This was the second National Schools’ Championships to take place this academic year, with the 2021 Championships being played in October.
Sunday 20th saw our U15 Boys and Girls competing in their first ever National Championships. These pupils have had a tough start to their Fives playing careers as they spent the majority of the 2021 Lent Term in remote and therefore have been playing catch up on the other schools who play Fives across both the Michaelmas and Lent Terms. The day started well for the boys, with pair 1 and 2 in particular impressing, with those pairs progressing through to the Last 16 stage. Unfortunately, both were defeated by pairs who had ultimately played more than our pairs and that lack of experience meant our journey ended there. There are many talented sportsmen in this year group and I hope they stick at it.
In the U15 Girls Competition, 2 Shrewsbury pairs reached the Semi-Finals and faced off against each other. Shrewsbury 1 (Janice W (G, V) & Liv M (EDH, IV)) competed against Shrewsbury 3 (Emily C (EDH, III) & Charlotte F (EDH, III) with a place in the final at stake. Janice and Liv progressed through to play Highgate 1, the pre-tournament favourites. It was an enthralling encounter in which each game started off extremely close, before the Highgate pair seized control and won the match 3-0 ( 5-12,5-12,4-12).
Monday was the turn of our U16’s. Both U16 Boys and U16 Girls 1st pairs reached the Semi-Finals before being eliminated by Highgate 1st Pairs. In the U16 Girls, Amanda M and Anisha M (both M,V) performed admirably and lost 2-1 in very close and competitive matches (11-12, 12-7, 11-13). The U16 Boys competed against Highgate 1, who were seed 1 for the tournament. The boys started slowly and Highgate quickly showed why they were the team to beat. Shrewsbury then started playing their shots and made the match a much tighter affair. Unfortunately, at present the Highgate pair were just a little too strong for our first pair, Jack H and Will J (both Rb, V) who were defeated 3-1 (6-12, 12-13,12-5,9-12). In the U16 competitions, there were plate victories for Rose F (G, V) & Esther H (EDH, V) and Giles H (I,V) and Seb M-E (PH, V) with both pairs playing terrifically well throughout the day
Esther H and Rose F
On Tuesday 22nd the U18 Open Boys tournament took place. Shrewsbury entered 8 pairs into the tournament and 6 pairs progressed through to the last 32. Our top 4 pairs all progressed to the last 16 stage, with Shrewsbury 4 - Guy B, (I, LVI) & James C (SH, LVI) defeating Highgate 1 2-0 (12-10, 12-6) to complete the upset of the day. Unfortunately, pairs 2-4 were then drawn against some of the top seeds and as a result did not progress through to the Quarter-Final Stage. Shrewsbury 1 were then drawn against 7th Seeds St Olaves 2 who they dispatched to set up a Semi-Final later on in the week.
On Wednesday 23rd 15 pairs of U14 Boys travelled down to compete in the U14 Main Competition. Unfortunately, the traffic gods would not be on their side and they missed the entirety of the group stage in the morning. Fortunately, they were able to enter the plates in the afternoon with several Shrewsbury pairs reaching the latter stages of the plate competition which provided them with ample opportunity to get their eye in before the U14 Beginners tournament on Thursday.
On Thursday there were two competitions running simultaneously, with the U14 Beginners tournament and the U18 Mixed Tournament taking place. Shrewsbury managed to get several pairs out of the groups and had pairs progress to the Quarter-Finals, with only Shrewsbury 1 progressing to play Eton 1 in the evening. George B (O, III) and Michael D (I, III) played some incredible Fives that evening, with their cutting and cut returns improving significantly as the match progressed. They ran out 3-1 victors in a match that finished at 9:30pm and meant that they progressed through to the Final on Friday.
