6 February 2018 – Saint Andrew’s School will host the 24th edition of the FNB Squash Festival at venues all around Bloemfontein from Friday, 9 February, to Sunday, 11 February. The prestigious event brings together the cream of South African schools’ squash talent.
"Everybody keeps coming back. This year there are 24 teams, so that's two more than last year, which is great," event organiser Margo Morgan said in a statement on Tuesday.
"All the top schools, including every team that goes to the Top Schools Tournament is always here, so it includes all the big guns."
Newcomers and those back after a break
The participating schools have remained largely unchanged, but the 2018 edition of the tournament welcomes Hilton College and a Free State Invitational team that includes players from Bethlehem, Clarens, Welkom and Grey College. Saint Dominic’s (Welkom) returns for a third time to the tournament.
After a break, Menlo Park will again be sending a team to the event. "Another team that has come back after eight or nine years is KES, which is brilliant," Morgan said. "They've got a cracking team, so it is going to be good to have them back. They have a new master in charge of squash and he is very keen. They have a lot of strength at the top."
Saints' 1st team's opposition
KES will be one of the teams the Saint Andrew’s 1st team, Free State champions for 17 of the past 20 years, will be facing. They’ll also do battle with Pretoria Boys High School, Selborne College, Grey High School (Port Elizabeth) and St Alban’s College, of which most represented their provinces at the annual Top Schools Tournament in 2017.
"We are not shying away. If we want to play with the big boys, we must learn to do it. It is good practice for our team. With a relatively young team, we are apprehensive about what the results might be, but we have boys who are aiming high and motivated, and it will give them an opportunity to measure themselves for the rest of the year," Morgan commented.
During her time as administrator of Saint Andrew’s squash, with Calvin Deutschmann, a Saint Andrew’s old boy as coach, Saints have been crowned national champions once and finished as runners-up on a further eight occasions.
The Saint Andrew's 1st team that will be in action at the FNB Squash Festival from 9-11 February against some of the country’s leading squash-playing schools: (back) Lenny Kretzmann, Jesse Berlyn, Dale Fletcher, (front) Keanan Cantor, Kyle Kitching and Joe Meyer.
This year’s 1st team is young, with one grade eight boy, three grade 10s, a grade 11, and only one matric boy, but it does not lack for experience. New Saints’ boy, Joe Meyer, is an exciting talent. "He does come with a pedigree. At the moment we have to share it with cricket," Morgan smiled. "He was the under-13 number one or two in the country [last year]. They don't do official rankings, but you can work it out from the results."
Strength in depth
The strength of the school’s squash is evident in the participation of the 2nd team in the FNB Festival. "The Saint Andrew's second team has done very well over the years. They tend to play the second tier of strength among the first teams, and they cope well," Morgan added. Their opposition this year will be Saint Andrew’s College (Grahamstown), Queen’s College, Hilton College, Parktown Boys’ High and the Free State Invitation Team.
The FNB sponsorship means a lot to Saint Andrew’s and Free State squash, she continued. "It is on the national calendar at schools' level and at senior level. There are a lot of eyes on the event and everybody is keen and positive about it. It is highly acclaimed."
The Festival is also of national importance, Morgan concluded. Both she and Deutschmann are national selectors and utilise the event to scout and learn about the country’s top players.
"From a national perspective, I think it is a win-win," she said.