This year’s competition was held at Eton, so the usual fleet of minibuses was lined up at Kingsland Hall on Saturday 17th March, largely unaware of what was about to hit them.
The U15s were the first to travel, their competition being on Sunday 18th March. The U15 girls set off the following morning for an afternoon start; when they arrived, the boys were already in full flow. It had snowed, of course, overnight and though both the roads and the courts were perfectly clear, the run-off needed to be gritted in the morning and temperatures stayed at levels which, though comfortable for playing in, demanded serious gloves and hats of the spectators.
The great majority of our pairs proceeded untroubled out of the pools; the obvious entry into the top slot for match of the day was from Rohan McCourt and Ed Bayliss, who do love winning a close match (as the most avid readers will remember from their 3-2 epic against Eton last year in the beginners). This year it was against St Olave’s and was a best of three, so Ed and Rohan won 7-12, 13-11, 15-14 to make the last 16.
Guy Gowar and Finn Sansom made good progress through Saturday, winning 3-0 in a close quarter-final against Highgate 1 in the evening (14-11, 12-4, 14-12) to confirm their place in Monday’s semis.
Our second pair, Ted Davis and Jack Fraser Andrews, beat Harrow 3 in the third round to reach the quarters but then drew the second seeds St Olave’s 1, who were too strong. The five Shrewsbury pairs in the last 16 included pair 3 Dan Schofield and Laurence Goddard: they drew Eton 3 and, though they won the second game 15-14, they eventually lost 2-1.
Guy and Finn started strongly in their semi-final against Harrow, winning the first game to 3. The Harrow pair were shocked into action by this and came back much more strongly. In the end inconsistency at the front court, making mistakes when not under particular pressure, probably made the difference as we lost 1-3.
The U15 girls arrived for a 2.30pm start in their competition. Like the boys, they got five pairs into the last 16 but three got through to quarter-finals and our top two pairs both reached the semis.
The Third Form pairing of Lisette Barden & Issy Morris replicated their performance in the National U14s competition (held in February) by getting to the semi-final. They eventually lost to the favourites, Berkhamsted 1.
Georgia Nicholas and Adelaide Sillar beat Highgate 1 in their semi-final playing some of their most impressive fives to date but could not contain the very talented Berkhamsted 1 pair who went on to claim their second U15 title. Lisette Barden & Issy Morris will hope to prevent them from achieving there hat trick next March when the Championships are held at Shrewsbury.
Arthur Garrett and Peter Clark were our top pair in this, seeded 6th after some good results and a number of close matches through the season. They met a good Eton pair in the last 16 and, although they won the first game, they lost 3-1 in a game of long, attritional rallies.
Next door, Tom Castling and Marcus van Wyk were taking on 3rd seeds Highgate 1. Here, the scoring was reversed: though they lost a close first game, Tom and Marcus showed themselves to be big tournament players and won 3-1 to reach the quarter-finals. They played Eton the following day and, though not successful there, they have again shown themselves capable of beating some of the very best pairs. If they gain consistency in attack through the coming seasons, they will be a formidable senior pair.
Five of our pairs went through at the top of their groups, including Fourth Formers Guy and Finn, whose U15 semi-final had finished too late to catch the bus to Shrewsbury.
The week was getting warmer, and some of our players were really getting going too – Antoine Legeais and Joe Kynaston nudging out an U16 Eton pair 12-11.
The highlight of the morning for me was seeing Dan Humes, irritated by a let he felt shouldn’t have been taken, charging the next cut and volleying it for a clean winner off the back, the opposition having barely had time to notice what was happening!
The highlight of the morning for many others, though, was Rev Aldous’ failure to locate one of the biggest Tesco stores in the country and, as a result, picking up a load of pizzas for lunch.
Tom Bromley-Davenport and Will Sissons were pair 1. Unseeded despite some good results in the short season, they drew 6th seeds St Olave’s 2 in the last 16. Although they lost a close first game and conceded a sizeable lead in the second game, they battled back and won 3-1, with the Olavians running out of fight in the 3rd and 4th.
Second pair Dan Humes and Tom Brunskill met Harrow 1 in the last 32. They took the first game 15-13 and continued playing well to take the match and a place in the last 16. Here, they drew Eton 2 who we knew were strong. Eton played consistently and took advantage of any errors or loose shots; as they lost momentum, Tom and Dan’s set piece percentages, usually a strength, began to suffer and they could not work out how to make headway. Though Shrewsbury battled, confidence was with Eton throughout the third game and they won.
In the same round, Peter Clark and Arthur Garrett made a real impression against Eton 3, last year’s U16 winners and 8th seeds. Although they lost, they left with heads held high knowing that they are competitive in a faster, higher level game.
So we had one pair – Tom and Will – in the quarter finals. They had taken the 6th seed slot so played 3rd seeds Mill Hill. The North Londoners have a good deal of experience in adult league fives so are not easily unsettled. Shrewsbury started strongly and won the first game, but then tried to cut Mill Hill’s stronger player out of the game, leading to some wrong shot selections and to a 2-1 lead to Mill Hill. A lift in accuracy from both Will and Tom followed in the 4th, setting up a decider. As against St Olave’s, Shrewsbury conceded early points in the 5th and went 2-10 down: many pairs might give up, but a strong set piece denied Mill Hill chances to score. so 2-8 became 6-8, then 7-10, then 10-10 and the match was, of course, set to 15.
