Squash: Cooper follows the Pontefract tradition

Jack Cooper.
Jack Cooper.
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Pontefract already has one squash player who is revered on the world circuit. Very soon they might have another.

And after being crowned the under-15s British champion, Jack Cooper admits that both James Willstrop and his father/coach Malcolm have been essential to his success.

Cooper, just 14, is still coming down to earth after last weekend’s triumph in Manchester where he defeated long-term rival and number one seed James Peach of Doncaster in the final.

And it was indeed a peach of an effort from the Pontefract Squash Club youngster, who only began playing the game aged nine when deciding to give the racket sport a go alongside a squash enthusiast friend.

Natural

It soon became clear that he was a natural and upon taking a session with Cooper, Willstrop, himself a senior British champion, recommended that the new recruit be sent for coaching sessions with Willstrop senior – Pontefract’s world-renown expert coach.

It has proved a winning combination and Cooper – whose sister, Ellen, is the Yorkshire junior under-13s champion – revealed that he is not surprised whatsoever that his club has such a rich tradition in squash.

“I think everyone supports you here and Malcolm is a brilliant coach,” Cooper told LS1.

“He attracts top players from all over the world and it’s all down to him.”

Explaining how his affinity with squash began, Cooper said: “I started playing football when I was young and realised that I wasn’t very good!

“So I just went straight into squash.

“one of my mates – Joe Gallagher – starting playing because his dad played and he just said come along for a bit – it will be a good laugh.

“I ended up coming down every chance I could get.

“Now I am down here pretty much every day – three days with Malcolm plus fitness training with Chris Price.”

last weekend’s triumph across the Pennines capped a stellar year for the year 10 St Wilfrid’s High School student who was also picked for his first England international in May when he helped his country to defeat France in the final of the under-15s European Championships.

His Manchester success, though, has been the undoubted career high with close friend Peach beaten in a tense and hour-long final.

“I was seeded two so it means I should have got to the final and lost but I’ve done better than expected,” said Cooper, a Leeds United fan who merely shook his head when asked about Wednesday night’s crushing 5-0 defeat to Blackpool.

“I’ve competed in the nationals the last two years and last year I came tenth so it’s a big improvement.

“It took a while to sink in – I just couldn’t believe it.”

The triumph was then celebrated in Pontefract as mum Kate, dad Paul and 11-year-old sister Ellen indulged in a Chinese meal but while it seems certain to be the first success of many, Cooper is refusing to get carried away.

Asked about what he can achieve long term he pondered before saying: “It’s difficult to say but I’d like to take it to a professional level maybe.

“And hopefully get in the Olympics – if squash becomes an Olympic sport.

“I’ve also got a big tournament in January – the British Open – which will be my first step into under-17s.

“That’s going to be difficult but you have to do it. It’s what you work towards.”

Before then the good times will continue in a fortnight’s time when Cooper sees in his 15th birthday on November 19 but rest assured he will not be overdoing the celebrations with the Pontefract prodigy recognising that people will now see him as the next Willstrop and admitting that it will take graft to stay at the top of the sport.

“it’s just about keeping your game up and staying on top of it,” he said.

“It’s making sure you don’t relax too much.”

But that’s not to say the youngster isn’t relishing his relative new-found fame – Cooper admitting that the messages of congratulations are still rolling in from last weekend.

“My mates have been chuffed for me and I’ve had a lot of people saying well done and stuff – just a lot of comments on Facebook and texts and cards and things,” he said.

“But I’ve been enjoying it! Enjoy it while it lasts!”

James Willstrop, lefvt, in action against Mohamed ElShorbagy in Dubai. Picture courtesy of PSA

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