The three sides were among 32 competing for glory in Hinckley, with the best four in each age group from around the country taking part.
Only one school was represented by more teams, the renowned Peniel Academy, who had four, so St Bernard’s had achieved a great feat before play even began.
For three of the girls in the under-16s team, it was their fourth appearance at the finals, and for the other player her third visit, in probably their last match as a team.
They began against holders Morpeth School, Tower Hamlets.
Anna Donohue played well to defeat their number two Yasmin Majeeda, and also took a game against number one Sally Hoang.
It was a similar story against Peniel, who were to take the title this year.
Donohue defeated their number two and was narrowly beaten by number one Evangelica Collier in a five-game battle of push and quick counterattack.
Shannon Trainor, playing at number two, also went to five games, but could not quite contain the hitting power of Estelle Purkis.
St Bernard’s had to battle it out for third place against old rivals Bramhall High School, from Stockport, a team they lost to in the North West finals.
Again Donohue showed great form, defeating Olivia Brookes. However, St Bernard’s fell behind after sisters Natalie and Nicolle Dodd gained wins against Trainor and Adele Bassett.
Emily Edwards used her improved backhand to take a 3-1 win against Jenny Szakal and tie the match.
The two number ones produced some fast, attacking table tennis, Donohue beaten in the decider by Natalie Dodd.
Having already lost against the opposing number four, it seemed a hard task for Bassett to gain a result against Olivia Brookes, the number two.
It looked even more unlikely when she lost the opening game 11-4, but the Furness player battled back for victory.
Trainor’s straight-games win against Szakal put St Bernard’s 4-3 ahead before Edwards played the younger of the Dodd sisters, Nicole.
Bramhall could only deny St Bernard’s third with a straight games victory and it looked likely as the first two games went against Edwards 11-7, 12-10.
However, the resilient Barrow girl took the next 11-5, and although she lost the match, this was enough to claim third place in England.For the under-13s boys, this was a step beyond their previous experience at area or regional finals at primary schools level.
Things started well when James Coward took the opening game against Joseph Langham-Ferreira, the number two from Ernest Bevin College, Tooting Bec.
However, the next 19 games all went the way of the team from Surrey, who were to finish the day as champions. Brendan Trainor took the Barrow school’s only other game.
When St Bernard’s came to play their next match they seemed more composed and less in awe of their opponents, Harefield Academy, Uxbridge.
Ross Ahern, the youngest member of the team, chalked up the first win when he beat Mitchell Jones in a nail-biting finish, 13-11 in the decider.
Anton Vacca looked to have let his chance slip when his opponent came from 2-0 down to level at 2-2, but he held his nerve and took the fifth game 11-8.
Coward was unfortunate not to give St Bernard’s the lead when he played his opposing number one, Baiden Thoroughgood. He lost the first 12-10, but won the next two games. It was only in the decider that he was pipped to victory before Harefield wrapped up a 6-2 win.
The last match was a battle of the northern champions against Crossleyheath School, Halifax.
Marcus Reynolds gave the Halifax school the lead when he beat Trainor, but St Bernard’s hit a purple patch, with Coward, Ahern and Vacca all winning to take a 3-1 lead.
Crossleyheath then won three in a row to go 4-3 ahead, but third place was St Bernard’s’ if Ahern could win the last match.
He did so with some very consistent attacking play, returning a score of 11-6, 11-3 11-7.The under-13s girls featured the same line-up that had finished third last year and they were hopeful of a repeat.
They began against the team who had beaten them in the race for second last year, Blackminster Middle School, from Evesham.
Emily Cotton was beaten by Shannon Johns and Robyn Holden went 2-1 down against Gemma McKay before changing her tactics to come home 11-9 in the decider.
There followed another extremely close match between Katie Linton and Chloe Johns, with Linton winning the decider 11-7.
Louise Keneally and Cotton both won to put the Barrow school 4-1 up, but Blackminster then closed to 4-3 with two victories.
The match would be decided by the final rubber between Linton and Laura Dyson, with St Bernard’s needing to win this as they were behind on games count back.
With good all round play and a consistent forehand topspin shot, Linton won easily in three games.
With confidence high, St Bernard’s returned to the table to play Horsforth School, Leeds.
