It was a blast from the past on Monday night for Eastbourne badminton star Heather Olver as she took to the court with a familiar face, but she admitted she is relishing every second of playing in the AJ Bell National Badminton League.
Olver, who retired from international competition last year, kick-started Birmingham Lions’ 3-2 triumph over Bristol Jets with women’s doubles victory alongside European medallist Jenny Wallwork, with whom she hadn’t played since their junior days.
With less than a month to go until the AJ Bell NBL Championship Final, the Lions sit atop the league table with just one fixture left to decide who will battle it out for top honours.
But Olver, who helped the Lions to the title last season, insists her side have what it takes to retain their title.
“It was a brilliant way to start the night for us,” said Olver, who competed at last year’s Olympic Games in Rio.
“We haven’t played together since we were juniors, so it was good fun being back on court with Jenny.
“We were really pleased to get the win. We both knew it was going to be tough, I’ve recently retired and Jenny has been retired for four years, and Emily and Mizuki are very good players, so it was going to be hard.
“Our plan was to go out quite tough and aggressive, and I think it paid off.”
After Olver and Wallwork had triumphed in the opening event of the night, Bristol Jets pairing Chris Coles and Richard Eidestedt restored parity with victory over Frederik Colberg and Gary Fox in the men’s doubles.
Lions captain Toby Penty swung the tie back in his side’s favour with a straight sets victory over Alex Lane, before Fontaine Chapman wrapped up proceedings, needing a tie-break to defeat Bristol Jets’ Nicola Cerfontyne.
And although mixed doubles defeat for Colberg and Catherine Grant reduced the number of points the Lions took with them back to the Midlands, Olver remains confident her side can get the job done in their next fixture, at home to Surrey Smashers.
“We didn’t perform that well against Loughborough in our last fixture which was a shame, so we needed to get as many points as we could against Bristol to stand us in good stead for the final,” she said.
“For us, it would be fantastic to retain our title. It was such a good atmosphere last year, and I think it will be the same this time.”
The AJ Bell National Badminton League final takes place on 8 February at centre:mk in Milton Keynes, offering a great value family evening out.
Tickets to see the league’s top two teams go head to head to be champions can be booked atwww.nationalbadmintonleague.co.uk