The English Short Mat Bowling Association National Championships were held from Thursday 30th to Sunday 2nd April at Melton Mowbray IBC. Fifteen players from seven clubs were represented across the Championships, with John Mills (Woolhope), Dean Rudman & Joe Loveys (Gorsley Chapel) and Dawn Cox (Woolhope), Mark Cinderey (Llangarron) & Bryan Watkins (Woolhope) making it to the Quarter-Finals in the Singles, Pairs and Triples respectively.
The opening day of the Championships saw John Mills and Bryan Watkins (Woolhope) representing Herefordshire in the Singles. Competing in Group 7, Mills saw off a strong group of Kent “1”, Northants “2” and Hampshire “3” to finish unbeaten on the maximum 6 points and +16 shots. It was also a strong group stage performance for Watkins, with victories against Humberside “3” and East Sussex “2” enough to secure second in the group following a very close one shot loss to group winner West Sussex “2”. The first knockout round (Round of 32) saw Watkins lose 17-3 against Craig Strong of the West Midlands whilst Mills battled on, beating Paul Clegg of Cheshire 10-8. The Round of 16 followed, with Mills putting in a fantastic effort to beat North Yorkshire’s Joe Newsome 14-5. Having secured Herefordshire’s best ever result in the National Singles, Mills hoped to continue in the Quarter-Finals by avenging his club partner, facing up against Strong in a match that came down to the last end. Sadly it was not to be as John’s final bowl could not take the jack to the ditch resulting in a 9-7 loss, ending a fantastic start to the Championships for Herefordshire.
Day Two saw Dean Rudman and Joe Loveys (Gorsley Chapel) hoping to continue the momentum built by the singles representatives. Their day could not have started any better, beating Norfolk “3” 19-3 in the opening game. A loss to Hertfordshire “1” followed but a victory against Suffolk “3” in the final group game secured qualification as group winners. The Round of 32 saw the Gorsley duo take a tight 10-8 victory against Norfolk “4” before securing an 8-5 victory against West Midlands “2” in the Last 16. Cheshire “2” stood between them and a Semi-Final place but despite taking an early lead they could not hang on, losing out in a nip and tuck match 10-7.
Saturday 1st April hoped not to be an April Fool for the large Hereford contingent of three teams competing in the Fours. Hereford “1” saw the Woolhope trio of Shirley Cox, Becci Cox, and John Mills playing with Gorsley’s Joe Loveys. A tough start saw them lose out narrowly to a strong North Yorkshire team 6-4. This was sadly followed up with a defeat to Cornwall “3” and despite a 9-7 victory in their final game, this was only enough to leave them third in their group. Hereford “2” saw St Martin’s make their national debut, with Jim Knowles, Pete Goulding and Jo Millington joined by Ross’ Linda Lewis. Sadly the draw was not in their favour, with their group featuring three of the four 2022 World Fours Champions in Hampshire “2” as well as two other strong teams in West Midlands “2” and Dorset “2”. Although suffering three defeats, the Herefordshire four put up a strong fight, only losing their final game against Dorset by one shot on the final end. The Hereford “3” team of Steve & Bradley Kite (Lea) and Dawn Cox and Bryan Watkins (Woolhope) sadly suffered the same fate as they lost three close matches against Devon “3”, Kent “2” and West Sussex “1”.
The final day saw a further three Hereford teams competing in the National Triples. Hereford “1” saw Shirley Cox, Becci Cox and John Mills (Woolhope) start well with a win against Norfolk “2” before falling to defeat against Cheshire “3” and Surrey “2” to finish third in their group. Hereford “2” followed a similar story as Jo Millington, Pete Goulding (St Martin’s) and Kate Williams (Weston) lost out in three close matches to East Sussex “3”, Cambridgeshire “2” and Surrey “1”. The story of the day goes to Hereford “3” as Dawn Cox (Woolhope), Mark Cinderey (Llangarron) and Bryan Watkins (Woolhope) became the third Herefordshire team of the weekend the reach the Quarter-Final stage. Three victories from three in the group stages against North Yorkshire “2”, Humberside “2” and West Sussex “3” secured qualification from the group as winners to setup a Round of 32 match against Dorset “3”. A low scoring game saw a 7-6 win for the Herefordshire trio, following this up with an equally impressive 8-6 victory against Hampshire “2” in the Round of 16. The Quarter-Finals drew them against a Cheshire team fresh off the back of victory against a Gloucester side containing the National Pairs Champions, 10-6. An incredibly close game saw Cheshire go into the lead early on before Herefordshire pulled it back to 4-4 after four ends. Cheshire reasserted themselves to go 7-5 up on the seventh end and ultimately held out to win the game 9-6.
With Herefordshire reaching the Quarter-Finals in three of the four disciplines, the 2023 National Championships has shown sustained success for the County against some of the country’s best bowlers, topping off what has already been a very strong year for Herefordshire on the national stage. The HSMBA sends its congratulations to all representatives on what has been a fantastic four days for the County.