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The Richard Black has been going now for five years and is well established as one of the highlights of the Fives calendar, providing an EFA Trophy style competition for the ladies game, only with better prizes. This year’s edition almost had a record entry of 8 teams and even with the late withdrawals of Cambridge University and the Highgate second team, it was still a very healthy number of teams and players who made it to Eton on Remembrance Sunday to compete for the trophy.
There were debuts in the competition for North Oxford and for Wolverhampton Grammar School and they went into a round robin phase with the other four teams – previous champions the EFA, the Old Olavians and Highgate School plus perennial contenders Oxford University.
The six teams all played against each other across three pairs, with each pair playing two games and with a point awarded for each game won. The Olavians were missing a couple of star names, but had a solid look to their line-up with Emma Wells, Emma Double, Anneliese O’Malley and Zarina Siganporia all in good form and bolstered by the presence of two of Highgate’s emerging players. Oxford University were also missing key personnel in Izzy Watts and Scarlett Maguire but the Old Salopian core of Alice Walker, Lucy Rands and freshers Rosie Parr and Hannah Pritchard proved tough to beat all day and the inexperienced third pair of Harriet Partridge and guest player Abbi Barnes-Clemmett improved as the day went on, their highlight a convincing win over the Wolverhampton third pair.
It was fantastic to see coach Mark Yates bring his Wolverhampton team down to play in this competition for the first time, evoking memories of late 80s and early 90s and their boys (including the young Yates) descending on Eton intent on world domination. Their first pair of Tejas Netke and Beth Parlane had performed well in the national schools’ championships ladies festival competition last year and they confirmed that good impression with some strong performances against some tough opponents at first pair. Their sole victory – a 12-9 win in the first game against the Olavians – was scant reward for a series of promising performances. The second and third pairs were very short on experience, but all four players improved markedly during the course of the day and hopefully they will feel encouraged to continue playing and come back next year.
It was clear right from the start that Highgate were going to be the team to beat. The defending champions have developed a wonderful group of players who are still only in Years 10 and 11, but who are now vastly experienced as well as extremely talented. Eve Smith-Bingham and Amira Reimer went through the group phase unbeaten at first pair with Phoebe Bracken, Olivia Hirschfield, Marjolaine Briscoe, Georgia Allen and Carolina Valensise sweeping all before them in different combinations at second and third pair. Only the North Oxford pair of Harriet Asquith and Wendy Carling managed to take a game off them during the group stages.
The two main contenders to go through to the final and take on Highgate were North Oxford and the EFA. The EFA team were expertly skippered by Fiona Barnes and she and Sarah Greasley made a very effective first pair all day. The Marlborough duo of Carrie Walk and Vicky Westwood played together at second pair and performed to a far higher standard than many people watching expected. Carrie’s consistency and Vicky’s Rugby Fives power and tenacity made them formidable opposition and they picked up some fine victories along the way including a 12-10, 12-11 nailbiter over Rosie Parr and Lucy Rands of OxfordUniversity. Ex-Cambridge player Katherine Morris was at third pair for the EFA, playing with Teresa Dunbar in the morning and her former Cambridge partner Olivia Vane in the afternoon.
North Oxford were led by reigning national champion Karen Hird, who was joined by Rosie Scott, Harriet Asquith, Mandie Barnes and Wycombe pair Wendy Carling and Francesca Turnbull. The penultimate round of group matches saw them take on the EFA in what was effectively a semi-final. Sarah and Fiona played superbly to force a 1-1 draw with Karen and Harriet at first pair, but Rosie and Mandie had to much know how for the Marlborough girls at second and Wendy and Francesca were too strong for Katherine and Olivia at third, which meant that North Oxford were able to mark their first appearance in the competition with an appearance in the final, an echo of the NOEFC men’s team’s first competitive outing in the EFA Trophy nearly a decade ago.
As on that occasion, North Oxford went into the final as distinct underdogs and there was some initial controversy as Karen Hird tried to find a combination of pairs that gave North Oxford an opportunity to overturn the earlier group stage result. Highgate queried the pairings but then accepted them after a clarification of the rules and the remaining spectators were then treated to a final full of high quality and hard fought Fives, a real spectacle and a great advert for ladies Fives.
The North Oxford players gave their all, with young Francesca Turnbull in particular standing out at second pair, but the Highgate girls are a very impressive group of Fives players and were always ahead in all three matches. Eve Smith-Bingham and Amira Reimer were the first to win, easing to a 15-4 victory over Karen Hird and Mandie Barnes; the other two pairs were closer but both ended with identical 15-10 scorelines, Phoebe Bracken and Olivia Hirschfield beating Francesca and Rosie Scott and Marjolaine Briscoe and Georgia Allen overcoming Harriet Asquith and Wendy Carling.
Richard Black himself was on hand as always to present the trophies and a large box of chocolates to each finalist (I told you the prizes were good!) and to praise all participants for the quality of the final and for making the tournament as a whole a success. This year the winning team even managed all to stay dry and out of the river. My thanks go to Richard Black, to Anthony Brunner and Mark Yates, to Eton for hosting us and to all those who made the effort to take part. We look forward to even bigger and better things next year.
Highgate School 29
North Oxford 23
Oxford University 12
Old Olavians 7
Wolverhampton GS 1
Highgate beat North Oxford 3-0
E.Smith-Bingham & A.Reimer beat K.Hird & M.Barnes 15-4
P.Bracken & O.Hirshfield beat R.Scott & F.Turnbull 15-10
G.Allen & M.Briscoe beat H.Asquith & W.Carling 15-10