The Gloucestershire U18 team travelled to Nottingham University with seven of the ten members of the team veterans of previous ICT campaigns. It was hoped that the experience in team would give them the edge in close games and this was indeed the case.
The team was drawn in a first round group with Yorkshire, Devon and the Isle of Man.The first match (vs Devon) saw an 8-2 defeat, but the scoreline doesn’t really reflect the closeness of the games. Some notable performances from Vivi Jennings-Trace (15-12, 15-12 singles win) and Scott McKenzie (8-15, 15-9, 14-15 singles defeat) gave the team hope that we were going to be tough opposition for virtually all of the teams we were still to face in the tournament. The second match (vs Yorkshire) was always going to be tough against one of the tournament favourites, and so the 10-0 defeat was not unexpected. The final match of the group (vs Isle of Man) was the group 3rd/4th place decider and coach Sol put out his strongest side to get the team a favourable draw for the next round, the following day. The decision paid off with a 6-4 win, with the Reece Watts / Sian Evans mixed doubles partnership getting the team off to a winning start with a 15-9, 15-10 victory.
This victory wasn’t just notable for the scoreline, but also for the fantastic team spirit and vocal support (both from the players and supporters on the balcony). The team certainly ended the first day on a big high, with the prospect of playing Cumbria, Northumberland and Cornwall in the second round the following day.
A later start on the second day saw the team face Cumbria, the team that had beaten Gloucestershire on the final day of the 2018 tournament. Revenge was sweet with a 9-1 victory, and many dominant performances across the team. Coach Sol kept a similar team for the next match (vs Northumberland) which saw some nail-biting games, none more so than the boys doubles 1 rubber involving Raiph Ackroyd / Alfie Hancock. The rubber went down to 14-14 in the deciding 3rd game, with the Glos boys just missing out on the victory. The girls doubles pair of Sian Evans / Amy Oakley however sealed the important rubber (14-15, 15-5, 15-7) for a 6-4 victory to Gloucestershire.
The final match of the group was the decider to see who would be top, against Cornwall. Cornwall have strength across both boys and girls so the match was always going to be a tough one. The Glos performance however was fantastic, ending in the narrowest of defeats (5-5, losing on games count-back). Glos started strongly, taking both mixed doubles rubbers, however the strength of the Cornwall girls was always going to be a problem with defeats in both girls singles and doubles rubbers. The boys hit back, winning both boys doubles rubbers, with an amazing 15-13, 12-15, 13-15 win for Scott McKenzie/Reece Watts against a very strong Cornwall pair. Ear-splitting support from both around the court and up on the balcony was another memorable point to note about this match.
The team, just missing out on the top spot, moved into the 21st-24th place group for the final round of the tournament. The group consisted of Oxfordshire, Staffordshire and Worcestershire.
The third day of the tournament saw the team arrive early in the badminton hall for a hard warm-up session, attempting to hit the ground running in the first match against Oxfordshire. The warm-up appeared to pay dividends with the mixed pairs of Raiph Ackroyd / Amy Oakley and Reece Watts / Kajal Patel getting the team off to a 2-0 lead. The following four singles matches saw Oxfordshire take both boys rubbers, but Gloucestershire hitting back with both girls rubbers. The same pattern of dominant Oxfordshire boys and Gloucestershire girls saw the doubles pair of Sian Evans / Chinmayi Kirani (15-8, 15-11) seal a 6-4 Glos win in the final rubber.
The second (and final) match of the third day was predicted to be the toughest against Staffordshire, and that proved to be the case when the team ended the mixed and boys singles rubbers 4-0 down. This scoreline, however doesn’t reflect the closeness of the defeats in the boys singles, with Scott McKenzie and Reece Watts losing their nail-biting rubbers against two incredibly tough opponents. The match continued to ebb and flow culminating in a tense 15-9, 11-15, 15-13 defeat for Vivi-Jennings-Trace / Amy Oakley in the final rubber of the match, seeing Gloucestershire lose 6-4 in the end.
After the fun (!!) of the 3rd day evening disco, coach Sol wanted the team to finish the tournament on a high with a victory against our close neighbours Worcestershire. The pattern of the team and supporters witnessing close boys singles rubbers continued with Raiph Ackroyd narrowly losing 15-13, 9-15, 13-15 to a strong Worcestershire boy. Reece Watts hit back with the second boys singles rubber. Both our mixed pairs won their points, with a memorable performance by Alfie Hancock / Amy Oakley (15-14, 15-7). The boys and girls doubles pairs then cleaned up for a 7-3 victory for Gloucestershire. A special mention must go to Jamie Monteith, who had battled hard throughout the tournament, but up to that point had not secured a victory. Jamie and Reece Watts joined in the points-fest with a 15-11, 15-7 victory.
The Gloucestershire team ended the tournament in 22nd place (out of 32 counties), which is our best placed finish in many, many years. Some incredible badminton was witnessed, with all but one of the matches being close and competitive. The statistics (below) for the tournament prove the closeness of the Gloucestershire matches with us playing a total of 90 rubbers (best of 3 games), winning 45 and losing 45 rubbers. In total, we won 99 games and lost 98 🙂 The team scored 2341 points and conceded 2338.
Thanks must go to Sol Griffiths (head coach), ably assisted by Dom Jones and Andy Woolway. Some inspired team selections and Churchillian team-talks gave the team the edge in those close matches! A special thanks to Frances Ackroyd who accompanied the team for the tournament. Finally, the team was joined by their supporter-in-chief, Jasper Preston, who sadly was injured just before the tournament but was able to accompany the team for all four days. Hopefully this went some way to ease the disappointment of not being able to play.
Congratulations to Scott Mckenzie, who won the vote for Players’ Player of the Tournament.