The idea of momentum disappeared, though, as each point or rally became a little match in itself. Points were traded for 11-11, then 12-12, then 13-13, but it was Shrewsbury who reached match point at 14 first and they needed no second invitation, closing it out for a semi-final place.
The following day they played second seeds Eton 1. The Eton pair were confident, having played and beaten Tom and Will at Shrewsbury in straight games. That, however, was the first time the Salopians had played together for the School: now they were more settled as a pair.
Eton picked up the first two games quickly, so Shrewsbury left themselves the mountain to climb. They had done so in each of their previous three matches and lifted their game to the occasion; and this they did again, coming from behind to level the game at 11-11. All players recognised a crucial spell in the match and despite a number of returned cuts and some lengthy rallies, the score remained 11-11 for an agonisingly long time.
It was Eton, though, who broke the deadlock, scoring three quick points to close out the match 14-11. It could have been a great match had we won this third: to see how Eton responded with a knock to their confidence would have been very interesting indeed.
Tom B-D finishes his Shrewsbury career a worthy national semi-finalist. Will has proved he can play at the highest level and will look to go two steps further next year.
Our top two pairs were looking very strong going into the beginners’ competition. Indeed comments had been made during the U14 main competition that few had seen beginner pairs as good as these.
We managed in theory to get four pairs through into Friday’s quarter-finals (though in practice Henry McGowan and Henry Lees had to concede on match point in the last 16, as the latter could not play on Friday).
Harry Cooke and Dom Zaza had to wait until Friday morning to finish their last 16 match: their opponent hit a blood sugar low and, although the last two pieces of Nick Argyle’s birthday cake were administered to him to help bring his levels back up, it was considered safer that he should play the following morning.
Nick Argyle and Jago Ainslie drew Harrow 1 in quarters. Though they played well, their positions and slight inaccuracies were exposed by Harrow, who won 3-0.
Pair 1 Rory and Digby, meanwhile saw off Charterhouse and, having completed the previous day’s match, Harry and Dom beat Eton 2 to give us two pairs in the semi-finals.
Harry and Dom played Harrow 1 in the semis; Rory and Digby were up against Eton 1. Harry and Dom lost two close games before the Harrow pair ran away with the third. Shrewsbury cut very well throughout, but Dom was struggling with a knee niggle that reduced his mobility and ability to retrieve as much as Harry did around the front court.
Rory and Digby saw off Eton 1 in straight games in a commanding performance in which the ability of both to retrieve around the top step and make Eton work hard for every point was impressive, as was the fact that they thought about the game and adapted.
In the final, Rory and Digby started strongly and won the first game. Harrow had got to grips with their cutting, though, and as the second game went on they were returning well. The cut is a great strength of our pairs; Digby’s ability in particular to deliver rockets to the toes had undone most oppositions. Faced with too many returns, though, we pushed the wrong lever and increased the power rather than the accuracy. This swung the balance towards Harrow and, although the rallies were good, we struggled to find the killer length in the buttress. In the end this combination ended in a 3-1 win to Harrow.
On Friday our senior girls started their campaign. We had won the Ladies’ Open last year and one of that winning pair, Sophia Breese, was defending her title, playing with Lizzie Ware.
Again, we had three pairs in the quarter-finals of this competition, with Emma Graham & Katie Oswald and Phoebe Wasdell & Laura Elliott the second and third.
The top two pairs both won their quarter-finals to give us representation in both semi-finals. Indeed, both pairs won through, meaning the hard work was done for the coaches and Shrewsbury 1 played Shrewsbury 2 in the final.
Emma & Katie won the first game, as has often happened before when these pairs played each other. But Sophia & Lizzie responded to take the second. In the third game, Emma’s volleying and ability to hold position in the buttress started to be telling and Katie brought a level of consistency at the back court better than she had displayed all season. So it was pair 2 who took the third and fourth games and the title. All four girls are Lower Sixth Formers, so Sophia and Lizzie will be vying for revenge next year!
Saturday’s finals were run alongside the mixed tournament, with large entries from Shrewsbury and Zuoz. Again we managed to get large numbers of pairs through to the latter stages, with three pairs in semi-finals and Westminster playing well in a close game to deprive Phoebe Wasdell and Jordan Zaza of the fourth spot.
Having been made to battle in their quarter, Westminster were seen off by Sophia Breese and Will Sissons in the semi while. On the other side of the draw, Emma Graham and Dan Humes had taken advantage of a faster progressed half of the draw to reach the final, knocking out Lizzie Ware and Tom Bromley Davenport.
Sophia got her revenge on Emma for the earlier Ladies’ final: she and Will won 2-0 to finish the day and close out the week.
The final minibuses set off on their final run back up the M40 almost exactly a week after they had set off from Shrewsbury with the U15 boys. Over the course of that week, 110 Salopians competed in one or other competition (many in more than one). Hundreds of pizzas, pasta pots and sandwiches were seen off, as were at least as many opponents.
My thanks must go to the many school staff who coached, helped, supported, consoled, congratulated and drove around 2,400 accumulated miles to allow the boys and girls to compete.
Seb Cooley, Teacher in Charge of Fives
Open Girls Winners (all-Shrewsbury final)
Open Boys Semi-finalists
U16 Boys Quarter-finalists
U15 Boys Semi-finalists
U14 Beginners Finalists
Mixed Winners (all-Shrewsbury final)
We also won the Girls’ Festival and were semi-finalists in the New Boys’ Festival Tournament.