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On Saturday 28th October, the Men’s blues team travelled to Bristol in order to compete in the BUCS premier stage 1 south. The trip would involve a round robin of fixtures against UWE, Exeter, and Birmingham. Galvanised by the threat of a forfeit for the latest person to arrive, the team was punctual to leave and arrived in plenty of time for our first match (this I believe is the first team I have seen this happen, be it playing home or away, having been playing nearly every week for 4 years). Slightly nervous about our first match in this division, we were surprised to find a very weak Exeter team, who had not even managed to find a 5th string. The match concluded very quickly in our favour, with notable mentions to Tom and Alex taking one bagel each, although Alex ought to be shamed for conceding a game as it was likely the only one Exeter took all weekend. Jimmy, playing at 4, found the match significantly easy that he did not have to change kit in between matches, which is saying a fair amount since he is normally soaked through with sweat after a match. To add to our good fortune, we saw the UWE team thoroughly beating and tiring out the Birmingham team (who were to be our opponents that afternoon) on the adjacent courts.

The hours between the matches passed uneventfully, and we soon found ourselves facing off against Birmingham. Adam played at 5, fresh after not having an opponent to play in the previous round. In a tightly contested battle with some quality squash, Adam eventually went down 3-1. As I feel it ought to be on record, Adam was heard saying afterwards that he ‘needed to go to more fitness sessions’, as it may very well have made the difference in his match. Of course his attendance at fitness will now be exemplary for the remainder of the season. Meanwhile Tom was playing on the opposite court at 3. His opponent was clearly a strong player, but seemed to be tired and frustrated from his previous match, and made too many errors to compete with Tom, who took a 3-0 victory. Jimmy’s match followed on Adam’s court, at 4. He was up against Chris Backhouse, known as a hero to Oxford team for hitting the ball very hard into the back of Owen’s leg in a fixture a few years ago. Fortunately for Jimmy, Chris had been out with an injury for a year previous to this season, so whilst his shots were up to scratch, Jimmy had him outclassed in mobility and fitness and took a commanding 3-0 win. Afterwards, Phil was playing Birmingham’s Jan Van Den Herrewegen at 1, who had impressively won BUCS individuals last year, beating Marwan Elshorbagy in the final. Nevertheless, Phil was certainly up to the task, and pulled out some quality squash to take a hard fought 1st game. Midway during the 2nd game play was halted when Phil complained of a funny smell coming from the court. It transpired Jimmy had dripped a puddle of sweat onto the back corner of the court whilst watching from the balcony! Both players agreed it was unlikely they would ever step that far into the corner anyway and were happy to continue. Unfortunately, the Birmingham number proved too fit for Phil and eventually won 3-1. Alex’s match at 2 was the decider. Living up well to his retrospectively assigned nickname, ‘The Duracell Bunny’, Alex retrieved ball after ball throughout the match without ever showing signs of slowing. His opponent, whilst clearly being a decent player, lacked the precision or the pace required to actually finish off a rally against Alex, and was reduced to an exhausted and demoralised heap after going down 3-0 to Alex, sealing the victory in our favour. This guaranteed we would come at least 2nd in our group of 4, and so our match against UWE the morning after would decide who came top.

In high spirits, the team went out for Thai food after dinner. After a minor medical emergency with Phil experiencing something akin to a ‘sugar low’, after getting some food inside him appeared to be fine. The team took the chance over dinner to assign each other squash playing nicknames. Phil was dubbed ‘Mr Fantastic’ on account of his long reach, Alex was, as mentioned, ‘The Duracell Bunny’, Tom was simply called ‘Lazy’ (for obvious reasons), Jimmy was given ‘The Wrecking Ball’ on account of the fact players who get in his way on the squash court tend to come off badly, Adam’s nickname had to be censored out of this report, and Joe, our reserve for the weekend, was called ‘Thunderbolt’, a play on his second name and the fact he hits the ball ‘well ‘ard’ as Alex is fond of saying. We retired to our hotel after this, buzzing with talk of a sneak win against the very strong UWE team as Phil had found out their team was going to be weaker the following day than we had seen before.

In the morning, the team took good advantage of the buffet breakfast the hotel offered, with Tom managing to nab enough food for lunch later as well! We arrived at the club in good time for a match, with Adam once again kicking things off at 5. Much the opposite of his match yesterday, it seemed as if his opponent was the one in need of a few more fitness sessions, as he appeared knackered around halfway through the first game. Adam took full advantage to claim a 3-0 win. Tom faced off against a skilful opponent, and struggled to read his swing throughout the match, and consequently lost 3-0. Jimmy’s match looked to be going a similar way, against an opponent who seemed to be firing the ball into the cross-court nick at will. However, after going 2-0 down, Jimmy managed to up the tempo and force his opponent into a more physical affair. This upset his opponents rhythm, and he completely capitulated mentally, allowing Jimmy to come back to claim a hard fought 3-2 victory. With a potentially surprise win for the Oxford team in sight, Alex and Phil began their final matches of the weekend. Despite some high quality squash and tough battling all around, and some particularly entertaining rallies in Alex’s match (one featuring his opponent hitting a hard, dying length from between his legs!), both Alex and Phil ultimately lost 3-0, meaning Oxford lost the fixture 3-2.

We were pleased to have finished the weekend placed 2nd in our group of four, which was a result better than we anticipated. We will now face Loughborough, who finished 3rd in the corresponding premier stage 1 north, in a play-off to determine who will progress to stage 2 upper, and who will play in the stage 2 lower.