridge make up the team, Ridge making his debut in the National League.

It will be Willstrop’s and Massaro’s final domestic appearances before they leave for the Gold Coast, Australia for the Commonwealth Games, where Massaro is seeded one to win the women’s title and Willstrop – three times silver medallist – is seeded four in the men’s event. They will both play in the doubles as well.

Three Pontefract players, Sam Todd, 15, Ben Beachill, 13, and Oliver Foster, 14, led Ackworth School to the National Under 17 Schools title in Nottingham and the girls team with Amber Copley, 15, Layla Johnson, 13, and Jaspreet Singh, 10, came close to making it a double, only losing 3-2 in the final.

The reputation of Pontefract’s junior players is well established and further confirmation of that is when one of the game’s legends, Peter Nicol, has invited Amber Copley and Layla Johnson to train with him in New York in July.

Eight-year-old George Barker, one of the club’s emerging talents and son of England Cycling fitness trainer Keith, had his first tournament success, winning the Harrogate Junior Squash Copper Open Under 11 title. In the final he beat another promising Pontefract junior, Aaron Dews, 2-1.