08 Mar 2019
U12 Qualifier Nationals

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Another week, another Nationals! Yesterday saw the turn of the U12s grace the sixteen courts at Eton College with 7 Berkhamsted pairs taking part out of the overall 43 pair entry. This years’ U12s saw a change from the norm with two different tournaments taking place; this was to help cater for the huge numbers now taking part in this age category with weaker pairs, playing in a ‘Qualifying’ competition and stronger pairs taking part in the ‘Elite’ tournament taking place on Monday 18th March. All pairs who reached the quarter-finals of the qualifier would be invited back for the Elite in just over a weeks’ time. It was left to the judgement of Master-in-Charge and coaches to place their pairs in the appropriate competitions.

The boys were divided into pools of five or six pairs with the top four from each qualifying into the main competition and the remining pairs going straight into a separate Plate event. After about two hours of play and once the dust had settled Olly Smith & Finn Webster (Berkhamsted 1), Douglas Lynch & Louis Kempe (Berkhamsted 2), Luke Baker & Jack Bailey (Berkhamsted 4) and Conrad Sammars & Felix Timms (Berkhamsted 6) had claimed the 1st place spots in their pools, while Vinnie Clifford & Will Tangen (Berkhamsted 5) took the 2nd place spot in theirs and finally Daniel Cowle & John Broadis (Berkhamsted 3) made it through in the 3rd place position of their pool. All six pairs then won their 2nd round matches putting them all through to the Last 16.

At this stage matches moved into best of 3 games and the run came to and end for both Berko 5 who were knocked out by a very strong looking Cranleigh 1 while Berkhamsted 4 put up a good battle against Highgate 1 before also losing out. Berko 1 continued their winning streak with a comfortable 12 – 0, 12 – 1 over Ipswich 4 while Berkhamsted 2 fought back against Ipswich 2 having lost the first game 11 – 12 before going on to win the next two sets to take them through. Berko 3 also had a good battle against Cranleigh 3 but managed to claim the game in two sets.

While all this was going on a special mention must go to our 7th pairing of Alex Blomley. We had found ourselves a player down at the last minute in the morning and so upon arrival at Eton, Alex was paired up last minute with a Highgate pupil, who had also arrived with an odd number due to illness on the morning. Alex managed to support, coach and enthuse his partner throughout the Plate A competition, having gone out in the pool stages and his good spirit and determination to support his partner rewarded them by reaching the 3rd/4th play off for Plate A where they lost out in a very close match to Ipswich 7 11 – 12.

Back in the main tournament the boys were pleased to have reached their target of quarter-finals qualifying them for the Elite tournament in just over a weeks’ time, but they all wanted more and were looking to push further through the rounds. Having just fought off Ipswich in a tough last 16 round before, Lynch & Kempe found themselves up against Cranleigh 2. It was a high-quality game of Fives with both sides desperately wanting the win. In the end it was thanks to some fine consistent play from Lynch at the back of the court supported ably by Kempe at the front with some solid volleying that allowed them to take the win in two sets 12 – 8, 12 – 10. The other quarter-final saw Cowle & Broadis squaring off against fellow team mates Smith & Webster. The set piece play of Smith & Webster was just too strong for Cowle & Broadis, knocking back their opponents cuts while also denying them any points by consistently cutting them down. In the end the Berkhamsted 1 boys ran away with the win 12 – 1, 12 – 2.

With two pairs now through to the semi-finals, the thought of an all Berkhamsted final was on all the boys’ minds. It was not to be the case, however, as the draw meant they would now square off against one another with Berkhamsted 1 v Berkhamsted 2. In the first set the length of the day was clearly catching up with all four boys, but young Doug Lynch was beginning to struggle with a particularly bruised hand, encumbering his ability to play. This allowed Smith & Webster to claim the first set relatively comfortably 12 – 1. Lynch did not want to concede the game and was determined to see it through win or lose, so a quick patch up job with extra padding to his hand and gloves allowed him back on court for a second set. Both Kempe & Lynch sprung into action determined to improve on their first set score line, and they did with real grit and determination. The score stayed very level all the way up to 6 – 6 thanks to some fine back step play this time from Kempe retrieving some difficult deep left-hand shots. In the end, however, the momentum began to turn the way of Smith & Webster, who tightened up their game allowing them to run away with the second set 12 – 6.

And so on to the final! The boys found themselves up against a very solid and talented looking Cranleigh 1st pair who had dominated most of their matches across the day. The match was again to be a best of 3 and from the offset it was clear Cranleigh had the upper-hand. Cranleigh were Fives players through and through, whilst Smith & Webster, having only taken up the game this year, were very good sportsmen, which made it an interesting battle. Where Smith & Webster had dominated earlier in their matches with set pieces, now it was the turn of the Cranleigh pair. Both their players cut and returned the ball extremely well which took an early toll in the first game allowing them to cruise through 4 – 12. A quick team-talk in-between sets and reassurance of the boys’ ability saw what looked like a turn-about in the second set. Both Smith & Webster began to return their opponents cuts better while also cutting them down more efficiently, meaning points were allowed to begin to flow. In the rally play both pairs were equally solid, though Berkhamsted did seem to have the upper hand on the top-step play. It was a close level game though Cranleigh managed to keep ahead of Berkhamsted by a point or two at a time. Near the end of the second set the Cranleigh pair managed to change gear and up their game allowing them to steam through the last few points taking the set and the final 2 – 0.

All in all, it was an incredible day for junior Berkhamsted Fives, six pairs reaching the last 16 while our final consisted of two players new to the game this year. Although the players’ ability was of a high quality, as a coach my highlight was seeing the boys’ attitude both on and off the court. They were always kind and courteous to both opposition players as well as staff, but also played within the ‘spirit of the game’, which is what Eton Fives represents at its core. It was even more pleasing to hear these same comments from my fellow peers at other schools regarding the Berkhamsted boys. Congratulations and well done to all.

Mr A. Theodossi – Fives Professional

Link: http://www.etonfives.com/news/2672-u12-qualifiers-through-to-the-main-competition