Cotton showed her best form with sharp attacking forehands and won the opener comfortably, while Holden was even more comfortable, winning 11-1, 11-1, 11-6.
It was not until Keneally played Chardae Chaggar-Brown that the Yorkshire team won games, but Keneally managed to win the decider.
Holden was faced with a five-game battle against Abigail Harrison, the Horsforth number one, which she eventually won.
Further wins from Cotton, Keneally and Linton earned St Bernard’s an emphatic
In the final they met holders and favourites Peniel. There were strong performances from the St Bernard’s girls, with Holden on the point of beating Kristelle Brook before a despairing forehand clipped the net cord and just dropped over to deny her match point.
Linton was also narrowly denied at 11-9 in the decider against Holly van Haver.
Despite losing the match, the team finished second in England.
The Barrow school has three teams in the English Schools Table Tennis Association finals after a remarkable year of success.
The under-13s girls, under-13s boys and under-16s girls teams will all be eager to claim the silverware after coming through county, area and regional events to reach the national finals in Hinckley, Leicestershire.
Under the guidance of teacher Karen Griffiths and former England coach Denis Neale, the three teams have all excelled this year.
“We’re absolutely delighted for the kids,” said Griffiths, herself a table tennis player.
“They have been training and working really hard.
“Last year we managed to get two teams through to the national finals, but to get three teams through this year is a fantastic achievement.”
Neale, too, has been impressed with the success of St Bernard’s against bigger schools from larger catchment areas.
“I think it’s fantastic for a school like St Bernard’s to have three teams reach the national finals when they have been playing teams from Manchester, Liverpool and the like – where there are more than 300 schools to choose from,” he said.
“For them to have three teams there on finals day is fantastic.
“I’ve been working with them for about the past 10 weeks and Karen, being a table tennis player herself, is a big thing in bringing the kids on.
“You can’t tell the team now from 12 weeks ago. They are all really keen and they really want to do well – they have developed a lot from the beginning.”
The under-16s girls team is made up of Shannon Trainor, Emily Edwards, Adele Bassett and Anna Donohue, the under-13s girls consists of Emily Cotton, Robyn Holden, Louise Kenneally and Katie Linton, while the under-13s boys quartet is James Coward, Ross Ahern, Anton Vacca and Brendan Trainor.
The teams have all had weekly sessions with Neale at the Barrow Table Tennis Centre, and in the school, with top local coaches Mike Yardley and Duncan Crawford both also lending their expertise.
“The coaching sessions and the extra practice have been really helpful,” added Griffiths.
“The combination of the practice they are getting in and out of school is a big thing and a lot of the kids are playing four or five times a week, which is what we need to compete with the other schools.”
Neale is hopeful the strength-in-depth of the St Bernard’s teams will hold them in good stead this weekend.
“The key to success at the nationals is having good depth,” he said. “You can have the best two players in England, but if your other two are no good you can’t win.
“With the St Bernard’s teams, they can all play at the same level, which gives them every chance.”
The northern finals of the English Schools’ Table Tennis Association Championships took place in Blackburn.
St Bernard’s under-13s girls were third in England last year and hopeful of making the national finals again.
Their opening match against De Ferrers Technical College, from Burton-on-Trent, was won by a quite comfortable margin of 6-2.
However, the second match, in effect the final, was against north east champions, Northfield School, from Billingham, and was far from easy.
Robyn Holden found it hard against the top-ranking players and it was a rearguard action that brought their wins.
It looked as though St Bernard’s were going out when Emily Cotton was 2-0 down, but she fought back to gain the win.
There were further wins from Louise Keneally and, vitally, from Katie Linton that earned a draw.
The games count-back was level and the girls faced an agonising wait while the points totals were confirmed, giving St Bernard’s victory by just seven points and a place in the national finals.
Keneally was the player on top form, winning all four matches. Linton won three, Cotton two and Holden won once.
It was a great team effort and one where every point won had a bearing on the match.
Encouraged by the girls’ performance, St Bernard’s under-13s boys started their quest for a first national finals place with a resounding 8-0 win against Graham School, from Scarborough.
This put them through to the final against De Ferrers Technical College.
Again St Bernard’s showed invaluable strength-in-depth.
Top players James Coward and Brendan Trainor were both beaten by the opposition number one, but then everything went the way of St Bernard’s in a 6-2 win.
