With many of us looking forward to getting back to playing competitive table tennis, and last season having to come to a swift halt last March, Aspire squad player Darcey Taylor, saw an opportunity to get back to it by taking part in the Nottingham Sycamore junior tournament last weekend.

Current under 11 National Champion, Darcey has been training in her garage since lockdown started last March, apart from a few weeks in November, when National Aspire sessions resumed. During lockdown, she has been working with the Aspire squad online twice weekly, digital 1-2-1’s with Aspire coach Matt Porter, and sessions with her mum. Darcey has really used these opportunities to work hard on improving on her game, and her goal of moving up the performance pathway.

With Junior table tennis already able to resume in England, and the borders opening on 12th April, Darcey used the event to get in some early match practise and test her abilities against some of the best junior and cadet players in England.

We have all had some new experiences during this lockdown, and this was definitely a new experience for Darcey, as she has never played a junior or cadet tournament in England before. As an added challenge, no parents were allowed in the hall with her. So, on top of all of this, her first event was the under 19’s girls, where her first match was versus the England number 8 junior. In fact, all of Darcey’s 8 opponents that day were ranked in the top 20 of their own age group in England – a daunting task for a first event for sure. But Darcey wasn’t overcome with the situation, and played very well, coming away having taken sets off two of the top 10 ranked cadets in England, and excellent points from the junior competitors.

Sunday saw Darcey play in the Cadet (u15’s) competition, where again she was in a group of 9 – a mix of boys and girls this time to give more matches. Darcey started by playing well against a top 30 cadet girl, before coming from 2-0 to win 2-3 over a boy ranked in the top 90. Next was a close 3-2 win over another cadet boy, and she went on to hit some form, winning two matches in a row, followed by another win later in the day. Unfortunately for Darcey this would be her last win of the day, but was so close to having some more wins losing 3 matches in the 5th set – two of which were in deuce.

“I think Darcey has done outstanding,” said Aspire coach Matt Porter. “This has been a difficult time for our younger squads not being able to train. Darcey has really shown a great attitude to improving her game, and even with the difficulties of online coaching, she has really improved and has shown a great commitment towards her development. For her to go to an event in England with limited training against ‘real’ players, and to be winning matches and sets in this field, shows her hard work is paying off. I am looking forward to continuing to see her development once were back in the hall.”

Darcey said: “I really enjoyed being back in competition, and it was good to see how much I have improved my game over lockdown, especially with all the restrictions and having no-one to play against. I loved playing people I had never played before, even though both days were above my age group (U13s). Overall, it was an awesome experience, and I enjoyed every second of it, even though it was super-duper hard. I can’t wait until more events are organised, so I can learn from this and gain more experience, and I’m looking forward to getting back into the hall with my friends and coaches.”