COVENTRY duo Soumeya Anane and Natasha Hillyer led from the front as an inexperienced young Warwickshire side bounced back from two early defeat to finish third in Group One at the Aegon Inter-County Tennis Championships down in Eastbourne.
Warwickshire suffered a disastrous opening two days after narrowly losing 5-4 to Kent before being thumped 8-1 by favourites Surrey, but they bounced back superbly to win their final three matches, which included a 6-0 whitewash over Lancashire on the final day.
Hillyer, from Binley and Earlson resident Anane were the backbone of a Warwickshire side which was made up of three teenage newcomers, with many long-serving stalwarts unavailable due to injury or work commitments.
Despite Anane’s painfully twisted knee, the Coventry duo won an impressive 11 out of 13 rubbers over the week and will be playing as a pair on the European circuit before they receive their first world doubles ranking.
Talented teenager Lizze Massie impressed on her debut alongside doubles partner Tamara Malazonia, while Lucy Wood and Tamara’s sister Kate also played their part across the week.
“If you’d have told me at the beginning of the week that we’d finish third, I’d have been astounded,” admitted captain Katie Shaw.
“With so many of our longstanding players injured or absent with work commitments, I had to pick three teenagers, Kate, Tamara and Lizzie, none with any senior county experience and assumed this would just be a learning experience for them.
“How wrong I was. Our senior players encouraged and supported them and after a couple of tough days, they came of age and produced these three superb wins. It’s a great result for us.
“Next year, our youngsters will be a lot more experienced – and I know they’ll have learned a lot about the particular skills that doubles demands – so maybe we can do as well or even better in 2017.”
Coventry coach Richard Partridge was part of a depleted Warwickshire men’s team who were relegated from Division Four after failing to win the seven rubbers they needed to avoid the drop against Dorset.
Nathan Rooney’s side battled away in Hunstanton but without their big name stars they were always going to struggle. Despite the arrival of Maniel Bains midway through the week, Dorset were able to exploit Warwickshire’s inexperience.
“It was definitely a rapid learning curve” admitted Rooney, “but I’m proud of how all the boys fought – our teenagers and the ‘Old Guard’ like Steve Lee and me, even when we were really up against it.
“With a few of our more experienced players available next year, though, I’m convinced we have every chance of bouncing straight back up from Group 5.”