The dearth of talented junior girls across Northamptonshire is being tackled by coach James Haley, who has proved he can help change the picture for the county.
Among the crop of youngsters currently under his guidance is Imogen Allen, rated the top 10U player in Northants, who has flourished under Haley’s wing at Dallington for the last two years.
So it proved something of a defining moment last week when Allen and Haley were briefly joined on court by Cassandra Dix, the 19-year-old who was coached by Haley for 10 years before embarking in August on a four-year degree in bio chemistry at the University of Northern Iowa, a course funded by a tennis scholarship.
Briefly back home for a three-week Christmas break, Stanwick girl Dix is now settling into the strange new lifestyle.
The fact she consistently proved a perennial age-group Northants County Closed winner during virtually all her teenage years paid tribute to the durability shown in marathon on-court battles, something she now mixes in as part of an eight girl squad in the USA which also includes two Germans, a pair of Americans, a Brazilian, a Spanish and a Canadian player.
Such an exotic flight path is still a fair way off for Allen, who recently won all three matches at the head of the pecking order for Northants in the 12 Counties tournament at the Corby Tennis Centre,
The occasion was somewhat embarrassing forthe home side, who could not raise a full team when travelling time was far less of an issue than for most competitors.
However Haley said: “That sounds as though it devalues Imogen’s wins.
“But the fact is that she still beat the number one players from three other counties and deservedly so.”
Certainly, Allen’s commitment to the cause will be tested to the full as her mum Deb explained.
“Imogen will need to show strong determination,” she said.
“The whole process takes a lot of time, commitment and finance but the tennis is not something we have pushed her into.
“James will have been coaching her for two years in April and I think he would say she is strong-willed, and wouldn’t let that happen.”
She added: “It is testing to play outside in the winter in the very bad weather which we discovered last year.
“There aren’t many places where she can play indoors in Northants and I don’t think logistically we could think of going to Corby five times a week.”
The introduction to tennis for Imogen came at six
“I never dreamed she would do something sporting when we first took her along to a summer camp near to us at Towcestrians, Deb continued.
“They said she had a natural talent and ‘better to get along to someone in Northampton’.
“She was initially coached by David Barr and then moved on to James.”
Allen will not be 11 until June.
But Haley said: “From April 1, Imogen steps up into the 12 & under age group which can always be tough in the first year as they take on older players.”