Under 25s: Bracken & Briscoe Toast End Of An Era
26/09/23: The 2023/24 tournament season got underway at Harrow on Sunday with wins in the U25s for Phoebe Bracken & Marjolaine Briscoe and Hugo Young & Charles Plummer.
The women's competition had an end of an era feel to it as Cholmeleians Phoebe Bracken & Marj Briscoe took part in their final U25 tournament. Phoebe first won the U25s as a young schoolgirl way back in 2014 and was aiming for an incredible eighth win; Marjolaine took a couple more years to make her first final, with her first win then coming in 2018, but she was still gunning for a fifth victory this time around. Standing in their way were the Cambridge pair of Alex Davies & Charlotte Bowman and the scratch pairing of defending champion Jessye Tu and Berkhamstedian Zoe Nicholls, who was looking to go one better than her brother, a finalist in the men's competition in 2022.
The tournament was played as a round robin of best of three game matches; Alex & Charlotte played some very good Fives but struggled at the set piece, finding it difficult to convert their good shots into points against two very strong pairs, leaving the third and final match as the title decider. Both games followed a similar pattern, with Zoe & Jessye starting well and matching their opponents shot for shot and point for point. Eventually, though, the greater experience, consistency and accuracy of the Cholmeleian pair began to tell and in both games they moved away towards the end having withstood the early onslaught, ruthlessly seizing the opportunities when they arose to win 12-3, 12-6 and getting their names on the trophy one final time.
Fourteen pairs took part in the men's tournament, with a midweek injury to Kinnaird semi-finalist James Hopkins denying him the chance to see whether he and former school partner Oli Light could push for a Cholmeleian double. To do so they would have had to have found a way past some pretty formidable obstacles, notably four times champion Hugo Young and his Oxford University partner from last year Charles Plummer and reigning U21 champions Jack Pemberton & Gwydion Wiseman.
Both of those two pairs sailed comfortably through the group stages, but behind them were a group of six or so pretty well-matched pairs fighting it out between themselves to fill the 3rd-8th seed positions in the quarter-final draw.
In Group A, the Harrow School first pair of Gus Stanhope & Algie Anderson beat Cambridge's Theo Seely & Freddie Kottler 12-11 to take second place behind Young & Plummer; Olavians Tommy Farmer & Tanish Arjaria squeezed past Oxford's Nick Choustikov & Aaditya Deshmukh to clinch top spot in Group B, while the early stars of the show were Ipswich School's Henry Gardner & Alex Phillips, who took seven points off Pemberton & Wiseman before notching an impressive 12-11 win against Will & Jack Sissons, despite hitting four cuts out of court when leading 9-3.
The pattern continued into the quarter-finals with Young & Plummer cruising through serenely against the Sissons brothers, and Pemberton & Wiseman not far behind against Kottler & Seely. The home pair of Stanhope & Anderson raised their game significantly and put the more fancied St.Olave's pair of Farmer & Arjaria under real pressure in their match, with the Olavians responding well and feeling relieved to come out 15-12 winners. The other quarter-final was a nail-biting classic with Gardner & Phillips again playing with real maturity and quality to get out in front against Choustikov & Deshmukh, before once again doing their best to let the opposition back into the match. The wily Choustikov pulled the broken shoelace trick at 10-14 down before he and Deshmukh then levelled at 14-14. As in their decisive group match, however, the young Ipswichians didn't panic and held their nerve to claim a 15-14 win and deservedly make it into the semi-finals, a fantastic achievement.
Unsurprisingly, Henry & Alex found the step up against Young & Plummer something of a bridge too far in the semi-finals, losing 12-2, 12-0. In the other semi-final, Tommy & Tanish looked like potentially difficult opponents for Pemberton & Wiseman; the Olavians couldn't really get get going, however, although that was at least partly due to the excellence of their opponents, who exerted an iron grip on the match from start to finish to win 12-2, 12-5.
The final was an excellent match, played to an extremely high standard. Gwydion & Jack did their best to metaphorically throw a few punches and put their opponents under pressure but they found themselves up against a pair who were just too good - strong in the set piece and as good at the unshowy defensive work as they were at the more flashy attacking stuff. The scoreline doesn't necessarily reflect the quality of the match, but it does show that Hugo & Charles were comfortably the better pair on the day and deserved winners, a fifth in a row at this level for Hugo and a first for Charles, having previously been a losing finalist in both the U25s and twice in the U21s.
There was a tremendous plate competition going on alongside the main competition knockout stages, with the morning non-qualifiers (minus a couple of the "morning only" Harrow pairs and with the addition of Alex & Charlotte and Jessye & Zoe) fighting it out in two groups of three to produce a trio of plate finals. Alex & Charlotte were rewarded for their perseverance with a Plate C win against beginners James Wheale & Josh Orme-Herbert, who both made great strides during the course of the day; Ipswich School's Dan Ingram & Sam Cook had a bit too much power for Zoe & Jessye in the Plate B final while the Plate A final produced one of the best matches of the day. Cambridge's Lewis Drummond & Isaac Gianfrancesco looked like they were cruising to a routine victory, winning the first game 12-3 against the Ipswichian Free brothers, with Luke Free struggling with a bruised hand. An ice pack, some motivational magic from Ipswich coaching guru and plate specialist Tony Stubbs and some serious grit and determination then saw Luke and his younger brother Owen fight back to take a dramatic second game 12-11 and set up a decider. Again the Cambridge pair looked to have it in the bag, establishing a healthy lead, before holding off another gutsy Ipswichian comeback to clinch it 12-9, just when it looked as if the late Ipswichian momentum might be unstoppable.
Our thanks go to Harrow School for hosting the event, especially to Ian Hutchinson and Sander Berg, and to Advanta Wealth for their continued support.
P.Bracken & M.Briscoe beat C.Bowman & A.Davies 2-0 (12-0, 12-0)
J.Tu & Z.Nicholls beat C.Bowman & A.Davies 2-0 (12-1, 12-0)
P.Bracken & M.Briscoe beat J.Tu & Z.Nicholls 2-0 (12-3, 12-6)
H.Young & C.Plummer beat W.Sissons & J.Sissons 15-0
A.Phillips & H.Gardner beat N.Choustikov & A.Deshmukh 15-14
T.Farmer & T.Arjaria beat G.Stanhope & A.Anderson 15-12
J.Pemberton & G.Wiseman beat T.Seely & F.Kottler 15-4
H.Young & C.Plummer beat A.Phillips & H.Gardner 2-0 (12-2, 12-0)
J.Pemberton & G.Wiseman beat T.Farmer & T.Arjaria 2-0 (12-2, 12-5)
H.Young & C.Plummer beat J.Pemberton & G.Wiseman 2-0 (12-5, 12-1)
L.Drummond & I.Gianfrancesco beat L.Free & O.Free 2-1 (12-3, 13-14, 12-9)
D.Ingram & S.Cook beat J.Tu & Z.Nicholls 15-8
C.Bowman & A.Davies beat J.Wheale & J.Orme-Herbert 15-6