North Oxford Back In Black
08/11/21: North Oxford regained the Richard Black Cup in association with Advanta Wealth at Eton yesterday with a thrilling victory against old rivals Highgate at the end of an excellent day of Fives featuring eight strong teams.
The 2020 edition of the Richard Black Cup was one of the tournaments that had to be cancelled last season so it was two years since the various sides had assembled at Eton to take part in the women's team competition. Eight teams were there this time, with serial finalists North Oxford and Highgate joined by regulars Ipswich, Shrewsbury (two teams), Cambridge, Oxford (in a past & present guise this year) and the EFA, as always providing a home for players in need of a team, at least those who weren't required elsewhere to plug the gaps created by the traditional handful of late drop outs.
The eight teams were divided into two groups of four for the morning matches. Group A was dominated by North Oxford and Group B by Highgate, both teams qualifying with a maximum nine points out of nine. The other teams were fighting hard for the other two semi-final slots, with the threeway battle between Ipswich, Oxford and Shrewsbury 2 particularly close. The Ipswich team was led by national champion Charlotta Cooley, and although they lost narrowly (15-14) to the Highgate first pair, the other two first pair matches went their way. Both of the other teams managed to take a pair off Ipswich - the Shrewsbury third pair and the Oxford second pair - but the strength in depth of the Suffolk team just gave them enough to take two 2-1 wins and claim second spot. The match to decide 3rd/4th place in the group went down to the wire and a narrow win at second pair for Oxford captain Freya Butler & newcomer Sophie Clifford-King against Janice Wong and Old Salopian Erin Leatherbarrow for the Shropshire team.
The Shrewsbury first team, however, scored two impressive 3-0 wins over the EFA team and Cambridge University to come second behind North Oxford in Group A and qualify for the semi-finals, with Cambridge coming out on top 2-1 against the EFA team to take third place. The 3rd and 4th placed teams went into the Plate semi-finals, which produced the highly unusual scenario of the two semis being won by the teams that finished fourth against the two teams that finished third, testimony to the well-balanced nature of the majority of the teams in the tournament. The EFA team in particular began to find form in the afternoon that had been lacking in the morning as the new combinations - Fiona Barnes & Natalie Lilienthal, Lucy Rands & Vanda Scholey and various permutations of current and former Holyport girls Sophie Wisa, Darcy Clarke and Deborah Oyewole - started bedding in, resulting in a 3-0 win over Oxford (the first pair win from Fiona & Natalie over Zoe Nicholls & Georgia Allen particularly impressive) and then a 2-1 win over Shrewsbury 2 in the final, built around another strong first pair performance and a "leaving the best until last" effort from Lucy & Vanda at second pair. The Shrewsbury third pair of Farquharson & Hurford got their team on the scoreboard with a hardfought 15-12 win over the Holyport girls. The Cambridge first pair of Elana Osen & Jessye Tu also produced their best result of the day in the last match, with a 15-12 win over Freya & Zoe (guesting for the Oxford team alongside her Berkhamsted school team mate). The Cambridge third pair of beginners Alex Davies & Laura Simpson had improved hugely during the day but had to head back to Cambridge, conceding their game to Lauren Rowley & Colette Rocheteau, which left the 7th/8th play-off to be decided at second pair and it was the Oxford duo of Georgia & Sophie who won it 15-12 over Light Blue captain Sze-Lynn Yuen & Old Uppinghamian Charlotte Bowman.
The main competition semi-finals simply confirmed that Highgate and North Oxford were both a long way ahead of the other teams, with much interest revolving around the possible pair combinations for the final, leaving Ipswich and Shrewsbury 1 to fight it out for 3rd/4th place. The 3rd/4th game was an excellent one, with Charlotta & Nadia Mason proving too strong for Harriet Shuker & Issy Morris at first pair and Natasha Gregory & Lucy Craughwell-Franks sealing the win with a fine 15-11 second pair win, while the Shrewsbury third pair of Whittal & Clark finished on a high note against Kirby & Zhang Pulchan.
