With no fewer than seven of Team GB’s Rio 2016 squad among its ranks, the AJ Bell National Badminton League is fast becoming a hotspot for England’s young badminton stars to test their wits against some of the best in the business.
With the introduction of two new sides – Bristol Jets and Suffolk Saxons – for the league’s third season, never has there been a better opportunity for those climbing up the ranks to play alongside the likes of Olympic bronze medallists Chris Langridge and Marcus Ellis, as well as leading English mixed doubles duo Chris and Gabby Adcock and singles specialist Raj Ouseph.
For Gabby Adcock, who, alongside Langridge, made her first appearance of the season for Surrey Smashers in their match-night two defeat to Suffolk Saxons last week, the AJ Bell NBL provides the perfect platform from which the next generation of Olympians can flourish.
In particular, she paid tribute to Suffolk Saxons player Zoe King, who, alongside 20-year-old Sean Vendy, took a game from Adcock and Langridge in their mixed doubles clash.
“I think it’s a fantastic platform for young players coming through, particularly for young players like Zoe, it’s exposing them to players who are at the top of the game,” Adcock said of the current Leicestershire U17 singles and doubles champion.
“She can learn a lot from it and she really took on the challenge in this fixture, she played really well and all credit to her.
“Hopefully, she’s taken something from this and it has inspired her to go on in the sport.”
For 17-year-old King, playing against Olympians is an opportunity she is relishing.
“It was a great experience for me playing Chris and Gabby, they are top players so it was really good,” she said.
“I didn’t expect at all to win a game against two Olympians, so that was really amazing for us.”
Joining King and Vendy in the Suffolk Saxons is 21-year-old Joel Douse and 17-year-old Johnnie Torjussen, with Commonwealth Games silver medallists Sarah Walker and Andy Ellis providing the experience in the young side.
As well as Adcock and Langridge, Surrey Smashers also field the likes of Zach and Jonty Russ and reigning under-19 national champion Abigail Holden.
In their match-night two fixture against Team Derby, Bristol Jets’ Jess Hopton – who is on loan from Loughborough Lightning – played alongside London 2012 silver medallist Mizuki Fujii, something she insists can only help to develop her performance on the court.
“To play with someone of Mizuki’s standard is just a dream for me,” she said.
“Mizuki’s style of game, being very patient, will have a massive impact on my game. I’m hoping it will teach me to play safer sometimes, which will reduce the errors I make by rushing things sometimes.
“That will be great for me, so if I can learn that from Mizuki then she’s absolutely someone I can model myself on.”
Team Derby’s Ryan Quek added: “As a young player, it's nice to be surrounded by the world's top players like Marcus Ellis and Lauren Smith - it's a great experience for me.”