21/10/19: The inaugural mixed team tournament in association with Advanta Wealth took place at Eton last weekend. Elana Osen reports:
In many ways, the dreary weather blighting the opening salvos of October 13th proved an unpropitious backdrop to what was to be an auspicious day, though optimists among you might have considered the wet conditions a fitting accompaniment to a watershed moment within Fives. Regardless, the atmosphere surrounding the inaugural Mixed Teams Tournament was one of heady anticipation as more and more players and friends descended on Eton as witnesses and protagonists in the largest ever open mixed Eton Fives competition. Wiseman rules were in force throughout the day as ten teams of three mixed pairs apiece attempted to become the very first to be crowned champions. To do so they would need to prosper in one of the two pools, despatch their opposition in the semi-finals and assert their superiority in the final.
In the Oxonian-dominated Group A, North Oxford A were able to qualify in pole position with only one set dropped. Highgate B were responsible for this solitary scalp, and unsurprisingly managed to clinch the second semi-final birth with convincing 2-pair wins against all the other sides. This left Westway, North Oxford C, and Oxford University competing for an elusive first-round bye in the plate competition, ultimately won by Westway, who looked as if they would rather not have done, the ever-enthusiastic Marc Tavra consistently angling for even more Fives for himself and the Westway team, ultimately succeeding by volunteering for the fusion plate team (more of which later).
Group B was a similar story to that of Group A: this time it was Ipswich who proved utterly dominant, losing only one set to a shocked Highgate A, who had very reasonably expected to top the group and instead were forced to settle for second place. The younger Highgate C team had a tough time of it in this group containing four of the tournament’s six Ladies Championship semi-finalists, but demonstrated their impressive depth with high-scoring games at 3rd pair, including a 15–9 win against the Cambridge University team. This latter set were a motley crew of current and former Cantabs—having absorbed much of the Old Westminster contingent of unaffiliated but keen floaters—proving that the Mixed Teams Tournament was succeeding in solidifying intergenerational bonds between the ladies and men’s players. However, it was North Oxford B who succeeded in snapping up the coveted 3rd place plate bye with wins against all but the top two teams and the Old Cantabrigian Old Westminster 1st pair.
This transpired to be highly fortuitous since it pitted Oxford and Cambridge against each other for an early pre-Varsity size-up. This ended as a 1–1 draw due to some early departures; subsequently, even further attrition from the two collegiate teams resulted in a merger into an Oxbridge team, supplemented by Oxford University faculty-member Rachel Wood, pinched from a North Oxford side. In the other side of the plate draw, North Oxford C quickly despatched Highgate C (whose 3rd pair again showed their substance by refusing to be cowed by the North Oxfordian press). In a turn-up for the books, North Oxford C then defied expectations and rapidly wearying limbs by roundly thrashing North Oxford B. Having thus qualified for the plate final, North Oxford C expected to meet stiff competition in the new Oxbridge team, who had easily overcome the keen beans of Westway. However, yet more erosion had beset the universities team and it was up to the tournament organiser to round up any and all unsuspecting victims to supplement the side for the plate final match-up. The amalgam team—operating under a number of guises and aliases—comprised members of the Cambridge, Oxford, North Oxford, Ipswich, and Westway sides; even the behemoth that is North Oxford was no match for this diverse crush of talent, with a truly stellar turn at 3rd pair by Ipswich’s Nadia Mason clinching victory for the odds-and-sods side.
Back at the ranch in the main competition, Ipswich had no problems eliminating a nevertheless strong Highgate B side with convincing wins at all three pairs. Meanwhile, Highgate A’s qualification in second place pitted them against North Oxford A, who had unfortunately lost much-needed firepower in the form of many-time Ladies Champion Karen Hird to a (thankfully minor) eye injury. This left the ladies of North Oxford having to shuffle upwards in the pecking order and step up their game against a Highgate top-team that included not one but two Ladies Championship finalists. In what under other circumstances could have transpired to be the final of the tournament, Highgate A proved the superior team and advanced forwards for a rematch against an Ipswich side that had taken no prisoners thus far in the competition.
Despite the lateness of the hour, and with both qualifying teams having already played 5 games of Fives (15 sets apiece!), there was enthusiasm for a best-of-3 final format as the sun finally shone upon Eton. Having already played each other in the group stages, the atmosphere was electric as Highgate A attempted to overturn the previous result. Nevertheless, at 2nd and 3rd pairs the outcome remained the same, with Highgate A triumphing in the former and losing the latter. Ultimate victory thus rested on the 1st pair match. On paper and in practice this was a thriller. In the Ipswich corner was team captain Charlotta Cooley—a true veteran of mixed Fives who just recorded her eighth successive victory in the Mixed Championship competition—attempting to impart her perspicacity and wisdom to the athletic but inexperienced Cameron Lyle, who had never before played in a mixed Fives competition. Against this conspicuous dichotomy, Highgate A were fielding a change from the morning line-up with Kinnaird-finalist Jonny Ho joined by Ladies Championship-finalist Ashley Lumbard. It will not be a surprise to those who were not there to witness this wonderful contest that this proved to be a truly spectacular example of mixed Eton Fives. The substantial crowd that had gathered to watch were treated to an intense game buffeted along by outstanding team disport from all four of those on court. At the close of the first game though, it was Highgate A’s rallying play that saw them 12–9 up, and they evidently took the momentum of this win into the next, having found in that victory the steadying confidence to subvert Ipswich’s hope of a repeat of the group stages, winning the second and final game 12–6 and being crowned the very first Mixed Teams Tournament champions.
My thanks to all of those who contributed to make the new Mixed Teams Tournament a resounding success: to the players for producing an excellent day of Fives; to team captains Charlotta Cooley, Natalie Lilienthal, Dave Mew, Marjolaine Briscoe, and Ursule Taujanskaite; to Eton for the use of their many courts; to Advanta Wealth for their sponsorship; and to Gareth Hoskins for his team captaincy as well as being a general tournament guru. It is my sincere hope that the robust realisation of this new tournament this year—and the promise of some new, sparkling silverware—will see it flourish in years to come, attracting even more teams wishing to cement their place as bastions of the mixed game in Eton Fives—in particular the schools in which the ladies’ game is being grown and championed—and set an example to all those with an interest in the spirit of co-operation, camaraderie and inclusivity that exists in our sport.
Highgate A beat North Oxford A 2–1
Ipswich beat Highgate B 3–0
Highgate A beat Ipswich 2–1
A.Lumbard & J.Ho beat C.Cooley & C Lyle 2-0 (12–9, 12–6)
E.Scoones & J.Sochor-Grethe beat C.Gregory & S.Burnell 2-0 (12–3, 12–5)
E.Williets & Ab.Bhattacharya lost to N.Gregory & T.Gregory 0-2 (10–12, 9–12)
Oxbridge beat Westway 2–1
North Oxford C beat North Oxford B 3–0
Amalgam team beat North Oxford C 2–1
E.Osen & H.Young beat M. Barnes & P. Scholey 12–6
R Wood & M.Tavra lost to F.Kerr & N.Shaw 4–12
N.Mason & S.Thatcher beat E.Malone & A.Bishop 15–12