Despite the two year gap since the last competition, the two teams facing each other in the final were no strangers to each other. The North Oxford team - Karen Hird, Francesca Turnbull, Harry Asquith, Rachel Wood, Faye Kerr and Mandie Barnes - was exactly the same as the one that had lost the 2019 final to Highgate, having won the trophy in 2018 and 2017. The Highgate team was a little different, the absence of star player Emily Scoones offset by the return of three of the "Golden Generation" of Highgate players who won this competition as a school team between 2012 and 2015 - Marjolaine Briscoe, Phoebe Bracken and Carolina Valensise. They lined up alongside the current crop of Highgate schoolgirls - national senior semi-finalists Catherine Vos & Lorenza Valensise and U16 Mimi Anderson.
The first pair match saw North Oxford captain Karen Hird pair up with her fellow Wyombe High alumna Francesca Turnbull to take on current U25 champions Marjolaine Briscoe & Carolina Valensise. Francesca started strongly, giving Karen the platform to dominate proceedings and not allow the Highgate pair into the game. The North Oxford first pair took the first game 12-5, while elsewhere the other two pairs had started in an even more one-sided fashion. Harry & Rachel at second pair got off to an absolute flyer in their match against Phoebe & Mimi, putting in a near flawless first game performance with some standout cut returning from both players to win 12-2. Highgate hopes were raised at third pair, however, as Catherine & Lorenza established a similar dominance at the set piece in their game against Faye & Mandie, racing through to win 12-1.
Unsurprisingly, the chance to take a break and reassess benefitted all three pairs who had lost the first game. First to start their comeback were Faye & Mandie, who took advantage of a slight dip in their opponents' form and some much improved cut returning to move out to an 8-4 lead, raising their hopes of levelling at 1-1. Catherine & Lorenza had other ideas, however, overcame their brief wobble and returned to the dominant, attacking Fives they had been playing in the first game, quickly wiping out the defecit and going on to win the game 12-8 and claim first blood for Highgate. The question now was could one of the top two Highgate pairs turn their match around in order to revive Cholmeleian hopes of overall victory? Both were behind in the second games, but both were making a much better fist of it second time round and staying very much in the reckoning as both second games moved towards their climax. Second pair was poised at 7-7 before Harry & Rachel produced what looked like it might be a potentially decisive burst of scoring to move to 11-7 and match point. They had a couple of half-chances they couldn't convert, though, and Phoebe & Mimi added to the tension by producing some fine game ball cutting and picking up another couple of points of their own to narrow the gap to 9-11 before the North Oxford pair finally managed to close out the game and level the overall tie at one apiece. This meant, of course, that it all came down to first pair, where Karen & Francesca were just about keeping their noses in front of Marj & Caro. The Highgate pair were playing a much tighter and cannier game by now, trying to move Karen around and put Francesca under more pressure. It almost worked, but in the end Francesca refused to buckle, continuing to move well and volley aggressively, while Karen was able to work just enough positions to be able to use her full range of rally-winning shots and show why she is a nine-time ladies national champion. The North Oxford pair took the second game 12-9 to end a fantastic final and a fantastic tournament, with Richard Black himself on hand to congratulate all involved and to hand out the medals, trophies and boxes of chocolates.
Our thanks go to Eton for hosting the tournament, to Advanta Wealth for their sponsorship, to Richard Black for all of the goodies, to David Mew, Andy Barnard, Charlotta Cooley, Sze-Lynn Yuen, Mandie Barnes and Freya Butler for their help getting teams together and to everyone who came and played and made it such a terrific day.
