Arena Round 1: And so it begins...
Big is beautiful. Important is, well, important. Prestigious is… oh you get the idea…
The Arena National Swimming League is all three of the above with bells on. The largest club based competition in the country for swimming its where test ourselves against the best of the best and how we get ranked as a club on the national database of things.
We’re not going to make any secret of the fact that Arena is our utmost priority as a club and we’re not going to shy away from we’ve wanted to make it a big deal for our swimmers either. #WeReady? You bet your lives we were.
Arena galas are a celebration of swimming. To the outsider it’s a lot of splashing around on a Saturday night but to the informed it’s the playground of future Olympians, World Record Holders all brought together by the colour of and emblems upon their caps who all want the same collective goal; to swim fast, to swim successfully and to swim happy.
It’s always a pleasure for the Green Octopus to send two teams into the Arena to battle. Our strength is depth is hard to match across the county and our history carried significant weight across the region and beyond. As a Heritage club with a significant reputation we’re scalp for many so the pressure to uphold and exceed our history is always there.
But Arena is a tough yard. We’re not a City squad or a one-club town to draw all of the best talent around like others can do. You bring that context against who we have to compete against makes our achievements all the more sweet. And if Saturday night was anything to go by, it’s a good job the class of 2019 are up for it as they appeared to have everything in hand.
Team A are in the East Midland’s Premier Division and travelled to Grantham in force. National champions, travelled with National medallists, qualifiers and regional champions etc. etc. etc. Strength and quality in depth throughout as home based and Nova based swimmers pulled on the famous green and white together once again.
But what really brought it home was a strong turnout from our Masters Squad, including current Masters coach Alex Thurston turning Beast Mode up to 11 once again, Courtney Price and Amy Konowalik oozing class and Jonny Higham being Jonny Higham.
They really need no introduction because there’s no walk they’ve not walked and no talk they’ve not talked but having them walk poolside with our youngest swimmers can only be an inspiration throughout and hammers home the ‘One Club’ philosophy that draws us back to the pool day after day after day.
Stand outs are numerous as always. Josh Skinner, Emma Erskine and Jess Li carrying through their national form from the summer. McKenzie smacking a 1.06 in the 100M back swimming up a year. Kallum Quirke doubling down on his performances at the Stage 2 Gala with a tour de force in all his events. The 13 year-old girls absolutely smashing everything they touch. The Oyaide-Nicholls brothers doing what they do and Rosie Dickerson turning in a proper Iron lady shift as well.
Then you get Evie Ferrer chucking in 35.01 for 50M backstroke. Darren Milliers stamping his potential even further and Gilbert Bailey benefiting from his years of experience (you forget he’s eleven…) to deliver huge points for the team. And then you have Annie Pearson, Luke Derivan, Andrew Hall, Henry Pawson, Jamie Danson, Sam Coleman, Alex Tomlinson and Josh Jeacock doing what they always do; swimming fast with class and power.
The plain scores will say we came fourth but that doesn’t tell the story going up against three City squads who have made the top table in previous years. The benchmark is though that the gap reduced significantly and our closest comparison is with our friends from Calverton and Bingham SC who pipped us for the first time last year to be the top ranked Nottinghamshire club in Arena. After Round 1, we’ve got almost a 100 point cushion. Game on.
Over in Melton Mowbray the B Team also rocked up with points to prove, talent to showcase and determination to have a good time under the Octopus banner
Fantastically led by our Gala Captains on the night, Brad Francis and Sophia Fidler, the whole squad fought for every single point on every single stroke whilst making enough noise to keep the locals of the pork pies for at least a couple of hours. Especially so when Ollie Coleman brought home the 15/u boys freestyle home on the final leg in his David v Goliath test when the decibel level was only matched by Ollie’s endless guts and drive (good work fella!).
Again, national swimmers mixed with regional swimmers and those aspiring to achieve those levels too. Tom Wells again led the line and set the standard for others to follow. Lauren Shipley, Matt Fallon, Maddie Brown, Jonnie Lambert and Emily Rickards, holding their own and Will Francis swimming as well as seen to hammer home point after point.
Strength in depth in the younger girls was on show with Sophia Fidler turning in a captain’s performance, Amy Aboutorab picking up where she left off last season and Katherine Hewing reinforcing her recent form in the 100M Fly. Elissia Bowen, Harriet Dickerson and Emma Beale once again became go-to swimmers to guarantee big points which was then complimented by a stand-out debut for the Green Octopus from Ermita Balnyte – another one to watch!
Over in the boys it showcased the development of three of our newest Green Octopus; Gautham Lakshmipathy, James Beale and Laurel Roberts-Burrell. These three have raw pace in abundance with hearts and smiles as big as they come. These three are certainly ones to watch as they develop and in a few years’ time watching the next generation look up to them too.
The final word on successes is varied but equally inspiring. Will Soden-Barton’s fine run of recent form continued with impressive turn outs in the 100M Back and Breaststroke events. Brad Francis ignoring a perfectly timed goggle-snap on the blocks to deliver a killer butterfly relay leg and Giselle du Pont putting in an Iron Lady shift. The sheer unbridled joy from everyone at Mia Lovell finally getting that 1:10.96 monkey off her back in the 100M Fly with a 1:10.57 to Holly Lockton’s grit and pain to swim on with a bad ankle injury just to get a point.
From tears to one of the biggest smiles seen in just a few minutes, Holly showed an inordinate amount of guts to the whole club and we can only hope her recovery is quick, painless and successful because we all want to see her back poolside ASAP.
Again, the final scoreboard showed another fourth place finish but it was oh so close to an amazing third place finish (drat to those two DQ’s!).
Across both team the collective spirit of our squad was there to see, especially given the content posted up on our Facebook and Instagram pages. Proud doesn’t begin to cover it but the job is only one-third done and we can’t get ahead of ourselves.
We want to be recognised as the best club in the county. We want to showcase we have the best squad and best spirit in the county. We want to raise our profile and reputation across the region and the country. And to that we need our whole squad of hugely talented swimmers to come together again and again to show exactly what we can do.
We’ve been asking for a while if we’re ready. We are. We always will be. And Saturday night (a brilliant, wonderful, joyous Saturday night) was just the start. #WeStillReady