Under 21s 2018: Dark Blue Domination

29/01/18: Oxford University EFC followed up their pre-Christmas double at the Universities tournament with another successful day in the U21s at Eton yesterday, with Tom Kirkby & Oskar Denby and Marjolaine Briscoe & Carolina Valensise both overcoming strong Salopian opposition to win their finals.

Marjolaine and Carolina were part of the all-conquering Highgate squad that won the Richard Black Cup five years in a row, but have often had to play second fiddle in the individual tournaments to the likes of Phoebe Bracken, Amira Reimer and Eve Smith-Bingham. Now both first years at Oxford University, they have taken the opportunity this year to step out of those long shadows and show what fine players they are in their own right. Marjolaine has already got the Universities title under belt this season, in partnership with Georgia Allen, but for Carolina this was a chance to finally get her hands on a national title after a succession of runners-up placings over the years - three in the national schools' competition, two in the U21s and one each in the U25s and Universities.

Standing in their way were seven other pairs equally determined to win the trophy, especially the Shrewsbury School pairs Sophia Breese & Lizzie Ware and Ella Windle & Issy Wong, with Shrewsbury undoubtedly the coming force in women's Fives. The field was split into two groups for the morning qualifying rounds; current Highgate school pair Mia Barry and Emma Williets were unlucky to miss out on a place in the last four, losing a tight match against Windle & Wong, who made it through in second place behind Briscoe & Valensis in Group A. Breese & Ware dominated Group B, with the Oxford second string of Allen & Elena Zanchini in second place.

The semi-finals were therefore two derby matches as the Oxford pairs and the Shrewsbury pairs battled it out for a place in the final. Allen & Zanchini never managed to get started against Briscoe & Valensise, who raced away with their match to qualify for the final without breaking sweat. In complete contrast, the other semi-final was turning into the match of the tournament. The hard-hitting and athletic Issy Wong and the much-improved Ella Windle flew out of the blocks in the first game, taking the game to the more fancied first pair, who fought hard but eventually went down 14-12. The expected pecking order was restored in game two as Breese & Ware took control right from the start to win 12-2 and level the contest. Wong & Windle showed that they are made of stern stuff, though, refusing to go quietly and pushing Breese & Ware all the way in the third game before finally going down 12-8. An epic encounter.

It is difficult to say how much the effort of winning that semi-final took out of Sophia and Lizzie, and how much their performance in the final was affected, but it quickly became clear that they were not able to live with the consistency and precision of the Oxford pair. Marjolaine and Carolina dominated from the start and never looked in any trouble, winning comfortably 12-1, 12-3 to take the trophy and finally break Carolina's duck.

Barry & Williets dominated the plate to finish fifth, ahead of Emma Vinen & Ursule Taujanskaite from Cambridge, with Old Salopians Sarah Jackman & Erin Leatherbarrow beating Oxford novices Lauren Rowley & Miwa Sykes (impressive in her first ever Fives tournament) to take seventh place.

A last minute withdrawal from one of the fancied pairs meant a reduction in the men's draw from 16 to 15 pairs - still a healthy entry. A four group format was retained, with the top two pairs from each group qualifying for the quarter-finals. The top seeded pairs in Group A, B and D - Tom Kirkby & Oskar Denby, Adam Aslam-Baskeyfield & Sam Mcloughlin and Tom Breese & Will Sissons - all made it through in relative comfort while a tight Group C decider saw Mill Hill school pair Charlie Plummer & Ian Kidd narrowly beat the Cambridge/Imperial pairing of Nathan Turnbull & Sahil Shah 15-12 to take top spot. Olavians Josh Ravi & Prajeeth Sathiamoorthy were runners-up to Kirkby & Denby in Group A, the Cambridge/Surrey pair Jack Capstick-Dale & Alex Abrahams made it through in Group D and Eton U16 pair Alfred Backhouse & Ben Porter scored a notable victory over Westminsters Hugo Young & Can Koksal to complete the quarter-final line-up, with Oxford pair Noah Caplin & Jacob Greenhouse the unlucky pair to miss out in Group C. 

The four quarter-finals went to form, with Plummer & Kidd too strong for Backhouse & Porter, Ravi & Sathiamoorthy impressing against Breese & Sissons despite losing 15-9, Aslam-Baskeyfield & Mcloughlin seeing off Turnbull & Shah and Kirkby & Denby easing through against a spirited Abrahams & Capstick-Dale. 

