Friday 26th April
Friday signalled the beginning of this year’s AOC Sport National Championships, and the first day was an eventful one. As a former student at Coleg Llandrillo and an aspiring journalist, I’d been lucky enough to be to provide an insight into my experiences as a journalist at the National Championships, the scale of the competition was something to behold, with 11 regions across three countries battling it out in a whole variety of sports. The opportunity for students to perform at an event as prestigious as this is fantastic, and certainly something for each and every one to be proud of.
The hosts for this year’s edition were the University of Nottingham, and the facilities provided were nothing short of first class. Today’s action took place mainly at the Highfield Sports Ground, where the Men’s and Women’s Hockey, Football and Rugby competitions got underway. All the Welsh teams gave a good account of themselves, and could look forward to the second day of the competition in a very strong position.
I was looking forward to seeing the best talent from around the regions in action, with all the athletes sure to be tested to their limits. The standard here was very high, and, coupled with the facilities, gave me the impression that we were at an elite stage of competition. It’s obvious that participants who have made it to this stage are here on merit, as a result of hard work and talent. Just based on my first day experience here you could feel a real team spirit around the Welsh athletes. It will be fascinating to see them fighting for every point over the weekend.
Saturday 27th April
Today I will reflect on the second day of sports here at the University of Nottingham. I began the day at the David Ross Sports Village, where I focused on the Men’s Table Tennis. Representing Wales in the singles and doubles were Jacob Young and Jarrett Zhang, both currently studying at Gower College Swansea. Jacob went into the day with experience from the previous year, whereas Jarrett was competing at his first Championships. Both said they were looking for a strong finish in the competition, with a top two place being targeted. Both remarked on the standard of opposition they were facing, Jacob commented ‘The quality has definitely risen from last year’s tournament, every game is challenging and it’s exciting to be playing again the best talent in the FE colleges system.’ He also said he’s pushing for a place on the Welsh team, and that playing in nationwide tournaments like this provide a much needed stepping stone from club games to the international arena. Both boys picked up wins in this morning’s games, leaving them in a strong position to achieve their goal for the competition.
After midday, I returned to Highfield Sports Ground where Wales had several teams here performing strongly, with my first stop being the Women’s Rugby 7’s. The girls claimed two wins in the afternoon session, beating the East representative side convincingly before coming out on top versus Loughborough in a tough game. I spoke with Sophie Ellis, a student at Coleg Menai and one of the girls with experience of last year’s tournament, when we spoke the team were still to play the
Loughborough fixture, but she was happy with the way the team had started. ‘We have a number of different players this year, with a lot of fast wingers involved that help us turn defence into attack quickly. I think our biggest tests are yet to come, with Loughborough still to come today and a game against another undefeated team, Gloucester, on Sunday.’ It goes without saying that Sophie and the rest of the team will be delighted with the victory against Loughborough, which put them in a good position for couple of massive games tomorrow. Sophie was keen to comment on the prestige of the tournament as well, pointing out the opportunities it creates to further yourself in sport. ‘Events like this are a great way to show your credentials to play at a higher level, and it’s great to get my foot in the door for possible chances with the full Wales 7’s squad. This is a chance that wouldn’t have had unless I chose to study in college’.
The day finished at the Hockey Centre. The Women’s Hockey team were finishing off the day with a game against the North West representative team, having suffered their first loss of the weekend earlier in the day. A keenly contested game saw them lose out 3-2 to Peter Symonds College, but they showed great character to bounce back and win the other two games today. They head into the final day well in contention for a medal finish.
Sunday 28th April
Sunday saw the culmination of the AOC National championships, with plenty for the Wales team still to play for at the start of the day. I was able to cover a large amount of sports on the final day, and seeing coaches willing athletes to give their best was a great experience.
In their first game of the day, despite an early setback and heading into half time with the scores tied, the women’s Rugby team finished strongly to beat SGS in the second half. This ultimately provided enough for a gold medal, a fantastic achievement and one every single member of the team helped play a part in.
After checking in with the Men’s Rugby and Women’s Hockey, both of whom put together some great performances ending up with Bronze and Silver medals respectively, I headed down to the Jubilee Sports centre, where the Welsh badminton squad was based. Up against a very high level of competition, all athletes held their own in closely fought games, and the final day proved the most fruitful. They managed to grab two wins in the singles and a win in the doubles meaning the team finished strongly. Caitlin Dolan, a student a Coleg Llandrillo, was taking part in her first championships. She was happy to give a quick overview of her weekend in between games ‘This is a great experience for me coming away from home and competing for the weekend- there’s a sense of pride in representing my country’. When quizzed on the quality of the championships, Caitlin responded ‘It has been a big jump from playing for club, although I see this as a positive- it prepares me for future challenges with the possibility of playing in university’.
The last team that I covered at the championships was the Men’s ability counts football team, with representation from Cardiff and Vale College, were in action in their final game of the weekend. The boys finished strongly with a 3-0 win, and were delighted to secure 4th place overall at their first visit to the competition. Afterwards one of the Cardiff players, James White, gave up some time for a quick interview. ‘Although the boys went into the competition wanting to win it, it’s been a great experience, something that might only come around once in a lifetime. The step up in standard was a bit of a shock, but the boys soon got to grips with it and have performed extremely well. It’s great
to test ourselves against lads from up and down the country, and it makes everyone feel a lot closer and like they’re part of something big- the opening ceremony was spectacular’.
It’s been a jam packed schedule for the athletes this weekend, but one that will have no doubt given them valuable experience in their sports going forward. I’m extremely grateful to everyone who gave up their time to provide their thoughts, along with Rob Baynham and Tudur Morris for the opportunity to come down and cover the weekend’s events. It’s been a great Championships, and hopefully I’ll have the chance to see the progression through to next year!