By RJ Mitchell
As Brooke Stalker admits: “Not a lot of 17-year-olds make their debut at the European Senior Championships,” but that is precisely what the Dunfermline born player is hoping to do in Poland this week.
Along with fellow talented teen Ishbel McCallister, the duo have been included in the Scottish Women’s Team who will begin their European Championship Group Two campaign against The Netherlands tomorrow at the Sport Arena in Łódź, as part of the side’s doubles contingent – ties against Spain and Germany will follow on Thursday and Friday.
The established No.1 doubles pairing of Ciara Torrance and Julie MacPherson claimed their fifth National championship in succession at Scotstoun a week back and so the battle to fill the second pairing provides a fascinating sub plot to this week’s campaign in Eastern Europe.
Head Coach Ingo Kindervater could shuffle the cards in a variety of ways with Kirsty Gilmour also available for doubles action, if required. While Rachel Andrew’s experience at major tournament level may give her the edge for the first berth in the second pairing which could also see Brooke or Ishbel feature.
First of all, Brooke has admitted her delight about making her first major championships for Scotland in the senior game: “Obviously It will be my first senior team event and I’m really excited as it’s a privilege to be picked for Scotland.
“It’s unfortunate that Sarah (Sidebottom) is still out with her hip injury as she is Rachel’s partner but it has given us this opportunity and that is exciting for us.
“So it would be great to get a game and we don’t know just yet how the team will line-up but if the chance came that would be fantastic.
“Not a lot of 17-year-olds make their debut at the European Senior Championships and it would be an amazing opportunity for both Ishbel and me.”
As Brooke revealed there is a famous former international in her family who has provided an inspiration for her badminton odyssey and she shared: “My uncle Russell (Hogg) had over 100 caps for Scotland and to follow in his footsteps would be fantastic. I’ve always looked up to him and he got me into badminton and the sport has always been part of my family.
“I’ve had loads of junior caps coming through since under-9 but a senior cap would just be amazing.”
When it comes to advice and encouragement for this week, Brooke is in no doubt that she has a wealth of experience to draw upon.
The Scotland Under-19 women’s doubles champion said: “Kirsty (Gilmour) has done it all and I definitely look up to her but in particular, with them playing doubles, Julie and Ciara are a huge help and will be a massive plus for Ishbel and I this week but even just being in the squad since April has been great.
“The senior girls have all really welcomed us and given Ishbel and I a lot of advice. It is our first big championship and we will just need to go with the flow almost but having Julie, Ciara, and Kirsty there will be a massive benefit for us this week, there is no doubt about it.”
When it came to the style challenge awaiting Brooke and Ishbel in Łódź as they get ready to transition from the top end of the junior game to an international senior championship she reflected: “So this year I played with Eleanor (O’Donnell) in Women’s Doubles and Matt Grimley in the Mixed for three tournaments.
“With Matt I played in the Scottish, Irish and Welsh and with Eleanor I played in the Irish and Welsh and it really gave me an eye opener in comparison to junior badminton and it was also a great experience for me.
“Eleanor’s last tournament was the Irish and it was nice to finish it with her. Playing with Eleanor was an amazing experience, she was like a big sister bringing you along and just so welcoming and so calm on the court and that is something I’m not used to.
“As juniors you can get stressed but Eleanor has so much experience and she is just so calm and that really helps settle you down and we are now also good friends off the court as well.
“But the big difference is that it is a lot mentally tougher. In juniors both couples make mistakes but in the seniors everyone knows what they are doing, they are mentally very tough, and there are no freebies from the opposition.
“So it is a big leap to bring us young ones into the senior squad but we’ve had the opportunity to play games in training against Julie and Ciara and also the boys and that really has built us up. So we are ready for this week.”
Interestingly Scotland are not the only nation blooding young talent in Poland this week as Brooke revealed: “I know a couple of the Spanish girls as they trained with us before the Scottish Open and we played loads with them and we know them quite well.
“Lucia Rodriguez won the under-19 junior European Championships last year and she plays with Paula Lopez, who is pretty powerful at 5ft 11’ and they will be the No.2 couple with their No.1 couple Clara Azurmendi and Beatriz Corrales.
“The Dutch team is strong as well and Debora Jille and Cheryl Seinen will be their No.1 pair with Kirsten De Wit and Alyssa Tirtosentono, who are also world ranked making a strong second pairing.
“But probably the strongest of the three will be Germany and they have Linda Efler and Isobel Lohau and they have a young girl called Julia Meyer who may make the second pair.
“So it is interesting that several of the other countries will also be featuring younger players at these Europeans.”
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