Both Anton Vacca and Ross Ahern won all their matches, with Coward and Trainor winning three from four.St Columba’s under-11s girls played very well in the group stage with a 6-2 win against Dronfield, from Derbyshire and a 5-3 win against St Peter’s, from Nottinghamshire.
Mia Gwynne and Tyra Rushton were impressive, winning all their matches. Sophie Ridgway won twice and Jenny Williams won once.
Williams also went to five games in two other matches, a great performance by a player still only in Year 4, two years younger than her team-mates.
The final looked a harder proposition, and so it proved against Village school, from Thornaby-on-Tees.
Their number one, Megan Eden, was a very strong player for this age group.
Nevertheless, Gwynne had the opposition coach and the player herself worried. Her containing and counter-attack ploy almost caused an upset, with the match going to five games and only won at 11-9 in the decider.
Gwynne defeated the number two, while Sophie Ridgway won in straight sets for a 2-1 lead.
Despite Jenny Williams taking games in both her matches, the only other result to go the Walney school’s way was Tyra Rushton’s four-game win against Kristen Brown.
The St Columba’s girls should be proud of getting so close to the national finals.
At the parallel regional event held at Grantham, St Bernard’s under-16s girls were making it a hat-trick of national finalists.
They achieved this with two 5-3 victories.
Despite not playing league or national tournaments this year, hard-hitting number one Anna Donohue led the way, unbeaten in all four matches.
Shannon Trainor, Emily Edwards and Adele Bassett all won two matches.
Two other Cumbria teams played at Grantham, Askam under-11s boys and Dowdales under-13s boys.
Both teams achieved good individual performances, but were unable to make progress through the group stages.Denis Neale and Tristran Swan, made it through to the northern finals of the English Schools Table Tennis Association Championships after strong showings in the county and regional events.
South Cumbrian teams won six of the seven events at the county finals, held at the Barrow Table Tennis Centre, while there were three champions and three runners-up at the North West event.
The Cumbria finals saw Holy Family, Dane Ghyll and Storth in the under-11s girls qualifying group.
Dane Ghyll and Holy Family had a close match, which just swung in the former’s favour, 5-3.
Ife Bamigboye and Megan Turnough were unbeaten, while Jessica Livesey featured strongly for Holy Family with two wins.
Holy Family went down 6-2 against Storth, Livesey winning twice.
The decider between Dane Ghyll and Storth was as close as possible.
Two wins each for Caitlyn Walker and Bamigboye secured a draw for Dane Ghyll. The teams were level on countback, but Dane Ghyll won on points, 288-287.
This put them into a final group against Askam and St Columba’s.
Despite some close matches, and a win each for Walker and Bamigboye, Dane Ghyll were unable to prevent their opponents facing off in the final once more.
Wins from Mia Gwynne and Tyra Rushton put the Walney team 2-0 up, before Sophie Ridgway edged Jasmine Halcrow in a real tight affair, coming from two games behind to win for St Columba’s.
Another win for Gwynne made it 4-0, before Askam staged a fightback with wins from Katie Moncrief, Jasmine Halcrow and Robyn Halcrow.
The title was secured for St Columba’s when Rushton came to the table and beat Robyn Halcrow in three games.
In the under-11s boys event, the same two schools reached the final.
Askam knocked out last season’s champions, Holy Family, with a 6-2 win, Brandon Corrie and Luke Greenway winning for Holy Family.
Askam also defeated a St Columba’s B team by the same score, Columba’s winners Louis Rourke and Ryan Cotton.
Luke Reid won all four games played for Askam, with Keir Shepherd winning three from three, Lee Irving and James Wallis two each, and Lian Knowles one.
On the other table, St Columba’s were comfortable winners against Dane Ghyll and beat Storth 7-1. Dane Ghyll lost 5-3 against Storth, Luke Maddox, Aaron Solsby and Cameron Bell all winning.
St Columba’s top pairing of Harry Mellen and Ben O’Flynn started the final against Askam powerfully and recorded straight-game wins against Reid and Shepherd respectively. Morgan Gwynne added to the total with a four-game success against Wallis.
The next three games saw the match hanging in the balance.
Knowles gained Askam’s first win, beating Lashmar.
