Day One – Fireworks on and off the Court
2012 Junior CASA started with a bang as Friday morning’s preliminary matches felt like a world open final – flags waving, fans screaming, players diving and every point filled with tension and drama.
With the first round completed in the morning, the athletes all prepared for the opening ceremonies which turned into an hour long affair that saw all of the teams march into a pavilion in uniform with national anthems played and flags raised. An address from a number of speakers and finally the Jamaican Minister of Sport officially opened the games and the real action began on the courts.
The Boys and Girls U19 quarterfinals were the feature matches – scheduled as late as 10:35pm at which point the crowd, be then well lubricated with red stripe and Jamaican rum had been whipped into a frenzy. I managed to get a glimpse of all of the boys matches, but mostly got stuck looking over shoulders as the crowd was 5 deep and overflowing from the bleachers in all matches. Top seed in the boys U19 Kevin Hannaway was first to finish as he had a tidy win 3-0 (3,3,7) over Barbadian Matthew MacKenzie. Hannaway is very athletic and gets on the ball early both from the front and the middle of the court, creating a lot of simple but effective pressure.
#2 seed Noah Browne of Bermuda looked equally impressive with a 3-0 (4,8,6) win over Steven Xavier from Guyana. Browne is about 6 foot 3 and looks like he could play a number of sports at a high level – his game however is not what you would expect as he pushes the ball around the court using deception and soft hands to take the ball short whenever possible – the big man also hit a number of mizukis’ to send his Guyanese opponent in the wrong direction.
Jason Ray Khalil (3/4), the 2010 U17 champion from Guyana looked very impressive as well with a 3-0 (2,2,5) over Romario Constance from St. Vincent. Khalil has very strong movement around the court and is a hard hitter, using a nice arsenal of straight and cross court kills to overpower his opponent with pace and athleticism. The match of the night was undoubtedly hometown underdog Ashante Smith (5/8) from Jamaica taking on the Mandela Patrick (3/4) of Trinidad, which was buried on a very hot court 2 that had viewing for about 20 as about 80 people packed in to the rafters to watch the match.
Both players were very athletic and prepared to play long patient rallies to the back, with the ball being too hot to sustain any regular attacks. Smith started well and took the first game 12-10 behind a very supportive home crowd and rode this wave to the first and only upset of the event so far with a 3-0 (12-10, 12-10, 11-9) victory in just over 50 minutes over his tired and deflated Trini opponent. With the semi’s set for Saturday, we have 4 nations represented as Kevin Hannaway (VIN) takes on Ashante Smith (JAM) and Noah Browne (BER) plays Jason Ray Khalil (GUY).
The Girls U19 all went according to plan with 3-0 wins for all of the seeded players. I had a chance to watch heavy favorite and #1 seed from Guyana Mary Fung-A-Fat, who I have seen play in Canada before and was impressed with her efficiency and focus in her match. Fung-A-Fat is far from imposing off the court, coming in at about 5 foot 2, but dispatched a scrappy Bermudian opponent Alex Marshall 3-0 (3,6,9) by holding the T and moving the ball to all 4 corners with patience and not seeming to mind when the ball came back, as she would simply play her next chess move until finally finishing Marshall off with 3 and 4 four shot attacking sequences.
#2 seed Ashleigh DeGroot started slowly in her match before notching a 3-0 win over Talia Abdool from Trinidad and Tobago to advance. Today’s semifinals will see #1 Fung-A-Fat play Kristina Myren (3/4) from Cayman Islands and #2 DeGroot versus Eilidh Bridgeman (3/4) also from Cayman.
In the Boys and Girls U17, everything went according to plan as we head in the quarterfinals on Saturday morning. My only official coaching duties for the weekend include two Guyanese players – JC Jeffrey in the boys and Gabby Fraser in the girls who, as luck would have it, BOTH play at exactly the same time in the quarterfinals, a phenomenon that most coaches will agree seems to happen more often than seems logical. I will send B17 and G17 quarterfinal reports midday.
The Boys U15, #1 Julian Jervis (Cayman Islands) and #2 Jason Doyle (St. Vincent) are through to the semis while in the Girls U15 #1 Larissa Wiltshire (Guyana) and #2 Alyssa Mullings (JAM) have also advanced to today’s semis.
In the Boys U13 an interesting match-up is brewing between top seed Dylan Pratt of Bermuda and #2 seed Khamal Cumberbatch, as they play their semi-final matches today. In the Girls U13, two Barbadian players are seeded to make the finals with #1 Amanda Haywood and #2 Megan Best scoring easy quarterfinal victories on Friday to advance.
The live streaming on the show court is excellent, so tune in if you want to see some extremely passionate squash and even more passionate fan support throughout the weekend.