Richard Black Cup 2021
North Oxford beat EFA 3-0 (15-1, 15-3, 15-4)
Shrewsbury 1 beat Cambridge University 3-0 (15-5, 15-5, 15-0)
North Oxford beat Cambridge University 3-0 (15-3, 15-2, 15-2)
Shrewsbury 1 beat EFA 3-0 (15-8, 15-5, 15-14)
North Oxford beat Shrewsbury 1 3-0 (15-1, 15-1, 15-1)
Cambridge University beat EFA 2-1 (15-7, 15-9, 0-15)
North Oxford - 9
Shrewsbury 1 - 6
Cambridge University - 2
EFA - 1
Highgate beat Oxford Past & Present 3-0 (15-1, 15-0, 15-0)
Ipswich beat Shrewsbury 2 2-1 (15-5, 15-6, 9-15)
Highgate beat Shrewsbury 2 3-0 (15-1, 15-2, 15-3)
Ipswich beat Oxford Past & Present 2-1 (15-8, 8-15, 15-1)
Highgate beat Ipswich 3-0 (15-14, 15-6, 15-2)
Oxford Past & Present beat Shrewsbury 2 2-1 (15-2, 15-11, 4-15)
Highgate - 9
Ipswich - 4
Oxford P&P - 3
Shrewsbury 2 - 2
North Oxford beat Ipswich 3-0
K.Hird & H.Asquith beat C.Cooley & K.Clayton 2-0 (12-1, 12-5)
R.Wood & F.Turnbull beat N.Mason & N.Gregory 2-0 (12-2, 12-2)
M.Barnes & F.Kerr beat L.Craughwell-Franks & Z.Pulchan 2-0 (12-10, 12-5)
Highgate beat Shrewsbury 1 3-0
M.Briscoe & C.Vos beat H.Shuker & I.Morris 2-0 (12-1, 12-4)
P.Bracken & C.Valensise beat R.Ellis & G.Norman 2-0 (12-3, 12-3)
L.Valensise & M.Anderson beat S.Whittal & L.Clark 2-0 (12-8, 12-1)
North Oxford beat Highgate 2-1
K.Hird & F.Turnbull beat M.Briscoe & C.Valensise 2-0 (12-5, 12-9)
R.Wood & H.Asquith beat P.Bracken & M.Anderson 2-0 (12-2, 12-9)
M.Barnes & F.Kerr lost to C.Vos & L.Valensise 0-2 (1-12, 8-12)
Ipswich beat Shrewsbury 1 2-1
C.Cooley & N.Mason beat H.Shuker & I.Morris 15-9
L.Craughwell-Franks & N.Gregory beat R.Ellis & G.Norman 15-11
Z.Pulchan & K.Clayton lost to S.Whittal & L.Clark 7-15
EFA beat Oxford Past & Present 3-0
F.Barnes & N.Lilienthal beat G.Allen & Z.Nicholls 2-0 (14-12, 12-9)
L.Rands & V.Scholey beat F.Butler & S.Clifford-King 2-0 (12-6, 12-8)
S.Wisa & D.Clark beat L.Rowley & C.Rocheteau 2-0 (12-6, 12-2)
Shrewsbury 2 beat Cambridge University 2-1
A.Pegge & A.Cox lost to E.Osen & J.Tu 0-2 (4-12, 0-12)
J.Wong & E.Leatherbarrow beat S-L.Yuen & C.Bowman 2-1 (8-12, 12-10, 8-6)
R.Farquharson & E.Hurford beat L.Simpson & A.Davies 2-0 (12-0, 12-0)
EFA beat Shrewsbury 2 2-1
F.Barnes & N.Lilienthal beat A.Pegge & A.Cox 15-3
L.Rands & V.Scholey beat J.Wong & E.Leatherbarrow 15-3
S.Wisa & D.Oyewole lost to R.Farquharson & E.Hurford 12-15
Oxford Past & Present beat Cambridge University 2-1
F.Butler & Z.Nicholls lost to E.Osen & J.Tu 12-15
G.Allen & S.Clifford-King beat S-L.Yuen & C.Bowman 15-12
L.Rowley & C.Rocheteau beat L.Simpson & A.Davies w/o