Highgate's Next Generation Regain The Black Cup
11/11/19: A thrilling Richard Black Cup in association with Advanta Wealth at Eton on Sunday ended with Highgate regaining the trophy from champions of the last two years North Oxford by the narrowest of margins.
This competition is now into its second decade and continues to develop as both a showcase for the quality and increasing strength in depth at the top end of the women's game and as an opportunity for younger and less experienced players to improve and have fun in a friendly and encouraging environment.
Eight teams entered this year, with former champions Highgate, Norh Oxford and the EFA all present and correct, two teams from Shrewsbury, Oxford and Cambridge universities (Cambridge with a bit of help from Ipswich, who were sadly unable to reassemble their final-reaching team from last year) and welcome new entrants in a young, enthusiastic and promising Holyport College team.
The morning saw the teams compete in two groups of four, with the top two finishers in each group going into the main semi-finals and the other two teams into the plate semis. Group A was reasonably straightforward with defending champions North Oxford coming top and the EFA team - Ashley Lumbard, Elana Osen, Charlie Farquharson-Roberts, Harriet Allan and two extra Holyport girls - having too much knowhow for the more inexperienced Holyport and Shrewsbury 2.
Group B was rather less clear cut, especially at first pair, where there was a series of fantastic matches (including three 15-14 finishes) between Highgate's Emily Scoones & Catherine Vos, Shrewsbury's Issy Wong & Izzy Morris, Oxford University's Marjolaine Briscoe & Freya Butler and Ipswich/Cambridge's Charlotta Cooley & Natasha Gregory with everyone winning at least one of their games. Strength in depth meant that Highgate & Shrewsbury 1 took the two qualifying spots ahead of Oxford and Cam/Ips, with Highgate winning the battle for top spot by one point.
The plate competition for the four non-qualifiers produced yet another set of exciting matches as some players began to feel the pace, others began to gain in confidence and experience and all looked to finish on a high note. Oxford won their semi-final thanks to a thrilling and decisive 15-14 second pair win over Shrewsbury 2 from Ines Barrowcliff & Freya Butler, while the Holyport girls gave Cam/Ips a tough game in all three pairs, their reward coming afterwards with a 2-1 win over Shrewsbury 2 in the 7th/8th play-off. Cam/Ips repeated their earlier win over Oxford University to win the plate, with Charlotta, Natasha and Ursule Taujanskaite leading the way at the top of the order, despite a fine win at third pair from Oxford beginner Georgia Watson alongside the guesting Shrewsbury coach Gwenan Davies.
North Oxford - with an unchanged line-up from last year's winning team - continued to cruise through with a convincing win over Shrewsbury 1 in the semi-finals. Highgate had a comfortable win at third pair over the EFA's Holyport youngsters but had to work a lot harder at pairs one and two to ensure their place in the final, Emily Scoones & Catherine Vos beating Ashley Lumbard & Charlie Farquharson-Roberts and Under 25 finalists Emma Williets & Mia Barry seeing off the Old Westminster combination of Elana Osen & Harriet Allan, temporarily back from her foreign exile and back on court for the first time in several years.
And so - for the sixth time in seven years - the final was between North Oxford and Highgate and offered a nice contrasting cross-section of the women's game. The North Oxford team - many of whom have appeared in all of those finals - represent the players who have come to the game through the non-school route, mainly via university, friends or family. Highgate - with five current pupils and Old Cholmeleian Emily Scoones - represent the growth of girls' Fives in schools in recenrt years and under the guidance of coach David Mew have managed to move on from the "Golden Generation" who formed the backbone of the title-winning teams of 2012-2016 with a new crop of talented young schoolgirls ranging from U14 through to U18 level. Emily has been at the top of the women's game for some time and Emma Williets & Mia Barry have been an established pair at this level for a couple of years now but it was the improvement in the three youngest members of the Highgate squad - Mimi Anderson, Lorenza Valensise and Catherine Vos - that allowed Highgate to go into the final with genuine hopes of reclaiming the cup.
The presence of Emily at first pair and the quality of Catherine's play all day meant that North Oxford decided to field their two big guns together at first pair and Karen Hird & Harry Asquith duly delivered with a convincing 12-2, 12-5 win to get North Oxford off to the perfect start. The question was always likely to be whether the North Oxford team were going to be able to win one of the other two pairs; having been largely unchallenged all day, the young Highgate third string of Mimi & Lorenza suddenly found themselves up against much stiffer opposition in Rachel Wood & Mandie Barnes, who were instrumental in North Oxford's triumph last year. The Highgate girls responded magnificently to the challenge, playing with pace, power and confidence and Rachel & Mandie had no answers in the first game, losing 12-5. The second game was much closer, as Rachel & Mandie managed to impose a slower tempo and ask some different questions and for a while a comeback looked like it might be on the cards before the Highgate youngsters recovered just in time to retake control and win the second game 12-8 to level things up overall.
