Team Woods a badminton dynasty
The Woods family has been an influential force within the local badminton scene and Alpha Badminton Club in particular for many years.
Dad Trevor began his association back in 1969, going on to win numerous titles and earn representative honours before moving into management and coaching.
Mum Alison, started playing at 8-years of age before moving to the Alpha Club at 14.
Alison was always a force to be reckoned with on the local scene, going on to play for Ireland, competing in thre Europe Cup campaigns.
It should come as no surprise, with both Trevor and Alison having spent so much time playing the sport that this impressive dynasty would continue thanks to the talents of twin Daughters Rachael and Rebecca.
Having played badminton at a representative level themselves, the couple went through a gamut of emotions as they watched their daughters make their international debuts in Barcelona on their twelfth birthday.
Any anxious feelings their parents may of had didn’t transfer down to Rachael and Rebecca who can recall taking their first steps into the world of badminton at the age of five in the Alpha Badminton Club, a venue which could be described as being their ‘second home’ for nigh on the next decade and a half.
The twins steely determination, nurtured on those badminton courts back in Lisburn, saw them claim a silver medal in the girl’s doubles whilst Rachael was to win a prized bronze medal in the Under-15 singles.
In the doubles they were up against French opponents who had taken the opening set 21-17.
However, Rachael and Rebecca countered, decisively drawing level by dominating the second 21-12.
The decider was always going to be a tense affair, not only for those on court but also amongst the watching support.
The Ireland debutants worked hard for an 11-7 advantage at the changeover, only for their opponents to snatch the victory 21-18.
In the singles Rachael got her competition off to a confident start, recording a three set victory over a Spanish opponent before Ricard was to edge through 21-19 in the decider - a victory she was to avenge later in the evening - in addition to seeing off Maria Di Mar Carretero (Spain) in straight sets.
It was only a two set defeat at the hands of the No2 seed Marianna Chang (Portugal) 21-12 21-12 which prevented Rachael from being in contention for a gold medal but with another year in this age category it was one to lock away in the memory banks.
NOTHING STANDS STILL
As most people and especially sports men and women will know, nothing stands still and this most certainly applies to both the ‘Team Woods’ household and Alpha Badminton Club.
Enter sisters Chloe and Paige who, aged 7 and 6 respectively, were quick to show that they were not going to let older sisters Rachael and Rebecca hog all the limelight.
In no time at all the Harmony Hill pupils were on the podium with Paige winning her first title, an under 9 girl’s doubles with sister Chloe.
Chloe was a treble winner at Under 9 age group in the Easter Open, the Under 11 girl’s doubles in the Alpha Easter Open Under 11 section and a gold and silver medal winner in the Connacht Under 11s. Not forgetting the Ulster Under 11s doubles where she finished with a silver.
“Another most poignant highlight for us as a family was back in March 2019 when all four girls represented Hunterhouse College in The All Ireland Schools Senior Cup Finals in Gormanstown, Co Meath,” said dad Trevor. “That was quite an achievement in itself!
“Having already lifted the Ulster Schools title, the girls went on to win the Division 1 Cup, making schools badminton history as the first time four siblings had played on the same team and won the cup.
“With the twins, Rachael, the older by just ten minutes, and Rebecca set to move on to their respective universities, it was of course 12 year-old Paige who was to be the final piece of the jigsaw, joining 13 year-old Chloe.”
Paige and Chloe realised the importance of the win on their return to the school saying: “Everyone was congratulating us including our teachers and it brought home to us what our success meant to everyone within the school”.
The 2015/16 season, which had started with so much optimism and promise for Rachael, was to see her first major injury threaten to derail her whole season.
Her selection for the European Under 17 Championships in Lubin in March should have been the highlight of the season, particularly as she also had her twin sister Rebecca with her in the side.
An early season injury ravaged her preparations and the injury returned during her opening match in Poland against France’s Margot Lambert.
Just as she fought back from narrowly losing the opening set 21-17 and appeared to be poised to draw level by taking the second set, the injury reared its head once again ending her competition, losing the second 21-18.
Having returned for the second time later in the season, Rachael was to suffer a hamstring injury which affected her in Glasgow, finishing in third place behind surprise winners of the Under 15 Quadrangular series.
Nevertheless, in the individual competition Rachael was to reach the semi-finals of both the singles and doubles with Rebecca,leaving everyone at Alpha pondering what might have been if she had had an injury-free season.
There was light at the end of the tunnel when a long-time ambition to hold the Number One slot in the UK took a giant leap closer as she reached the final of the Under 15 Gold Star singles in Nottingham.