Much to their disappointment, Aslam-Baskeyfield & Mcloughlin found themselves up against Kirkby & Denby in the semis, rather than fellow Salopians Breese & Sissons, against whom they clearly fancied their chances. Defending champion Kirkby, playing this year with Old Harrovian Oxford fresher Oskar Denby, looked very strong in the semi-final, withstanding the Salopian whirlwind of arms, legs and volleys and producing a very low error count, something matched by his partner. The result was too many Salopian mistakes and an excellent win for the Oxford pair. There was more high tempo Salopian volleying going on in the other court as Tom Breese and Will Sissons finally ended the challenge of Millhillians Plummer & Kidd. Tom was showing some of the flashes of brilliance that marked out his school Fives career, which was slightly hampered by injury as a senior, but was also beginning to show signs of cramp, possibly a result of a lack of recent Fives, this being his first outing since reaching the Universities semi-finals for Durham back in October. 

The final followed the script: Breese again produced the most memorable and eye-catching moments, with ex-Rydalian Sissons displaying the classy touches that have marked him out as one to watch from a young age. However, Tom was suffering from more and more bouts of cramp, and Kirkby and Denby were consistency personified, unshowy but effective on the set piece, playing good tight lines into the buttress, choosing the moments to volley and making very few unforced errors. The Salopian pair stayed in contact for the first half of the first game before a run from the Oxford pair took them ahead to win 12-6. With Tom's cramp worsening and any improvement highly unlikely, the Salopian pair were forced to concede at 1-6 down in the second game, giving Oskar his first win at this level and Tom his second in succession in his third final.

Old Millhillians Hal Gibson-Leitao and Ben Balcombe won Plate A ahead of Young & Koksal, another Westminster pair in Leo Doody & Dan Gore won Plate B against young Ipswichians Isaac Weaver & Max Hyde and Plate C was shared in a state of general injury and exhaustion by Cambridge's Phil Wilkinson & Akhil Shah and Royal Holloway pair Silas Lawrence & Ollie Avery.

My thanks got to Mike Hughes and Eton for hosting the tournament, to Tony Stubbs, Dave Mew, Seb Cooley, Andy Barnard, Steve Plummer and Andrew Rennie for bringing pairs and to all those who played and made it such an enjoyable and successful day.

Women's Tournament Results


M.Briscoe & C.Valensise beat G.Allen & E.Zanchini 2-0 (12-0, 12-0)

S.Breese & L.Ware beat E.Windle & I.Wong 2-1 (12-14, 12-2, 12-8)


M.Briscoe & C.Valensise beat S.Breese & L.Ware 2-0 (12-1, 12-3)



E.Vinen & U.Taujanskaite beat S.Jackman & E.Leatherbarrow 2-0 (12-5, 12-11)

M.Barry & E.Williets beat L.Rowley & M.Sykes 2-0 (12-3, 12-2)


M.Barry & E.Williets beat E.Vinen & U.Taujanskaite 15-5

Plate B Final

S.Jackman & E.Leatherbarrow beat L.Rowley & M.Sykes 12-1

Men's Tournament Results


T.Kirkby & O.Denby beat A.Abrahams & J.Capstick-Dale 15-7

A.Aslam-Baskeyfield & S.McLoughlin beat N.Turnbull & S.Shah 15-8

C.Plummer & I.Kidd beat A.Backhouse & B.Porter 15-5

T.Breese & W.Sissons beat J.Ravi & P.Sathiamoorthy 15-9


T.Kirkby & O.Denby beat A.Aslam-Baskeyfield & S.McLoughlin 2-0 (12-7, 12-6)

T.Breese & W.Sissons beat C.Plummer & I.Kidd 2-0 (12-6, 12-4)


T.Kirkby & O.Denby beat T.Breese & W.Sissons 2-0 (12-6, 6-1 ret)

Plate A

H.Gibson-Leitao & B.Balcombe beat H.Young & C.Koksal 15-10

Plate B

L.Doody & D.Gore beat I.Weaver & M.Hyde 15-9

Plate C

Shared between O.Avery & S.Lawrence and A.Shah & P.Wilkinson

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