George B and Michael D
The U18 Mixed tournament is a competition that Shrewsbury have dominated since its inception in 2016. Shrewsbury managed to get 3 pairs into the Semi-Finals. The 4th spot were to be competed for by Highgate 1, last year’s finalists, and Shrewsbury 9, a pairing of Anisha M (M,V) and Harry C (PH, UVI), who returned to the courts for one final hurrah. For those lucky enough to witness the match, they saw an epic encounter which ebbed and flowed in both directions. All four players performed admirably, but unfortunately Shrewsbury 9 were not able to make it an all-Shrewsbury Semi-Final, losing 2-1 (12-7, 7-12, 12-14). The Semi-Finals would be played on Friday afternoon after the U18 Girls Open.
Friday started with the Final of the U14 Beginners. George and Michael started strongly and played some superb Fives, in particular on top step and in their approach shots into the buttress. Unfortunately, the talented pair from QE Barnet were playing well and limited our chances to a minimal, leading to a 3-0 win for the QE pair and earning the school their first ever National title.
Digby T-W and Rory McD-O'B
While this match took place, Shrewsbury 1 (Rory McD-O’B (PH, UVI) and Digby T-W (I, UVI) were competing in the U18 Semi-Final against Berkhamsted 1 who were seeded 3 for the tournament. Rory and Digby started well, winning the first set 12-3, and the second set 12-7 before Berkhamsted battled back and took the 3rd 8-12. A change of ball allowed Shrewsbury to play their nature game and they won the match in the 4th set, winning 12-6.
In the Girls tournaments, Shrewsbury entered 11 pairs total into both the U18 Girls Open (6) and the U18 Girls Festival (5). In the U18 Girls Open, Harriet S (EDH, UVI) and Izzy M (MSH, UVI) reached the Semi-Final Stage, nearly completed the comeback of the century against Berkhamsted 1, coming back from 2-0 down to lose 13-14 in the 5th Set. An extremely close encounter shown by the scores in each game (12-14, 12-14, 15-12, 12-9, 13-14) A true Fives exhibition and a match that many spectators said to be the real final.
In the U18 Girls Festival, Annie C (EDH, UVI) and Ashleigh P (G, UVI) came out victorious in an all-Shrewsbury encounter versus Jemima and Imogen D (both G, LVI).
Jemima and Imogen D
The Semi-Finals of the mixed were played late on in the afternoon, with Shrewsbury 1 and Shrewsbury 2 progressing to play their final ever school Fives match against each other on Saturday afternoon.
Saturday, or Finals Day, saw Rory and Digby play against Harrow 1, who they have faced in every age group final since 3rd Form. The 1st set was a tense affair, with neither side wanting to make a mistake, all 4 players played within themselves. The scoring was tight, 3-3, 4-4, 5-5, eventually Harrow started to find their feet and took the first set 12-8. The second set was played in the same manner, with both sides looking nervous, there were some superb rallies with neither side managing to gain the upper hand. Unfortunately, Harrow managed to get on top at the vital moment and win the 2nd Set. Shrewsbury started the 3rd Set strongly and were ahead for the majority of the set before being pegged back by Harrow. This time, Shrewsbury would have just enough and closed the set out 15-14. The 4th Set proved to be the final set with the Harrow pair managing to increase the percentage of cuts returned and limited the Shrewsbury pair to small runs of points. The match finished 3-1 to Harrow and although disappointed, the Shrewsbury pair shared a long embrace with their Harrow counterparts, with whom they had forged a friendship based on mutual respect and admiration over the years.
U18 Mixed Finalists
The day was not finished there, with the final of the U18 Mixed still to be competed for by Rory, Harriet, Digby & Izzy. In a subdued affair, it was clear that all four players had given all they had in the week and were not able to compete to the same standard as they had done. We were still treated to a spectacle where all four players played some truly incredible shots and demonstrated why these four individuals were at the pinnacle of the School Fives game. Rory and Harriet would run out 2-0 winners (12-8, 12-10.)
Many thanks to Mark Williams and the Eton Fives Association for organising the tournament, Eton College for hosting the competition and finally to the wonderful coaching team at Shrewsbury who have worked tremendously hard to prepare the students for the championships.
Master i/c Fives