2008 National Schools' Championships

Mark Williams reports:

356 pairs from 27 schools entered this year's Championships at Shrewsbury.

It was particularly pleasing to see an entry from Wolverhampton Grammar School after many years. Shrewsbury hosted the tournament with their usual aplomb, and we are grateful to the catering staff and Housemasters who made this possible. In particular, Andy Barnard worked tirelessly to first set up, and then ensure the smooth running of the Championships, overcoming significant internal obstacles along the way. HSBC once again entertained fives Masters, Old Salopians and EFA officials to a splendid dinner, and we are all extremely grateful for their continued support. In all competitions, pairs played in pools initially, before proceeding to a knock-out stage, and Plate Competitions were run for those eliminated at the pools stage, thus ensuring that all competitors had plenty of fives on the day. The administration of a tournament of this size would not have been possible without the assistance of Ken Hughes and Peter Knowles, who worked tirelessly in sometimes miserable weather conditions to help me complete the championship without any hitches. The championships were dominated by pairs from Highgate and Shrewsbury who are clearly widening the gap with the other schools. It is no accident that they are the only two schools where fives is a major sport, and so they have the choice of the better games players. At all other schools, the current trend is for the major sports to be given greater and greater priority each year, further marginalising the time and number of players available for fives. Highgate achieved a clean sweep in the four major boys' competitions - the first time since 2002.

OPEN COMPETITION

A record 75 pairs from 16 schools entered the Open Competition. 48 pairs went through from the pools stage, with the pool winners having a bye in round 2, where in each match, a pair coming second in a pool played a pair coming third from another. In the quarter-finals, Highgate's first two pairs and Shrewsbury comfortably beat pairs from their own schools, but there was a titanic struggle between Berkhamsted and Westminster, where the former went 2-0 up, before Westminster won the next two games, and the fifth game finished 15-14 to Berkhamsted, with both pairs having several match points. It is worth noting that in both these schools there has been a significant increase in both quality and quantity which bears testimony to the good work being done by Matt Wiseman and Doug Foster.

In the semi-finals, Highgate 1 were too strong for a determined Berkhamsted, and Shrewsbury won three close games against a talented Highgate 2. In the final, a very good Shrewsbury pair played with determination but were overwhelmed 12-5, 12-4, 12-0 by an outstanding performance from a very talented Highgate pair. Ho's crisp volleying and return of cut, and Little's all round accuracy and power were decisive on the day, and both players had clearly benefited from playing adult fives throughout the season.

UNDER 16 COMPETITION

43 pairs from 8 schools entered the Under 16 competition. There were 8 pools producing 24 pairs for the knock-out stage. In the quarter-finals, Highgate first, second and third pairs comfortably beat Shrewsbury 4 and St Olave's 1 and 2 respectively in straight games. Highgate 6 pulled off a fine win against Shrewsbury in four close games, after losing the first, so that all four semi-finalists came from the same school (a record at this level).

Both semi-finals were close, hard fought matches. Highgate 1 went 2-0 up against their third pair, before losing their control completely along with the third and fourth games 2-12, 1-12. They had played a senior match beforehand, and looked exhausted, but somehow found the energy and determination to pull though 12-8 in the fifth. In the other semi-final, Highgate 6 won the first game, and competed strongly in the second and third, before Highgate 2 took control to win 3-1.

The competition was dominated by Highgate, which was a triumph for Anthony Brunner and his coaching team. They had at least four very talented pairs in an exceptional year, but there was not much else to challenge them. An eagerly awaited final between two very talented Highgate pairs was marred by a shoulder injury during the first game to Kovar. Buchanan and Sulkin played very well to win in straight games, and may well have won anyway, but the younger pair (Most and Kovar) will be back at this level next year.

UNDER 14 COMPETITION

36 pairs from 7 schools entered the Under 14 competition, where there were 8 pools and 24 pairs qualifying for the second round. In the quarter-finals, Highgate 1 and 2 and Shrewsbury beat Highgate Junior School, Berkhamsted and St Olave's fairly comfortably. Shrewsbury 2 won a hard fought contest with Highgate 3 by 3 games to one. Shrewsbury therefore had two novice pairs in the semi-finals - a considerable achievement.

In the semi-finals, Highgate 1 and 2 won in straight games against Shrewsbury 2 and 1 respectively, but in both matches at least one game was set, and Shrewsbury were not far short of Highgate�s high standard. In the final, Chatland and Audsley (2nd pair) started strongly and won the first two games 12-7, 15-11. Abbott and Bhattacharya won the third convincingly 12-2. Both fourth and fifth games were tense affairs, and were both won by the first pair 12-10, 13-10 in an extremely well matched contest.

