By whatever criterion you wish to use, it has been a remarkable year for Warwick Squash.
After being awarded the prestigious title of ‘BUCS Club of the Year’ in July under the tutelage of presi- dent Jay Warnett, the club has now been granted ‘focus status’ by Warwick Sport in recognition of their continued growth.
New president Mark Le Conte, a civil engineering student, is confronted with the formidable task of improving on the greatest year in the club’s history.
But speaking to Le Conte during a training session in the Sports Centre, it is clear that the club is not content to stop there.
The new exec are aiming to expand across all areas, with one flagship policy: improving female participation.
“One of the things we’ve introduced is Squashercise, an aerobics session for women. The idea is that girls who don’t play squash come to Squashercise, and then get involved on the playing side,” he said.
“We’ve also tried to split up the ladder system to make it more accessible for people at intermediate level. We don’t want it to feel as though only the first and second-team players are part of War- wick Squash.”
Whilst Le Conte has concentrat- ed on the development of Squash as a society alongside his role as first-team competitor, local coach and former Warwick student Steve Townsend has helped the players to improve their technique.
He primarily works at Kenilworth Squash Club among others, but it emerges that Townsend isn’t your average sportsman.
He coached former world no.1 Natalie Grainger, who was runner-up at the World Open in 2002 and British Open in 2004, and is currently employed by world no.16 Sarah-Jane Perry.
It is clear that Townsend goes beyond the call of duty in comparison to other university coaches as I tear him away from his players.
“I go down to matches now and give them in-game advice, which they really value,” he said.
“Psychologically it really helps the players – you can see the opposition react with surprise when they realise the coach is there to support them.
“Most importantly, it helps in the match environment, so I can see what they’re doing right and wrong. It’s most helpful to see them under pressure because you can see what’s not working and give them advice to correct that.”
With Townsend coaching three times a week, it is unsurprising that results have improved exponentially.
The men’s first team are currently second in Division One after being promoted last year, and look well-placed to complete a seamless ascent through the leagues.
The new exec are aiming to expand across all areas, with one flagship policy: improving female participation
Meanwhile the men’s second team clinched a precious 3-2 win over their Coventry counterparts last week. The girls are currently recruiting members after nine of their ten-strong team graduated this summer.
But Townsend refuses to accept that he is behind the club’s overall success on the national stage.
“I wouldn’t take much credit for it at all – I only deal with match days. It (the club’s award) is down to the exec. Having been here for 20 years, I know that if you have a good exec, then the club runs well; if you don’t, it doesn’t. It’s as simple as that.”
Le Conte smiles when I bring up the topic of the award at the annual BUCS ceremony, which the club won ahead of the University of Derbyshire Football Club in July.
“When you’re nominated for Warwick Sport awards you at least know what the other clubs around you have done,” he said.
“But when it’s country-wide, you really don’t know how good your competitors are. Having said that, the whole exec was incredible last year.”
One of Squash’s landmark achievements last year was the UV Squash festival held on campus in February, which attracted a record 146 participants and gave squash prominence within Warwick Sport. Membership also increased by 18 per cent, and 20 per cent of the club was female – a radical improvement on previous years.
Development co-ordinator and first-team player Shawn Gubbin believes this allowed them to tri- umph – although he admits that he thought Derbyshire had won.
“All the talk from the organisers was about Derbyshire winning, but apparently they always do that to the runner-up to make it more interesting,” he laughed.
“I think the reason we won was UV Squash. It was the biggest of its kind in the UK, and an absolutely amazing event.”
However, Le Conte attributed the club’s victory to the more general achievement of moving from a group of elite performers to a blossoming society.
“The panel said that one of the reasons we won was the way in which we implemented our training scheme,” he said.
“Whereas a lot of clubs just con- centrate on team performance, we put so many resources into not only providing coaching for beginners and intermediates, but showing that they are really important to us.
“From that we got more people at socials, more people on tours…it had a brilliant multiplier effect.”
Given that it is hardly a mainstream sport – the World Squash Championships in Manchester last month passed with minimal coverage from the national media – Warwick Squash’s achievements over the past year are not to be sniffed at.
It would be tempting for the club to rest on their laurels.
But with other clubs within Warwick Sport working harder than ever to fulfil their potential, every sports club is working harder than ever.
And judging by the number of players thwacking balls against the back wall of the squash courts, Warwick Squash are here to stay.
Does your club deserve an award?