2012 Under 21s: Highgate hit the heights
The third EFA National Under 21 Ladies tournament took place at Eton yesterday, with the remarkable Highgate Under 13 pair of Aimee Paul and Eve Smith-Bingham beating Bath University pair Emily Scoones and Hannah Blofield in the final.
Both the size of the entry and the standard of the Fives have increased markedly in the three years this tournament has been running, and pairs from Highgate School and Oxford, Cambridge and Bath Universities produced high quality Fives and some gripping contests in this year's edition. The group stages saw the top four seeds progress as expected, setting up two intriguing semi-finals; the first of these was an all-Highgate clash, as Highgate's four highly talented Under 13s transferred their dominance of the schools' Fives scene to the higher age group. Both pairs had been quarter-finalists in the Ladies Nationals a couple of weeks before and produced a terrific match with fourth seeds Amira Reimer and Phoebe Bracken losing the first game 12-2 before raising their game impressively to push top seeds Eve Smith-Bingham and Aimee Paul all the way in the second before going down 15-14.
The other half of the draw matched up two previous winners of this tournament, 2010 champion Emily Scoones partnering her Bath University team mate Hannah Blofield against 2011 winner Constance Mantle and her fellow Oxford student Izzy Watts. This was a terrific match, as Emily and Hannah came back from 4-8 down in the first game to win 12-8. Connie and Izzy refocused at the start of the second game, improved their set piece play and made far fewer unforced errors to win 12-6 and level the match. The decider was close throughout, but at 11-9 it looked as though the Oxford pair had done enough. A couple of half chances went begging, however, and the Bath pair suddenly found some inspiration at the crucial time to win 14-11 and make their second major final of the season, having already made the final of the Universities tournament back in November.
In one way the final was something of an anti-climax as Emily and Hannah's semi-final victory had taken a lot out of them and they were no match for their younger opponents. On the other hand, the match provided another opportunity to marvel at the ability of Eve and Aimee, who were always in control and on top of their game as they won 12-4, 12-2 in a performance that their coach Anthony Brunner desribed as the most dominant ha had ever seen from them. Worthy champions indeed.
The other pairs in the competition were busying themselves with the Plate competitions, and it was another young Highgate pair, Scarlet Katz-Roberts and Olivia Hirshfield, who won the final of Plate A over Cambridge pair Elana Osen and Olivia Prankerd-Smith in three tight games. The fourth Highgate pair - Hannah Rapley and Francesca Howell - completed a fine day for the schoolgirls by winning Plate B ahead of Oxford's Harriets Allan and Asquith and Cambridge's Anneliese O'Malley and Anastasia Noraev.
E.Smith-Bingham & A.Paul beat A.Reimer & P.Bracken 2-0 (12-2, 15-14)
E.Scoones & H.Blofield beat C.Mantle & I.Watts 2-1 (12-8, 6-12, 14-11)
E.Smith-Bingham & A.Paul beat E.Scoones & H.Blofield 2-0 (12-4, 12-2)
C.Mantle & I.Watts beat A.Reimer & P.Bracken 15-6
S.Katz-Roberts & O.Hirshfield beat E.Osen & O.Prankerd-Smith 2-1 (12-5, 6-12, 12-7)
1. H.Rapley & F.Howell
2. H.Allan & H.Asquith
3. A.O'Malley & A.Noraev