Stirling tennis stars crowned best in UK after blistering university final

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Tennis player James MacKinlay put in an outstanding performance on Wednesday.

It was a day of passion, unwavering team spirit and hard-fought competition for Stirling’s tennis and football athletes as they vied for top titles in UK university sport.

Competing at British and Universities Sport (BUCS) Big Wednesday, success was in the stars for Stirling’s tennis men’s 1s who triumphed in the coveted National Championship – the premium cup competition in UK university tennis – for the first time in nearly a decade. 

The victory came after a series of hotly contested matches at Nottingham Tennis Centre, which saw Stirling rack up the four points needed to win the title ahead of rivals Bath.

It was neck and neck between the teams after the morning’s doubles matches, but the afternoon saw Rob Cowley, Liam Hignett and James MacKinlay put in show-stopping singles performances to bring it home for Stirling in what was an emotional finale to the season.

Image of tennis player Rob Cowley Rob Cowley staged a momentous comeback in his match to drive the University of Stirling to glory.

Three University of Stirling tennis teams competed in Nottingham on Wednesday – and all against the University of Bath – with the women’s 1s playing in the National Championship final and the men’s 2s competing for the National Trophy. 

Bath proved to be tough adversaries for all three Stirling teams, winning four matches to Stirling’s two to edge the Women’s Championship. After an early lead from Bath in the doubles, Stirling’s Francesca Franchi and Halle Pringle fought back fearlessly in their singles games to push the scoreboard even and it all came down to the final two singles matches. Captain Kirsty Robertson and teammate Heather Barlow dug in – but the afternoon went Bath’s way.

In the Men’s Trophy, there were tiebreaks aplenty as the 2s went toe-to-toe with Bath but it was Bath who ultimately came out on top, winning four matches to Stirling’s one.


University of Stirling Lead Tennis Coach Scott MacAulay said: “I’m so proud of every one of the players today. This tournament marks the most teams Stirling has ever had in a BUCS final, so getting to this point alone is an incredible achievement. There is so much emotion when it comes to tennis and from start to finish it proved to be an incredibly emotional day for players, coaches and supporters alike. 

“You never know how many chances you will have at a competition at this level as a coach or a player, so you just have to seize the moment and that’s exactly what the students did. “I’m over the moon to see our men’s 1s take home such a coveted title for the first time in nearly a decade. Every member of the team deserves credit for the way they have represented themselves and the University.”


Stirling tennis 1s player James Mackinlay said: “I’ve been in these finals in the past and so going into today, I was so focused on what we needed to do and just how much it means for us all. You want to do well for your team, and we had all worked so hard coming into the Championship – it’s what you work towards and you just want to do your absolute best for your team mates. To have come away with a win like this is just incredible, we are all feeling elated and just can’t wait to build on this success going forward.”

Image of Cameron McKinley, University of Stirling footballer Stirling forward Cameron McKinley pictured in action in the Men's National Championship Final versus Durham.

Over in the football, also in Nottingham, the sun was shining down on Basford United’s ground as Chris Geddes’ side took to the pitch against Durham University. Durham flew out of the traps, netting two punishing goals in the first half. After half-time and as the sun set and the flood lights came up, the history-making Stirling squad moved up the gears, finding a goal before too long – with Ciaran McAninch firing in from the edge of the box.

Unfortunately, the clock ran down before Stirling were able to even the stakes in what made for a nail-biting final, and the team returned north as runners-up.

Stirling’s men’s football team have enjoyed an incredible run of success of late, winning the BUCS Premier North Division for the third successive season and making history playing Dundee United in the fourth round of the Scottish Cup earlier this year. They leave Nottingham focused on the Lowland League, where they are currently sitting just four points from the top of the table.

2023 marks the first time in Stirling’s history the University – Scotland’s University for Sporting Excellence – has had an impressive four teams competing in the prestigious BUCS nationals finals, the finale of the UK universities sporting season.

Image of David Bond, Head of Performance Sport at the University of Stirling
David Bond
Head of Performance Sport, University of Stirling
As Scotland’s University for Sporting Excellence, we will now build on what has been achieved at BUCS Big Wednesday and look to continue our run of successes across a multitude of highly competitive sports at the very highest level possible.

David Bond, Head of Performance Sport at the University of Stirling, said: “The 2023 BUCS Big Wednesday was a momentous day for University of Stirling sport and really shows the strength of talent from both the players and coaching staff, and demonstrates the quality of the programme of support in place at the University. The whole Stirling community has been right behind our tennis players and footballers leading up to today and we’re all so proud of what they have achieved.

“I would like to extend a special congratulations to the men’s tennis 1s for winning such a hard-fought series of matches and really demonstrating the sporting prowess and team spirit Stirling is known for. As Scotland’s University for Sporting Excellence, we will now build on what has been achieved at BUCS Big Wednesday and look to continue our run of successes across a multitude of highly competitive sports at the very highest level possible.”

The success at this year’s BUCS Big Wednesday caps a hugely successful period for sport at the University – with Stirling swimming sensation Duncan Scott becoming the most decorated British Olympian at a single Games; Scott and fellow athletes winning a record number of medals at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham; sports scholars securing a haul of medals at the Winter Olympics in Beijing; and student footballers making history in the Scottish Cup.

The University of Stirling was made Scotland’s University for Sporting Excellence in 2008 and was crowned The Times/Sunday Times UK Sports University of the Year in 2020. Since then, the University has further enhanced its sporting prowess by unveiling a new £20 million Sports Centre, comprising a fitness suite, strength and conditioning suite, performance gym, exercise studios and a three-court sports hall. The investment – which complements the existing National Swimming Academy – ensures that Stirling will remain the choice of medal-winning Olympians and Commonwealth Games athletes for years to come.

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