UNDER 12 COMPETITION

A healthy entry of 55 pairs from 7 schools entered the competition. Pairs from Highgate dominated the pools stage, and they produced 22 of the 32 second round places. 2 pairs from Ludgrove and 1 each from Summer Fields and Cranleigh joined 4 Highgate pairs in the quarter-finals. In the semi-finals, Highgate's first two pairs were both too good for Ludgrove and Summer Fields. In the final, Noble and Berriman used their height and strength to cut and volley effectively, but both Hosking and Willett played well and hit a better length to fully extend their first pair. In the end however, Highgate 1 proved themselves the stronger pair. A peculiarity of the competition was that every match was won 2-0.

LADIES COMPETITION

21 pairs from 7 schools entered the Under 12 competition, including 10 pairs from Highgate, and three pairs from Oakham for the first time. There were 4 pools, producing 12 pairs, of whom 8 came from Highgate, for the knock-out stage. In the quarter-finals, Lancing, Highgate 1 and Westminster won fairly easily against Highgate 8, St Olave's 2 and Highgate 4 respectively.

In the semi-finals, Lancing 1 comfortably defeated Highgate 2 in straight games, but Westminster and Highgate 1 were locked at one game all after two very close games. Westminster won the third easily but the fourth was again close before Westminster won 12-9. In the final, Westminster quickly got on top to win the first game 12-2. Donger and Cutmore-Scott were quicker to the volley and cut effectively. Lancing contested the second game much more strongly before succumbing 12-8, before Westminster won 12-5 in the third with some clinical finishing. The standard in the competition was encouragingly high, and congratulations are due to Matt Wiseman and the Westminster girls for achieving Westminster's first ever trophy at these championships.

UNDER 15 COMPETITION

48 pairs from 11 schools entered the Under 15 Competition, where the previous year's Under 14 quarter-finalists are excluded. There were 16 pools with 32 proceeding to the second round. In the quarter-finals, Shrewsbury 1 and 3 and Berkhamsted won easily against Shrewsbury 4 and 2 and St Olave's respectively, but Mill Hill pushed Lancing hard in two close games, both of which were set to 13.

In the semi-finals, Shrewsbury 3 were too strong for Berkhamsted, but Lancing competed well against Shrewsbury 1, narrowly losing the second game which was crucial, before succumbing in straight games. In the final, Morjaria and Jones played with great determination and skill to surprise their first pair and take the first game 12-8. They also played well in the second, and narrowly lost 9-12, before Tse and Thomason took control with aggressive volleying and good approach shots to win 3-1. Once again there were an impressive number of very good Shrewsbury pairs, confirming their strength in depth, and this was their third consecutive win at this level.

UNDER 14 BEGINNERS' COMPETITION

A record 78 pairs from 13 schools entered the Beginners' competition for those who have not played fives before the previous September. 48 pairs from 16 pools qualified for the knock-out stage. In the quarter-finals, Shrewsbury 1 and 2 comfortably defeated their fourth and third pairs respectively, but Eton stretched Q E Barnet in the second game, before the tiny and talented Vashchenko gained control. Shrewsbury 5 won a close first game against King Edward's, who then made George Worthington sweat in both second and third games before coming through in some style.

In the semi-finals, both Shrewsbury pairs (who had reached the semi-finals of the Under 14 main competition), were too strong for Q E Barnet and King Edward's, but it was very good to see both of these schools reaching this stage with talented pairs who should achieve much in the future if they keep playing. In the final, both Shrewsbury pairs continued to demonstrate the high standard that they achieved throughout the tournament. Leech and Hudson-Williams won in straight games, but not without a battle.

Once again, on behalf of all of the schools, I would like to thank HSBC for their generous sponsorship of this event, which continues to grow and provide an enjoyable festival of fives for players, Masters and spectators alike.

SUMMARY OF FINALS

OPEN:

Highgate 1 (S.C.Little & J.R.Ho) beat Shrewsbury 1 (M.M.McKeever & R.F.Griffiths) 12-4, 12-5, 12-0

UNDER 16:

Highgate 2 (A.J.Buchanan & G.Sulkin) beat Highgate 1 (C.D.Most & M.J.Kovar) 12-7, 12-5, 12-7

UNDER 14:

Highgate 1 (M.J.Abbott & A.Bhattacharya) beat Highgate 2 (J.Chatland & D.J.Audsley) 7-12, 11-12, 12-2, 12-10, 13-10

UNDER 12:

Highgate Junior 1 (C.T.O.L.Noble & J.P.Berriman) beat Highgate Junior 2 (J.M.Hosking & J.A.W.Willett) 12-8, 12-4

LADIES:

Westminster 1 (E.H.Donger & H.R.Cutmore-Scott) beat Lancing 1 (S.I.J.Maguire & L.A.Bell) 12-2, 12-8, 12-5

UNDER 15:

Shrewsbury 1 (G.H.Thomason & J.Tse) beat Shrewsbury 3 (N.R.Morjaria & B.T.Jones) 8-12, 12-9, 12-2, 12-8

UNDER 14 BEGINNERS:

Shrewsbury 2 (S.G.Welti & HG.Lewis) beat Shrewsbury 1 (S.G.Leach & J.G.Hudson-Williams) 12-10, 12-8, 12-6