Sam is Cayman’s casual champ

Of all the Caribbean champions Cayman has produced, few can be as laid back as teenage squash player Samantha Hennings.

The 16-year-old became Caribbean Under-17 champion last month in the British Virgin Islands despite her preparations being hampered by poor facilities in Canada where she attends boarding school. Sheer grit and determination carried her through, which is a strong characteristic in the Hennings genes.

On Monday night we’re sitting in the offices of the Cayman Islands Squash Club, South Sound where her mother Jacqueline and father Mark are revealing the extent of the family’s sporting achievements. Mark was a regular Cayman national for years and is on his way to the airport to represent Cayman in a senior squash tournament in Jamaica.

Back in the day Jacqueline was Trinidad’s national ten pin bowling champ five years running. So sporting success was not an option but an imperative for little Samantha.

‘As a baby I used to bring her in here in her car seat and she’d watch me playing,’ says dad. ‘She’s been coming ever since. Had her first international squash trip aged eight.’

Jacqueline says: ‘In the BVI we thought she’d perform well. We know she’s a fighter on court and doesn’t give up easily. She’s very competitive. She beat a Trinidadian girl, Amy Gillezeau in the final. We’re from Trinidad and know the girl’s family.’

Mark is pleased with the input from her coach Dean Watson, an Englishman, ex-pro who has developed the junior programme well in his few years here.

‘Dean’s taken Samantha to the next level,’ says Mark. ‘Derek Tyler, the previous coach here, got this generation of kids going and Dean’s given them that fine tune up. Her strength and power overcame Amy. Samantha’s grown two inches and put on 20lbs in muscle since they last played a couple of years ago but Amy doesn’t seem to have grown.’

Samantha surprised herself in winning gold. ‘I really wasn’t expecting to win the tournament,’ she says based on her erratic preparation. She expect though a relatively comfortable match against Gillezeau.

‘When I played her before she wasn’t as good as now. That was in the third and fourth place playoff at the same event a couple of years ago. I was hoping it would be easy but it went to five sets and was tough.’

She seems nonchalant about playing squash and hasn’t given a pro career serious thought despite her talents. School comes first for the time being; she hopes to study business management at university next.

Hennings won two matches on her way to the final; against a Bermudian in the first and the ex-champion, a Guyanese, in the semi-final. She returns to school in British Columbia next month and probably won’t compete again until the Canadian Open in Niagara in December and US Open in Hartford, Connecticut a few days later.

Watson says: ‘Both will be tougher competitions, more people, very competitive. Based on last year and how our juniors did, it’s a very tough tournament. Even though they all played well, none got through the first round.’

Watson was pleasantly surprised with Samantha’s showing in BVI ‘because of how little training she did’. She chuckles. He adds: ‘Imagine how good she’d be if she put more work in. Her mental attitude on court is phenomenal. There’s no stopping her, she’s so gutsy. She runs everything down and that’s very disheartening for the opposition.’

Mark adds: ‘Once you take someone to the end of their limits and they realise that this person’s not going to stop, then you break their spirits.’ With that he shoots off for his flight.

So anyone invited to the Hennings household for a quiet game of cards, be warned, they won’t let you leave as a winner.

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