Captains impressed with Shropshire’s efforts in the LTA’s Summer County Cup
Shropshire’s men’s and ladies tennis teams consolidated their place in group six in the LTA’s Summer County Cup - with both captains hailing the efforts of their players.
Competing in the annual week-long event - first played in 1895 and one of the oldest tournaments in the tennis calendar - is always a highlight.
Teams from 44 counties across Great Britain took part in the Summer Cup, with each tie consisting of three doubles pairs, as teams chased promotion and attempted to avoid relegation from their respective groups.
The leading two counties in each group secured promotion, with the bottom two counties relegated to the group below.
As it was, both Shropshire teams will stay where they are, with the men finishing third in their group at Cheltenham and the ladies securing fourth place at faraway Folkestone on the Kent coast.
Fresh from gaining promotion last year, Shropshire’s men’s team, led by captain Alex Parry and also featuring Jordan Evans, Ed Gibbs, Ian Gillespie, Luke Henley, Matt Jones, Matthew Lee and Tom Loxley, travelled down the M5 with high hopes.
They faced host county Gloucestershire on the opening day day and, after the first round of matches lasted well over three hours, it went down to the wire with Shropshire eventually sealing an exciting 5-4 win.
Next up was a match against Oxfordshire played on one of the hottest days of the year. A sluggish start saw Shropshire go 3-0 down to a strong side - one of the Oxfordshire pairings completed 15 wins from 15 matches by the end of the week - but Shropshire improved as the contest progressed and ended up losing 6-3.
The following day brought new challenges to Shropshire as Devon bolstered their ranks by including Jack Findel-Hawkins, currently 672 in the ATP world rankings and top 20 in the British rankings.
Findel-Hawkins, having just reached the doubles final at an international event in Iowa City in America, helped Devon into a 4-2 lead by lunch.
But skipper Parry felt the afternoon session produced some of the best tennis of the whole week with Matt Jones and Luke Henley impressively teaming up to pull off a stunning victory against Findel-Hawkins and his partner Jack Large.
Shropshire may have ultimately been beaten 5-4, but it gave them confidence that they were moving in the right direction.
That was reinforced the next day when Ed Gibbs and 16-year-old Tom Loxley kept their cool in the final match to guide the county to a hard-fought 5-4 victory over Staffordshire, a side which had beaten Shropshire 8-1 the last time the counties met and have often been in a higher division.
That left the final day delicately poised, with promotion, consolidation and relegation all possible outcomes for Shropshire.
Oxfordshire were already guaranteed one of the promotion spots, but Devon were handed a 9-0 victory after Gloucestershire withdrew their side.
That ended Shropshire's promotion hopes, but they still needed to secure three rubbers against Cornwall to remove any relegation fears. They were more than up to the task as they claimed victory in all three first round matches to confirm their group six place next year.
“It was a fantastic week for the team,” said captain Parry. "We now know that we can definitely compete at this level and possibly push on even more.
"The team spirit in the side is fantastic to see, with each of the guys stepping up when needed.
"We now look forward to competing in Southampton in November at the Winter County Cup in group four, which I believe is the highest the Shropshire men’s team have ever been.”
Meanwhile, Shropshire’s ladies captain Holly Mowling was pleased with the efforts of her side after they made the long trip south to Folkestone.
The main aim of the week was to preserve their group six status, so it was mission accomplished in finishing fourth.
Shropshire were unfortunate on the opening two days as they were narrowly edged out 5-4 by both North Wales and North of Scotland, with a number of three-set matches not quite going their way.
That meant Shropshire needed good results in their next two matches to ease potential relegation concerns and they delivered in style with convincing results to get the better of Oxfordshire 7-2 and Devon 8-1.
Shropshire’s week ended with defeat against a strong West of Scotland side already confirmed as group winners, but the county had already done enough to preserve their group six status next summer.
Captain Mowling said: "Going into the event, we knew we faced some tough opposition and the main aim was to secure our place in this group for next year at the very least.
"We had an unlucky first two days, twice losing 5-4, so knew we had to win on the next two days to try and avoid relegation. The team showed great determination in the draining heat to do that.
“We played some fantastic tennis and we now look forward to the Winter County Cup event when we will be playing at home at The Shrewsbury Club in November."
Shropshire’s ladies team also featured Joanne Bowen, Imogen Cowper, Cheryl Evans, Natalie Freegard, Joanna Fowler, Chloe Hughes and Mia Loney.
Pictured: The Shropshire ladies team face the camera at Folkestone, back from left: Cheryl Evans, Joanna Fowler, Natalie Freegard, Chloe Hughes; front: Imogen Cowper, Joanne Bowen, Holly Mowling (captain), Mia Loney.
The Shropshire men’s team line up at Cheltenham, back from left: Ian Gillespie, Luke Henley, Matt Jones, Matt Lee; front: Tom Loxley, Jordan Evans, Alex Parry (captain), Ed Gibbs.