Loughborough advance to National Badminton League Play-offs
It was make or break for Loughborough Sport in the final match of the National Badminton League season, with a place in the play-offs up for grabs. Playing at home in front of a vocal crowd, the team dispatched of Milton Keynes 4-1 to book their spot in the finals in six weeks’ time.
The first match of the evening saw Marcus Ellis and Jenny Moore take on reigning U19 champion Sean Vendy and his mixed doubles partner Jess Pugh. Despite a 2-0 lead, Ellis and Moore (making her NBL debut) couldn’t quite see the match out, eventually succumbing 3-2 in a tie break.
Next up was the women’s doubles, where Jenny Wallwork and Chloe Birch continued their recent good form to secure a dominant victory against young Milton Keynes pairing Fee Teng Liew and Kirby Ngan. From the off it was one way traffic, with the Loughborough duo racing to a 9-0 win in the first game, sewing up the match in just 12 minutes. On notching up the team’s first win of the night, Chloe Birch commented:
“I think it was really important; we needed some confidence. We’ve gone into a couple of fixtures and lost the first few games, and from two down it can be quite tough to get the team spirit back up and get the momentum going. I think we really needed that, to level it out at one all, and we can really go for it now.”
Swedish star Henri Hurskainen was next up in the men’s singles, taking on Milton Keynes’ Alex Lane. With huge support behind him, Henri edged Loughborough Sport closer to the play-offs, with a 3-1 win.
“There was a lot of support, which was very nice! My performance was a lot better than the last match when we played Birmingham just after my shoulder injury. Since then I’ve been able to practice more and so I feel more comfortable; I got a little bit lazy in the third set but other than that I’m pretty satisfied with it. This is the best league I’ve ever played in. It’s very exciting and there’s stuff going on all the time, so I think it’s very good for the sport.”
On his ‘hoover’ nickname, the Swede added:
“I think it probably started in the first match when I played against Raj, and I played a very good match and got the shuttles over somehow, and so I think that’s where the nickname comes from. It’s a good nickname, so I’m proud of it!”
In the penultimate match of the evening, Linda Zetchiri, was up against five time national champion Elizabeth Cann, in what proved to be the match that secured Loughborough’s place in the play-offs. With so much riding on the outcome, it was a special moment when Zetchiri notched up her first NBL victory to see the home team through.
“I definitely felt a lot of pressure. It’s a very important game for us and I tried to focus on my game and focus on my tactics. I didn't really think about winning or losing, so it was fine. I feel really good because I have been playing very well in international tournaments and I just won the [Bulgarian] nationals last week. I can say I am pretty much satisfied with my level at the moment.”
When asked about having just won the game that booked Loughborough Sport’s qualification, the Bulgarian added:
“I am very happy. I have always been coming into the NBL from other tournaments but this time I came one week before the match so I could prepare with the team. It has been wonderful here. They are such good hosts and I have had a great time so I was really enjoying it today.”
Asked whether the team could go all the way now that a spot in the play-offs was secured, Zetchiri added:
“I think we absolutely have the team and I hope we can bring our A game in the play-offs; I really believe in the team. They are so great so I’m sure we can do it.”
The final match of the evening saw captain Peter Briggs and Greg Mairs play Scottish international Paul van Rietvelde and Peter Mills, and they kept the run of victories going with a fifth set win. Mairs was unaware of the fact the team were into the play-offs prior to their match, but Briggs added:
“Well I did know, so I was a little bit more relaxed in the first couple of sets. We played really well and we’re really happy with that win. Its good being at a massive sports university and having both studied at Loughborough for three or four years it’s really good.”
Looking ahead to the finals, which take place on Sunday 7th June in Crawley, stalwart Jenny Wallwork believes Loughborough has what it takes to challenge for NBL glory.
“We can go all the way! We’ve got the team to do it, we’ve got brilliant coaches and we’ve got that fight in us. Now we’ve started to play well we can hopefully carry it on, and on our day we can beat any of the other teams.”