The destination of the Black Cup would therefore be decided at second pair as Emma & Mia took on Faye Kerr & Francesca Turnbull. These two pairs had some previous, their encounter in the last sixteen of the ladies nationals earlier in the year having gone to five games with the Highgate pair just coming out on top. A close game was therefore always on the cards and it really couldn't have been much closer with both pairs playing well and neither pair able to establish and hold on to a lead. Emma & Mia were ahead for most of the first game but Faye & Francesca repeatedly pegged them back, producing some nerveless gameball cutting at 9-11 and 11-13 down before seizing their chance and taking the first game 14-13. The second game was almost a case of déjà vu. All four players continued to play well with some fantastic rallies under pressure in front of an enthralled crowd of spectators. This time Emma & Mia got 10-7 ahead before the North Oxford pair levelled again at 10-10. Almost immediately the Highgate girls produced a run of returns to take them to 14-10 before faltering again right at the last as Faye & Francesca produced more terrific gameball cuts. The North Oxford pair got it back to 14-14 and even had a couple of rallies on serve to close out the match, but couldn't create a winning opportunity and Emma & Mia kept their cool to win those rallies without making the mistake that could have cost them the match. Finally they managed to get a cut back, win the point and take the game 15-14 with no-one able to argue anything other than that 1-1 was a fair reflection of how the match had gone. So it all came down to a one game shootout for the title. The players were beginning to tire a little after a long day and with the pressure piling on, a few more mistakes crept in on both sides; three was still plenty of quality, though, with all four players giving everything while still playing in an atmosphere of impeccable sportsmanship, which was a credit to both sides. For a long time there was still nothing to separate the pairs until finally, with the score at 8-7 to Highgate, the elastic snapped as Emma & Mia found both a series of excellent cut returns and the ability this time to close the game out, win 12-7 and regain the cup for Highgate at the end of a fabulous final and a fabulous day's Fives.
Thanks to George Thomason and Eton for hosting the tournament, to Advanta Wealth for their continued sponsorship, to Richard Black for providing the trophy and the traditional and much prized chocolates, to Andy Barnard, David Mew, Faye Kerr, Charlotta Cooley, Clara Calderbank, Marjolaine Briscoe, Elana Osen and all the others involved in recruiting players and teams and to everyone who came and played and made it such an enjoyable occasion.
North Oxford beat Shrewsbury 2 3-0; EFA beat Holyport 2-1; North Oxford beat Holyport 3-0; EFA beat Shrewsbury 2 3-0; North Oxford beat EFA 3-0; Shrewsbury 2 beat Holyport 2-1
1. North Oxford 9 points
2. EFA 5 points
3. Shrewsbury 2 2 points
4. Holyport 2 points
Highgate beat Oxford University 3-0; Shrewsbury 1 beat Cam/Ips 3-0; Highgate beat Cam/Ips 2-1; Shrewsbury 1 beat Oxford University 2-1; Highgate beat Shrewsbury 1 2-1; Cam/Ips beat Oxford University 3-0
1. Highgate 7 points
2. Shrewsbury 1 6 points
3. Cambridge/Ipswich 4 points
4. Oxford University 1 point
Highgate beat EFA 3-0
E.Scoones & C.Vos beat A.Lumbard & C.Farquharson-Roberts 2-0 (12-7, 12-8)
E.Williets & M.Barry beat E.Osen & H.Allan 2-0 (12-10, 12-6)
M.Anderson & L.Valensise beat T.Kemball & D.Oyewole 2-0 (12-0, 12-1)
North Oxford beat Shrewsbury 1 3-0
K.Hird & R.Wood beat I.Wong & H.Shuker 2-0 (12-0, 12-3)
H.Asquith & F.Turnbull beat L.Barden & A.Sillar 2-0 (12-1, 12-1)
M.Barnes & F.Kerr beat E.Kynaston & G.Nicholas 2-0 (12-2, 12-6)
Highgate beat North Oxford 2-1
E.Scoones & C.Vos lost to K.Hird & H.Asquith 0-2 (2-12, 5-12)
E.Williets & M.Barry beat F.Kerr & F.Turnbull 2-1 (13-14, 15-14, 12-7)
M.Anderson & L.Valensise beat M.Barnes & R.Wood 2-0 (12-5, 12-8)
Cambridge/Ipswich beat Holyport 3-0
15-9, 15-10, 15-5
Oxford University beat Shrewsbury 2 2-1
0-15, 14-15, 15-8
Cam/Ips beat Oxford University 2-1
15-7, 15-6, 8-15
Holyport beat Shrewsbury 2 2-1
5-15, 15-13, 15-10