JUNIOR golf international Lauren Gooding and hockey star Issie Thorneycroft head a record entry of around a dozen pairs for the British Women’s Rackets Doubles Championships at Malvern College on Sunday.
The partnership from Wellington College, Berkshire, are the former national schoolgirls doubles champions and seeded one for the senior crown in the absence of last year’s champions Jess Garside and women’s world champion Lea Van Der Zwalmen who is sidelined with injury.
They face a tough challenge, however, from a powerful Cheltenham College contingent, led by last year’s semi-finalist India Deakin and Abbie Whybrow, the second seeds.
Their fellow-Cheltonians former schoolgirls champion India Blake and her new partner Georgie Gunn plus the big-hitting Fionnuala Dowling-Membrado, the 2017 Plate winner and Molly Clarke could also threaten the favourites.
Rackets, the ancient forerunner of squash and one of the world’s fastest ball games was until recently widely considered too explosive and dangerous for women to play.
However, just eight years after Malvern College staged the first-ever women’s rackets challenge, the women’s game is expanding both at national and schools level.
Wellington, Malvern, Cheltenham and Clifton College are among a handful of co-ed schools with their own rackets courts and the top girl players get the chance to hone their games playing school matches against boys from schools like Eton and Harrow.
“We loved rackets the moment we tried it,” said 17-year-old Gooding, who recently led Wellington to the British Schools women’s golf championship.
“Our rackets teacher Mr Tulley was incredibly encouraging.
“We kept badgering people to come and hit with us as rackets is strategic as well as being very fast and explosive, so the focus and footwork you need for it boost every sport you play, including golf and hockey.”
“Some of the boys from other schools were dubious about playing girls at first,” added 16-year-old Thorneycroft,
“However, they soon learned we could hold our own and some got a shock when we beat them.”