2014 Under 25s - Land of Ho and Laurie
15/09/14: The next generation of Fives superstars took centre stage at Eton on Sunday, as the Under 25 tournament got the 2014/15 season off to a flying start. An exciting day's Fives ended with the men's title being won by Laurie Brock and Jonny Ho and the ladies by Phoebe Bracken and Amira Reimer.
The field for the men's tournament was hugely competitive, despite the late withdrawal of holders Andrew Joyce and Jeremy O'Neill. There was a further setback on the morning of the competition with James Cobb falling ill and pulling out at the last minute, leaving his fellow schools' winner from earlier in the year, James Piggot, to team up with Olavian Dom Robson. They quickly established themselves as a pair to watch, although as the group stages developed, the topsy turvy results meant that it was very hard to predict who would be going through to the quarter-finals.
Bookies' favourites Laurie Brock and Jonny Ho were the only pair to win all of their games in the group stages to clinch top spot in Group A. An injury to Chris Hughes (subsequently replaced by George Thomason) allowed the impressive young Etonian pair of Tom Weld and Tom Kirkby to claim the runners-up spot with Thomason and Welti third and Cranleighans Archie Cameron-Blackie and Phil Roper taking the final qualifying place.
Group B was even more complicated, with every position in the group still up for grabs with the last shot of the last group match. Salopians Guy Williams and Sam Welti won that crucial point against Piggot and Robson to top the group, with a threeway tie for second between Piggot & Robson, Westminsters Riki Houlden & James Alster and Aldenhamians Carl and Andrew Rennie. Further complications ensued as Piggot was forced to withdraw with a back injury, moving each of the other pairs up a place and allowing another Westminster pair, Sam Williams and Callum Brock, to make it though and complete the quarter-final line-up.
The unpredictable group results and changes due to injury meant that the draw for the knockout stages was slightly loaded in one half. The pair best placed to take advantage of this were Weld & Kirkby, who showed great skill and an ability to adjust to a different type of Fives to that generally played at schoolboy level. They beat the Rennie brothers in fine style to win their quarter-final and then comfortably beat a tiring Williams and Welti in the semis; the Salopian pair had only just made it through their quarter-final after a 15-14 thriller against Cameron-Blackie and Roper, who can be delighted with their performances throughout the day, having really helped put Old Cranleighan Fives on the map.
In the other half of the draw, Laurie beat Callum in the battle of the Brocks and Thomason and Welti began to find some form with a convincing win over Alster and Houlden. The semi-final between Brock & Ho and Thomason & Welti turned out to be the match of the day; the top seeds looked to have it all their own way to start with, taking the first game 12-5 and taking an early lead in the second. At this point, though, the Salopian pair began to hit top gear, with Thomason in particular showing just how devastating an attacking player he can be when he gets going. With Welti providing impressive support and both Salopians cutting superbly, the tide turned in their favour and they came from behind to win the second game 12-8 and level the match at 1-1. The deciding game produced the best Fives of the tournament; Brock & Ho took an early lead yet again, but back came Thomason and Welti and for most of the game they had their noses in front until Brock and Ho found some inspiration from somewhere to break the deadlock at 10-10 and take the game 13-10.
It would be unfair on Weld & Kirkby to describe the final as an anticlimax, as the young Etonians played some excellent Fives and forced the more experienced pair to continue playing at their best in order to win; the result, though, was never really in doubt as the ability of Laurie and Jonny to constantly keep the ball in play before picking the right moment to hit the killer shot was just too much for the two Toms. This was a fine performance from the champions, who had to fight hard and play well all day to remain unbeaten and take the trophy, and it was also a great day for Weld & Kirkby, who showed more than enough to suggest that they will be a force to be reckoned with on the schools' circuit this year.
The ladies tournament was immaculately organised and run this year for the first time by former champion Karen Hird and produced just as much excitement and high quality Fives as the men's competition. With Eve Smith-Bingham unavailable it was left to Phoebe Bracken and Amira Reimer to carry Highgate's hopes of retaining the title, with Marjolaine Briscoe and Carolina Valensise also in the hunt. Bracken & Reimer duly won their group, although they were pushed hard by Cambridge pair Elana Osen and Olivia Prankerd Smith, who took them to 12-10 in the first of their two games. In the other group, former Oxford half-blues Alice Walker and Harriet Asquith were in fine form, winning 12-3, 12-4 against Briscoe and Valensise and also defeating current Oxford pair Hannah Pritchard and Rosie Parr to make it through in top spot. The Highgate girls won the deciding game against Parr and Pritchard to set up an all Highgate semi-final, which was won as expected by Reimer and Bracken. The other semi-final was a terrific match between light and dark blues, turning out ot be one of those curious matches in which one pair wins more points overall but loses the match, as Walker and Asquith won the crucial points in the first and third games to win 12-10, 5-12, 12-10 against Osen and Prankerd Smith.
A close final looked to be on the cards, but once play got underway it was clear that Amira Reimer and Phoebe Bracken were able to find an extra gear that Walker and Asquith - in her first major final - were not going to be able to match. The Highgate pair dominated the setpiece in particular and went on to record an emphatic and highly impressive 12-4, 12-2 win to take the trophy back to North London. Osen and Prankerd Smith won another thriller against Briscoe and Valensise to clinch third and Pritchard and Parr defeated Jo Cull and Charlotte Harris to win the all-Salopian plate final.
My thanks to Karen Hird for her organisational help and support, to Mike Hughes and Eton for hosting us and to all those who played and made it such an enjoyable day.
L.Brock & J.Ho beat C.Brock & S.Williams 15-5
G.Thomason & T.Welti beat R.Houlden & J.Alster 15-8
T.Weld & T.Kirkby beat C.Rennie & A.Rennie 15-7
S.Welti & G.Williams beat A.Cameron-Blackie & P.Roper 15-14
L.Brock & J.Ho beat G.Thomason & T.Welti 2-1 (12-5, 8-12, 15-10)
T.Weld & T.Kirkby beat S.Welti & G.Williams 2-0 (12-6, 12-6)
L.Brock & J.Ho beat T.Weld & T.Kirkby 2-0 (12-4, 12-5)
J.Tugwell & M.Asquith beat C.Brock & S.Williams 2-1
P.Bracken & A.Reimer beat M.Briscoe & C.Valensise 2-0 (12-2, 12-4)
A.Walker & H.Asquith beat E.Osen & O.Prankerd Smith 2-1 (12-10, 5-12, 12-10)
P.Bracken & A.Reimer beat A.Walker & H.Asquith 2-0 (12-4, 12-2)
H.Pritchard & R.Parr beat J.Cull & C.Harris 2-0