Beating Warwickshire’s Kiara Henry, Scotland’s Rachel Sugden in three sets, Leah Allen in three, followed by Abigail Harris in straight sets in the semi-final before falling at the final hurdle to Lothian’s Rachel Cameron 21-16 21-16 was nevertheless something very positive to take out of her injury ravaged season.
Without doubt that season was to see one young Alpha starlet make her long-awaited breakthrough to the forefront of Ulster and Irish badminton and that was Rebecca Woods.
She was already one half of the excellent girls doubles partnership with her twin Rachael but whether or not she would have enjoyed the season she had if Rachael had not been injured so early in the season, is up for conjecture.
Everyone could see that there was a new found confidence around Rebecca’s game. She was no longer the bridesmaid but the bride on the incredibly competitive tournament circuit.
This proved to be without doubt Rebecca’s best season to date and she was an automatic choice in the Irish sides in both Poland, when she helped Ireland to runner-up in Group 4 of the European Under-17 Championships, and in Glasgow when she partnered Rachael to the semi-finals in the individual event of the Quadrangular Under-15s.
In Poland Rebecca teamed up with Clodagh Dunne in the girls doubles - Rachael having picked up an injury against France and having to withdraw - losing narrowly to their Austrian opponents 22-20 21-17 and the pair got it right in their second match beating Lithuania in straight sets.
While Rachael was reaching the final of the Gold Star Singles, Rebecca was to partner her to the semi-final of the girls doubles, where they took the highly rated Scottish pair of Cameron and Andrew to three sets, having earlier given the top seed in the singles Chloe Hunt palpitations before losing in 43 minutes.
Rebecca was to partner Rachael to the runners-up position in the Irish National Under-17 in 2016 and she was to lose out to her Alpha team-mate Beth in the final of the singles 21-7, 21-14 having earlier knocked out Clodagh, seeded No1 17-21 24-22 21-17.
The Munster Under 17 Open saw Rebecca finish runner-up to sister Rachael 21-14, 15-21, 21-14 but the singles finalists went on to lift the doubles final 21-15, 21-6.
ULSTER OPEN TITLE
For Rachael lifting the Forza Ulster Open title in October 2018 was a significant breakthrough and one she is extremely proud of as she follows a relatively small but unique line of former Alpha players who have lifted this coveted title.
Seeded Number Two she had two early three-setters against Orla Flynn and Bethany Wong but had to stave off the challenge of Sophia Noble in the final having won the opening set at a canter.
The second saw Noble snatch the set to take it into a decider and again Rachael had to call on her years of experience to lift the title 21-18. She had high hopes of making it a double particularly when partnering Rebecca they had easily taken the opening set of the doubles final 21-11 against the top seeded Kate Frost and Moya Ryan.
However, it was not to be and when they had the second set snatched from their grasp 22-20, they were unable to maintain their momentum and had to be content with a silver medal.
As the Woods love affair with badminton continues Chloe and Paige, members of Ulster Badminton’s Emerging Performance squad and Alpha Badminton Club’s Celtic Challenge squad continue to improve.
Chloe is training hard for the Under-17 events next year whilst Paige had been selected to represent Ireland in the U15 Quadrangular, which sadly was cancelled due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“This was to be the highlight of Paige’s year and she had been working and training hard for it,” said Trevor.
“Unfortunately due to the current situation, it was not possible as all sporting events were all cancelled.
“The twins have both returned home early from university due to the coronavirus situation. Rachael attends Nottingham Uni and Rebecca is at Loughborough Uni.
“They have played a few Senior English Gold events this season and have represented their Universities in the prestigious BUCS league.
“They too have been training hard during their first year but first and foremost for the girls at present, are their studies.
“Mixing their studies and their training under a new set-up has been difficult but they seem to have adjusted well.
“They have represented Ulster in the Inter-Counties in the UK and their long-term aim is obviously two-fold - compete in the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and to get selected for the Senior Irish team.
“On a personal basis, I am delighted that my four daughters have all chosen to play badminton. They have all represented Ulster and Ireland at U13 and U15 with Rachael and Rebecca at both U17 and U19 levels.
“They have also represented Ireland at two European Championships. I have travelled around many countries in Europe with the girls.
“Rachael has won many events all over Europe in addition to three triple wins in the English U17 Gold Star tournaments in England which is a great achievement.”
Mum Alison added: “I am absolutely delighted with how Rachael and Rebecca have adjusted to life at university in England and how they are able to balance their studies with training and competing at such a high level.
“The girls have been working hard preparing for the new season ahead. The highlight of the year for me was seeing Chloe and Paige win the Munster Under-17 Open in November.
“With Paige being just 13 years and Chloe just 14 years old, this was a fantastic win for the girls.
“For Paige, being selected to represent Ireland in the Under-15 Quadrangular in Scotland is something she will never forget.”