Lillington Free Church Table Tennis Club sent a three-man squad to the opening weekend of the 2017/18 Junior British League, the top team competition in the junior calendar.
The Lillington side of Ricardo Bolanos, Jack Green and Nikit Sajiv have been supported by local IT solutions provider, NS Optimum, who generously agreed to extend their sponsorship arrangement with the club for a second season. NS Optimum are specialists in the education sector and have supplied thousands of schools since their formation in the early 1990s.
Competing in Division 3B of the league, Lillington were seeded bottom of the six teams on duty and with two of their number making their debut in this competition they were certainly not expecting an easy ride. It was with great delight, then, that the remaining member of last year’s side, Jack Green, got them off to a flying start with an excellent win against Pompey’s Yaj Vashee. Lillington number one, Ricardo Bolanos, failed to find a way past Ali Malloch in a compelling five sets, before youngster of the team, Nikit Sajiv, won in five against Thomas Pointer.
Bolanos was unfortunate to find himself on the wrong end of another five setter, this time against Vashee, as the match drew level at 2-2. Green confidently dealt with Pointer in straight sets and when Sajiv showed great determination to beat Malloch in five Lillington had got their weekend off to a great start with a confidence-boosting 4-2 win.
Joola Plymouth were next up for Lillington and Bolanos showed no adverse effects from his two five-set defeats earlier, making light work of Plymouth number two, Oscar Pollard, 3-1. Green was tested by Ben Edmunds and had to work hard to avoid his opponent’s strong forehand. Thanks to some excellent tactical acumen and variation, he solved the puzzle and took a deciding set to send Lillington in to a 2-0 lead. The draw was promptly secured when Sajiv cruised through his long-pimpled adversary, Isaac Pollard, in three straight sets in which he made a tricky style look simple to play against.
Bolanos quickly put Lillington over the line by beating Edmunds 3-0, with some good footwork allowing him to put pressure on at every opportunity. Sajiv was unable to continue the flow against Oscar Pollard, but Green sealed second win of the day by beating Isaac to leave the final score at 5-1.
Saturday’s last match was against Birmingham based Wood Green and things did not get off to a good start. Bolanos couldn’t get the better of Ben McDonald and Asa Gauntlet’s ability from both wings saw off Green 3-0.
With their 100% win record firmly in trouble, there was some pressure on Sajiv’s encounter with Luke Gittins. In a crucial, and what proved to be a match changing moment, Sajiv showed considerable composure and determination to win 3-0 and reduce the deficit to 2-1. Bolanos stepped up against Gauntlet and played his best table tennis of the day to come through an entertaining game 3-2, before Sajiv stepped back on to the table and pulled out a five-set win of his own against McDonald. Ahead in the match for the first time, Green was never likely to let things slip and duly completed a turnaround to leave Lillington with three wins from three at the end of the first day.
With the first day of play over, the league table was beginning to take shape and Sunday’s first match saw Lillington take on Formby, with both sides level at the top on six points. Green got Lillington off to a stunning start with a win over Formby number one, Rhys Davies. Green found himself 7-1 down in the opening set, before flicking the switch to launch an almighty comeback from which Davies never recovered. Green took the first set, then followed up to complete a 3-0 win.
Bolanos was next on court and the story of his game with Yameen Al-Dahari was one of serve and receive. Although Bolanos had some joy on his own serve, it was Al-Dahari who conjured many points with a wide variety of well disguised serves who held the upper hand, coming through 3-1. Sajiv’s battle with number three, Joshua Parker, went the way of the Formby player who’s controlled placement of the ball coupled with a fast forehand gave him a 3-0 win.
Davies recovered from his loss to Green and gave Formby a 3-1 lead with a win over Bolanos, leaving Lillington needing both remaining points to avoid a first defeat of the weekend. Green completed a comfortable win over Parker but Sajiv was unable to finish the job against the very impressive Al-Dahari and Lillington lost the match 4-2, slipping two points behind their opponents in the league table.
At the end of a long weekend of table tennis, and on the back of a first defeat, it was important that Lillington kept themselves in contention at the top of the table in their final match against Ormesby 3rds.
Bolanos rose to the pressure of leading the side out at number one, beating Luke Robinson to get Lillington off to a perfect start. Not to be outdone, Green then matched him with a 3-0 win against Ormesby’s number one, Chris Edwards, once more showing tactical composure which allowed him to dominate the rallies.
Sajiv bounced back from his Formby defeats in style, beating Ben Savage 3-1, which was followed by Bolanos winning the battle of the number ones, taking out Edwards 3-1. Green was unable to complete the whitewash against Savage, but a 5-1 win was a good way to finish the weekend.
The Lillington trio deserve much credit for making a mockery of the on-paper seeding, with all three putting in accomplished displays over the two days. At the end of the first weekend, Lillington are sat in second place in the table, two point behind leaders, Formby, and three ahead of third placed Ormesby.
Lillington will head to the second weekend in February knowing that another good performance could be enough for them to secure promotion. However, the determined and ambitious youngsters will have their eyes firmly set on the title and will be looking to claw back that two point gap to Formby.