The women’s national squash team managed to strike gold in the European Team Division 3 Championships that were held in Jersey last week. The men’s team finished in eight position from 14 teams.
There were 7 nations competing in the ladies’ event. Each team had to play each other in a league format with each encounter consisting of three matches between the top three ladies from each team. The Maltese team was composed of Colette Sultana, Kimberley Galea and Johanna Rizzo.
The Russian team was to provide the toughest of challenges to the Maltese trio in the most important tie of the competition that was played on the first day of the tournament.
Playing order dictated that the #3 string players were to meet first. Johanna Rizzo did well to win the first game against Olga Petrukhina 17-15, and continued even stronger to dominate the next two games 11-5, 11-5, putting Malta into the lead.
In the tie between the #1 players, the Russian team was led by veteran pro player Irina Beliaeva who has reached a career best world ranking of #70. Beliaeva took a two-game lead 11-8, 11-6 and looked to be too experienced for Colette Sultana. However, the 21-year-old Maltese champion came back fighting to win the next two games 11-9, 11-7 with some brilliant squash. Sultana kept up the superb play to win the deciding game 11-7 and put the encounter beyond Russia’s reach.
Kim Galea, who was one of the youngest players in the championships, was unlucky to lose 10-12, 9-11, 11-6, 10-12 in the second string match against Anastasia Gross.
This 2-1 win against Russia proved to be the deciding tie for Gold and Silver positions in these championships. The Maltese team won their other matches 3-0 against all the remaining teams from Croatia, Gibraltar, Latvia, Luxembourg, and against home team Jersey who were also quite tough to beat and who finished in the Bronze position.
Colette Sultana and Johanna Rizzo finished the tournament unbeaten, while 16-year-old Kim Galea was also impressive, winning 5 of her 6 matches.
Final standings of the ladies’ event:
Malta and Russia will now be promoted to Division 2 for next year’s European Team Championships.
In the men’s competition each encounter consisted of matches between four players from each team. Given the larger number of nations taking part in the men’s event, teams were first split into qualifying groups. Following the group matches, there were then direct encounters to determine final positions.
The Maltese team was composed of Daniel Zammit-Lewis, Merik Toms, Sebastien Giordano, Kijan Sultana and Robert Sultana. Bradley Hindle, Malta’s #1 player, was not available to play due to injury.
In the qualifying stage, Malta was grouped with Poland and the Isle of Man. The encounter between Malta and the Isle of Man finished in a 2-2 draw. Poland won 4-0 against the Isle of Man and 3-1 against Malta. With the better result against Poland, Malta finished in second position in the group and, together with Poland, qualified for the quarter-finals.
In the direct encounter matches against Croatia and Estonia, the Maltese team tied 2-2 and was unlucky to lose by game difference to Croatia and even closer by points difference against Estonia. Gibraltar managed to win the final match for 7th and 8th place against Malta again by a very close margin.
National team coach Bradley Hindle and team manager Ivan Balzan were satisfied with both the ladies’ and men’s team performances:
“All the players gave their utmost and performed well, including thirteen-year-old Kijan Sultana who was the youngest player in the competition. This augurs well for the future as more juniors will be making their way to the senior team over the next years.”
The Malta Squash teams are supported by Sport Malta and the Malta Olympic Committee.