With Birmingham confirmed as the host city for the 2022 Commonwealth Games, the location for the 2018 Dunlop British Junior Squash Open couldn’t be more significant for the rising stars of English squash – many of whom will be licking their lips at the future prospect of making their debut in the multi-sport event on home soil.
The seniors had their say at Manchester’s PSA World Championships – and soon it will be time for the juniors to showcase their ability on home soil at one of the most prestigious junior squash tournaments in the world.
We spoke to England Squash’s National Performance Coach, Josh Taylor, who gave us the lowdown on the young guns ready to mount a challenge at this year’s Dunlop British Junior Open in Birmingham.
All eyes will be on Tom Walsh in the BU19, where he is one of two European seeds to be ranked inside the top ten.
The 18-year-old Hemel Hempstead hitter has enjoyed a scintillating start to the season, having been crowned winner of the Welsh Junior U19 Open and the British Junior Championships (BJC) – where he ousted defending champion Kyle Finch en route to becoming the first Sussex teenager to win the event in the championship’s 43-year history.
And while his recent qualifying taste of a home World Championships will have been ideal preparation for the big stage, the tournament’s 5/8 seed has five eagle-eye Egyptians ranked above him.
“Tom is looking our strongest contender in this group, but he’s going to be up against some tough opposition,” says Taylor.
“Top seed Marwan Tarek is the World Junior champion and France’s Victor Crouin of France will both pose massive threats.”
“Tom played superbly at the British Junior Championships and his performance their would suggest he has the potential in this competition. He’s been on a good trajectory to get some results.”
Meanwhile, Lucy Turmel, Elise Lazarus and Jasmine Hutton all feature inside the top ten and will be the main English hopefuls in the GU19. The trio all enjoyed game time at the World Championships and No.4 seed Turmel, in particular will be buoyed by defending her crown at November’s BJC.
“You’ve got three really good contenders here, each of whom on the day have something different to add,” says Taylor.
“Lucy is probably a bit steadier, while there’s a lot of skill in Elise and Jas is improving really quickly at the moment so it will be interesting to see how they fare.”
“Elise isn’t the most physical – but I reckon she’ll bring a lot of skill to the table. I think they’ve all got a really good chance. Lucy will be confident after her recent form and is in the thick of the draw.”
Ipswich-born Turmel heads into this one with her first ever PSA title to her name, having triumphed at the Ciutat de Barcelona in July while still bagging a host of junior titles this season, which suggests she is on course for a seemingly smooth transition into the seniors.
Alice Green headlines the English charge in the GU17 and has earnt her 5/8 seeding through several fine performances over the past year.
The Nordic Junior U19 Open winner had to settle for second-place at the 2017 BJC, which will spur her on even more for this occasion.
“Alice has matured a lot on the court over the past year. When she’s on top of her game, she can be a real threat,” says Taylor.
Elsewhere, 2017 British Junior Champion Lewis Anderson is high in contention to reach the last four. The Warwickshire hitter will be itching to progress past the second round – a feat he has never achieved before in earlier age groups.
“Lewis will really take heart from his BJC success and he’ll definitely lead us in the BU17. Mentally, he’s worked a lot on his game of late and that showed when he kept his concentration to clinch that five-game thriller in the final of the BJC.”
It will be in the younger age groups, however, where Taylor believes England will be the most dominant.
Pontefract’s Sam Todd sits at the top of the seeding list in the BU15 after a string of successes over the past year, which has seen the teen sensation triumph in the Cologne U17 Junior Cup, the English Junior U15 Championship and the BJC.
Despite being 14, Todd is already showcasing his bright future in the game, having reached the semi-finals of the Nordic Junior Open in October.
“We’ve got a lot of depth in the lower ranks – I think that is where we’ll really show our strong side,” admits Taylor, who also believes 5/8 seed Hassan Khalil and Sam Osborne-Wylde, the 9/16 seed, could also come of age in the category.
“Katie Maliff will lead the girls in the GU15 group who’s seeded third. While Torrie Malik isn’t too far behind and I’d like to think they’ll both really get stuck into the draw.”
Jonah Bryant is seeded second in the BU13 and is a strong contender given his track record at the BJO. The Sussex hitter got to last year’s BJO semi-finals, but has since won a wealth of U13 crowns on home soil of late – which, according to Taylor, suggests he can go all the way on this occasion.
“Jonah has a very good chance – he hasn’t really lost to anyone his age since last January and he’s been playing quite a bit. I think he’ll really push on in this tournament and can really be up there challenging.”
Amelie Howarth is seeded at 5/8 in a highly competitive GU13 group and the Hants player has the potential to cause a major upset, with five Egyptians ranked above her.
“Amelie’s in a good position,” says Taylor. “There are a few Egyptian girls who might have the edge, but Amelie has rarely ended up on the wrong score line against many of them over the past year.
“She’s going into the tournament with a lot of confidence with several impressive results and I think she’ll show us what she’s made of.”
Meanwhile, this year sees the U11 age group introduced for the first time in the BJO’s history and Taylor eyes it as a completely unknown territory.
“The US Junior Open added it a couple of years ago and the BJO has decided to follow suit to ensure we’re on a more level playing field,” he says.
“We don’t know what’s out there really because the category has only been played seriously in the US, so we don’t know where they’ll fit.
“The English GU11 champion Charlie McCrone should have a good chance, she’s not lost to any U11 girls recently and our top seed in the BU11 is Dylan Roberts.”
“It’s hard to say how they and others will fare, but this new age group represents a great opportunity to extend the player pathway which is so integral in developing players from such a young age.”