Six Shrewsbury pairs battled it out in the qualifying rounds of the National Schools' U16s Fives Tournament at Eton on the final Monday of the Lent Term.
Jack Fox and Luke Lloyd-Jones cruised through their group of five, winning all of their matches comfortably apart from dropping a game to Highgate 5. Asked to describe their performance in three words, Jack replied "better than usual". Shrewsbury 3, the mighty Matt White & Stéphane Cotty, despatched all of their group without dropping a game but felt there was "room for improvement". Shrewsbury 4, James Harris & Tom Flowers, missed out on instant qualification; Shrewsbury 5, Rory Champion & Alex Bennett, won 2 and lost 3 so suffered the pain of heading into plate A along with Shrewsbury 6 (Leighton Webber & Tom Hart) and Shrewsbury 7 (David Clark and Ben King).
Those knocked out competed well in plates A-F, subsections, C, D and E; while at the business end of things, Fox and Lloyd-Jones - improving with every shot played - had a great win, putting them through to the next round.
But the fun was really beginning with Matt White and Stéphane Cotty. Having taken a very comfortable 2-0 lead with Cotty volleying with aplomb, the Shrewsbury pair decided it would be far more sporting if they allowed their opposition a chance to regroup and get back in the game, which they duly did. We all know that we teach everyone at Shrewsbury to play the game in the right spirit, but this pair was taking it to a new level. As the game levelled at 2-2, Matt White seized up with cramp. The sight of White lying on his back with legs in the air being manipulated and massaged whilst bananas and water were being forced down at the other end was a picture to behold. Surely the opposition must have tasted victory… But, wait a minute... new plan! Cotty was told to get out there and win it on his own, volley them off court! This he duly did. White, barely able to move, returned some critical cuts and they ran out winners 12-5, 12-7, 8-12, 9-12, 12-10 in the fifth game, showing tremendous guts and determination, ably supported by the rest of their year group. We were all exhausted just watching! Note to all players: please finish it off when you have the chance.
Sadly on Tuesday White and Cotty came unstuck, unable to repeat their death-defying performance of the previous day. Nevertheless they showed great promise for the 2015 season, taking a game from second seeds Highgate 1. Fox and Lloyd-Jones continued on their way, beating a good Eton 2nd pair.
George Panayi arrived on the swift wheels of a minibus otherwise full of Third Formers, he and his 1st pair partner Tom Breese having been excused the drudgery of qualification for the last 16 and Geroge having had a saxophone exam on Tuesday morning. On Wednesday, Tom and George demolished Eton 4, 12-4, 12-3, 12-7: clinical as ever. On the other side of the draw, Jack Fox and Luke Lloyd-Jones, who had been showing tremendous form and were continuing to improve out of sight, met Highgate 1 but were unable to recreate the form that had brought them this far, being knocked out 10-12, 9-12, 8-12. They were both very disappointed but are looking good for next season, a vastly improved pair who benefitted enormously from their time playing at Eton.
Friday saw Breese and Panayi back on court after a day off, playing their semi-final against Eton. These two were by now beginning to enjoy themselves: George was making his trademark charging runs up the court from the back. By the semi-finals, though, the opposition are not necessarily so easily intimidated: Eton waited for the charge then looked for passing shots and managed to negate the tactic. Tom similarly was standing well up the court on top step and was looking a little hurried. While not their finest display of the tournament, they were nevertheless good enough to see off Eton in straight games and it served as a useful wake-up call before the final. It also showed they were fully deserving of their number one seeding, having not dropped a game all season.
Saturday was finals day: Tom and George were up against the surprise pair of St Olave’s 1, who beat Highgate 1 in the semi final. St Olave’s gave it their best shot, but there are times when you are mismatched and on this occasion they were unfortunate enough to come up against one of the best U16 pairs to have made the final in the tournament’s 34 year history. Tom and George were far more focused, like lions circling antelopes in the Savannah. They found all of the discipline and tactical nous they had put into storage before their semi. The score of 12-2, 12-2, 12-3 is the widest margin ever in a National Fives U16s final. Tom has successfully defended his title.
Their progression to senior level bodes well for Shrewsbury School, improving our chances of bringing the Williams Team Cup back, as we have relinquished control of it for the last couple of years.
Grant Williams and Seb Cooley