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10/11/14: The 2014 Richard Black Cup was won for the third successive year at Eton on Sunday 9th November by Highgate School, who once again proved that they have the ability and strength in depth necessary to succeed in team Fives. This year's entry featured a record eight teams and forty-eight players in total with a welcome new entry from Berkhamsted School and a day of Fives that had a bit of everything - close matches, high-quality matches, players returning to the game after a while away and plenty of newcomers, who all gained invaluable experience and improved visibly during the course of the day.
The larger entry this year enabled the introduction of a group stage, with the teams divided into two pools of four for the morning's play. Last year's finalists - Highgate and North Oxford - quickly showed that they were going to be the teams to beat again this year, duly topping their respective groups without losing a game. The other semi-final spot in each group was much more hard fought: Group A came down to the third pair contest between the EFA and Cambridge, with the EFA squeezing through 12-11 in both games to make it into the last four, probably a deserved result especially given the way that Charlotta Cooley and Anneliese O'Malley had got within a couple of points of upsetting Highgate's first pair in their group match. The equivalent clash in Group B was between Oxford University and Highgate's young second team. With the Oxford team missing a couple of senior players and including some very promising newcomers to the game and the Highgate youngsters similarly untried, this was a difficult one to predict. Scarlett Maguire and Hannah Pritchard of Oxford made a strong start against HIghgate's first pair, winning the first game but the Highgate girls came back to win the second and were a bit too strong and a bit more experienced at second and third pair and ran out deserved winners.
The third and fourth placed teams went into the plate competition, which produced some fantastically close matches. The girls of Wolverhampton and Berkhamsted both put up strong resistance against Cambridge and Oxford respectively. Both University teams proved just that bit better, however, with the highlight an epic 11-12, 12-11, 7-5 third pair win for Oxford's Alice Stables and Martha Samano (who have been playing for less than three weeks!). The Plate final between old rivals Oxford and Cambridge came down to the second pair, where the third game decider was won by Oxford's Lucy Rands and Alicia Walker to give the Dark Blues 5th place. The 7th/8th battle was won by Wolverhampton, who beat Berkhamsted 2-1 in a terrific final game which showed how far all of their girls had come during the day.
The main tournament semi-finals both went to form, with Highgate 1 making short work of their second team and North Oxford winning comfortably at first and third pair against the EFA and then settling back to watch Rosie Scott and Natalie Llilienthal make it 3-0 with a narrow win over Fiona Barnes and Charlie Farquharson-Roberts.
Last year's final produced three comfortable wins for Highgate; nine of the twelve players were the same as in 2013 but the North Oxford team were confident that they could produce an upset this time round. Second pair was the first to be finished - Eve Smith-Bingham and Marjolaine Briscoe of Highgate would have fancied their chances of giving their first pair a good game and were too strong for Rosie Scott and Natalie Lilienthal. With Eve playing down in the second pair, the pressure was on Phoebe Bracken and Amira Reimer to produce a strong first pair performance. They struggled to start with as North Oxford's Karen Hird and Harriet Asquith won the first game 12-3. The Highgate girls didn't let their heads drop, however, and upped their game in the second to sneak it 12-11. The third was also close but with Karen dominant on the top step and Harriet rock solid from the back and on the set piece, the North Oxford pair were able to win 12-7 level the match overall at 1-1. The third pair was proving to be the decisive battle and was a humdinger fom start to finish with little to separate the two pairs. The contrasting styles of Highgate's Carolina Valensise & Lola Katz-Roberts and North Oxford's Wendy Carling & Francesca Turnbull made for a fascinating contest; the first game was an absolute nailbiter and could have gone either way, with Carolina and Lola winning probably the most important point of the whole tournament to take it 12-11. The Highgate pair were always ahead in the second game, but never by very much and had to hold off a brave and nerveless fightback from Francesca and Wendy, who gave it their absolute all, to win 12-9 and clinch the cup for a third successive year. Presentation duties were undertaken by Richard Black himself, along with former ladies champion Krystyna Vargas, with the traditional chocolates proving as popular as always.
My thanks to Eton and Mike Hughes for hosting us, to Mark Yates, Anthony Brunner, Ant Theodossi, Scarlett Maguire and Elana Osen for their efforts putting teams together and bringing them to Eton and to everyone who played (and didn't drop out at the last minute!).
In its short existence, The Richard Black Cup has already grown to be one of the major events of the Fives Calendar and I am absolutely convinced that it will continue to grow and improve over the next few years.
North Oxford beat EFA 3-0
Highgate 1 beat Highgate 2 3-0
Highgate beat North Oxford 2-1
P.Bracken & A.Reimer lost to K.Hird & H.Asquith 3-12, 12-11, 7-12
E.Smith-Bingham & M.Briscoe beat R.Scott & N.Lilienthal 12-0, 12-2
C.Valensise & L.Katz-Roberts beat F.Turnbull & W.Carling 12-11, 12-9
Highgate 2 beat EFA 2-1
Oxford University beat Cambridge University 2-1
Wolverhampton Grammar School beat Berkhamsted School 2-1