For the first time ever, the team at Fivesonline are proud to present their end of season awards. A distinguished panel of Fives experts has debated long and hard to come up with the following roll of honour:
Player of the Year
Winner: Seb Cooley
An easy decision this one - this has been the breakthrough season for Seb as he finally got his hands on the trophy that he has been desperate to win for several seasons. As well as winning the Graves Cup at the Ipswich Tournament back in October, however, Seb has also gone on to add the League, the Barber Cup and the Old Boy/Schoolboy titles as part of successful Olavian teams as well as partnering Chris Self of St.Olave's to win the Turnbull Trophy. Seb's move into the top rank of Fives players was then confirmed in the second half of the season as he teamed up with Tom Dunbar to win first the Northern Tournament (albeit by default due to a nasty injury to James Toop in the final) and then the Kinnaird Cup. A full account of that win can be found here, but suffice to say that Seb was the outstanding player on court for the first half of the match.
Runner-up: Kerry White
It is sometimes easy to overlook excellence when it is made to look routine, but Kerry's achievement this year in winning a record twelfth Ladies Championship title deserves a huge amount of credit. The number of players in the Ladies game is increasing all the time, but Kerry continues to dominate. We wait to see what effect her handballing sabbatical in New York will have on her Fives when she returns.
Team of the Year
Winner: Old Millhillians
The Old Millhillians have been steadily improving over the past few seasons and this was their breakthrough year. They won Division 2 in great style, winning all eleven matches and dropping only 2 points out of a possible 33. Well led off court by Chris Vincent and James Hutcheson and with a nucleus of young players including Vishal Bhimjiyani, Justin Lefort, Joe Coakley, Sunil Tailor and Jitesh Patel, these are exciting times for the OMs as they prepare to make the step up to Division 1 next year. The strength in depth of the squad is shown by the fact that they have the numbers to expand and maintain a second team in Division 2 next season.
Runners-up: Old Olavians
By now, one should really never be surprised by what Howard Wiseman manages to achieve in the game of Fives, but even by the stratospherically high standards set by the Olavians in recent years, this has been a phenomenally successful season. The Barber Cup was retained at a canter, the inaugural Old Boy/Schoolboy competition won and Olavians 1 and Olavians 2 finished in the top two places in Division 1 of the League for the first time ever - an exceptional achievement.
Young Player of the Year
Winner: George Thomason
This has been one of the best and most successful seasons in the history of Shrewsbury School Fives and the school team has been led from the front all year by their first pair of George Thomason and Jack Hudson-Williams. Either could have been the choice for this award after their winning of the Schools' Championships without dropping a game and their reaching the quarter-finals of both the Northern Tournament and the Kinnaird Cup, but George's excellent contribution to the Old Salopians run to the final of the EFA Trophy means that he just edges it. A talented attacking player, the Old Salopians will be hoping to see a lot more of him on court over the next few years.
Runner-up: Eve Smith-Bingham
Some players are good enough to get their name into the record books; some manage to rip up the book and completely rewrite it. Over the past couple of seasons, this is exactly what Highgate's exciting young left-hander Eve Smith-Bingham has been doing; still only an Under 12 this year, she has won the National Under 12s Championships, the Prep Schools' Championships and the girls Under 15 and Under 19 schools titles. Even by Highgate standards, that's pretty special!
Match of the Year
Winner: Kinnaird Cup Final
It is hard to overlook the Kinnaird Cup final in this category given the sheer quality of the Fives that was played by all four players. As Mark Williams points out in his report on the match, it is hard to imagine anyone having ever played better Fives than James Toop and Matthew Wiseman and ending up losing 3-0. Seb Cooley and Tom Dunbar's attacking flair and astonishing cut returns were simply of the highest class and the whole match was an absolute feast of Fives for those spectators watching at Eton or via the webstreaming.
Runner-up: Varsity Match second pair
For sheer nail-biting tension and holding your nerve under pressure, nothing this season has beaten the second pair in this year's mens Varsity Match. With the overall match poised at 1-1 and the other rubbers long finished, the second pair went on for 3½ hours and was finally won 12-7, 8-12, 14-13, 10-12, 14-13 by Cambridge pair Rory Griffiths and Alfred Jackson against their Oxford counterparts Balrik Kailey and Tom Greene after a fifth game which had everything - stunning winners, crucial errors, controversial lets, cramp and almost unbearable tension, for the spectators as much as the players.
Coach of the Year
Winner: Grant Williams
Grant has been at the forefront of an exceptional year for the whole coaching team at Shrewsbury School, which has brought success in the Williams Cup and at the National Schools' Championships, where Shrewsbury won the Open, Under 16, U17 Ladies and Mixed titles. The passion and level of involvement of Grant at the back of the court watching some of those finals was truly a sight to behold.
Runner-up: Abhishek Bhattacharya
One of the biggest success stories in Fives in the last couple of seasons has been the rebirth of the game at Rydal Penrhos school in Colwyn Bay in North Wales. The coaching this year of Abhishek Bhattacharya and his infectious enthusiasm for the game have inspired a large number of Rydal pupils to take up the game and their presence and performances at the National Schools' Championships this year was one of the highlights of the tournament.
Innovation of the Year
This is a very strong category, with the Universities Mixed Championships, the Old Boy/Schoolboy tournament, the nascent ranking system and the newly formed Wycombe Fives club all narrowly missing out.
Winner: Westway Summer Superleague
The brainchild of Peter Cohen, the Westway Summer league proved to be a smash hit in its first season. An exciting and revolutionary four player per team format allowing players of all abilites to compete on a level playing field, individual awards, play offs and the perfect mix of social summer Fives. The second season has just got underway with double the number of teams entering, a clear indication of its popularity.
Runner-up: Fives webstreaming
One exciting development this year was the first ever attempt to show Fives live in the Internet. The Schools' Championship final and the Kinnaird Cup final were both streamed live and this is surely just a taste of things to come.
Unsung Hero of the Year
Winner: Paul Bowden
One of the highlights of the season was the reopening of the refurbished courts at High Wycombe back in September. This project was masterminded and seen through from start to finsh by one man - Paul Bowden. Paul has since teamed up with Richard Black to set up the Wycombe Fives club, which is based at the courts and which is beginning to flourish. Along with Gerald Barber, Paul also provides the link between the EFA and all of the Fives-playing schools, racking up the miles visiting school after school during the course of the year. And if you played in the schools' championships or were there watching and wondered who the chap was helping Mark Williams and running all of those plate competitions, that was Paul too.
Runner-up: Steve Plummer
The Old Millhillians success this year has been the result of a group of young and fast-improving players, who are really taking the club places. Although he has stepped back from the organisational and playing side of the OM club in the last couple of years to allow the younger generation to come through, the man behind their success is Steve Plummer, who has been Master in Charge at Mill Hill for many years now and brought through this group of players. Crucially, Steve has mastered the tricky job of providing a bridge between the school team and the Old Boys club, which is the vital link in the chain so often missing elsewhere.