Then Reid and O’Flynn showed some top-quality table tennis. The St Columba’s player took a two-game lead, but the Askam number one showed his fighting qualities and drew level.
Only at the end of the decider did O’Flynn find enough to take the win.
Gwynne still needed to hold on against Shepherd, before Mellen confirmed St Columba’s as champions.
One of the most keenly-awaited finals came in the under-13s girls, where both St Bernard’s and Dowdales had reached the national finals last year.However, while the St Bernard’s line-up had stayed the same, Dowdales had been strengthened by the addition of England Schools’ player Emily Bolton, who has moved to Year 7 from Askam School. She soon demonstrated her class with two straight-game wins.
Robyn Holden pulled one back for St Bernard’s against Ebony Miles after a close battle.
Despite this win, and Louise Keneally’s victory against Hannah Grimes, it was Dowdales who looked to have victory in sight when they led 4-2, Amy Moncrief and Miles both contributing.
But there were two further twists in the match.
Emily Cotton started a St Bernard’s revival by beating Moncrief.
In the final match, Grimes held a 2-1 lead after taking two deuce games. Katie Linton then suddenly found her touch and, with her own deuce-winning game took a 3-2 win.
This left the match score at 4-4, however, Dowdales took the Cumbria title with a superior games ratio of 16-12.
The rivalry continued in the under-13s boys event.
Both teams had comfortable victories against Dallam School to reach the final, where the strength in depth of St Bernard’s took them to the title.
Anton Vacca won both of his matches, while Ross Ahern beat Adam Brown and Brendan Trainor defeated Chris Lloyd.
St Bernard’s number one James Coward defeated Dowdales number two Jack Walker in four games.
Walker did make his mark with a straight games win over Ahern.
The star of the Dowdales team was number one Luke Walker, who finished undefeated with wins against Trainor and Coward, without dropping any games.
The final event of the Cumbria championships was the under-16s boys.
Here, St Bernard’s gained another win against Dowdales, 6-2.
Stefan Weatherburn and Dien Curtis won both their matches, while Tom Clements and Oliver Shipley both won one. The Dowdales wins came from Daniel Armstrong and Aaron Murray.
However, neither team could match the strength of the visitors from Dallam School, who only lost two matches in the three rubbers they played.
James Turner, of Millom, won one of those and proved the top Furness player, winning five of his six matches.
It was Cumbria girl power that led the way at the North West Finals against the best teams from Lancashire, Cheshire, Greater Manchester and Shropshire.
The under-13 girls teams from Dowdales and St Bernard’s gained wins against Sir Thomas Boteler High School, from Warrington, and, in very close matches, also defeated Bramhall High School.
The two teams then met for the second time this season, St Bernard’s reversing the result from the Cumbria finals to beat Dowdales.
Bolton was again the pick of the Dowdales players, while Holden showed she has returned to form with good attacking displays.
St Columba’s under-11s girls also enjoyed a good day.
They started their group with a draw against St Mary’s Preparatory School, Blundellsands.
Rushton and Gwynne both won their two matches, while Ridgway and Jenny Williams took games to give the Saints the count-back advantage.
They won their next match against Bradley Primary, from Nelson. Again Rushton and Gwynne won their matches, but there was a notable win for Williams, who is two years younger than her team-mates.
This put them into the semi-finals against Nevill Road, from Stockport, a team who always do well in the North West Finals.
Rushton and Gwynne continued their good form, however Neville Road led 4-3.
Williams played Rana Rofifah in the last match and, although she lost, she won two vital games, enough to take St Columba’s into the final on count-back.
Cumbria’s other representatives, Askam, also made progress from the group but were narrowly defeated by Bradley in the semi-finals.
This meant a replay for Bradley and St Columba’s, and in this match the school from Nelson played with more confidence.
Gwynne and Rushton remained unbeaten, but not before both players had dropped games against Aminah Daar.
Although Ridgway and Williams did not win their matches, they both won important games that meant the score was tied after count-back.
The organisers then had to calculate the total points won and St Columba’s took the title, having won four points more than their opponents.
St Bernard’s under-16s girls beat Lancashire representatives, Garstang, but then met a team they have been keen rivals with since their under-13s days, Bramhall High School.
On this occasion, the Stockport team took the win, but St Bernard’s still qualified for the regional heats.
Perhaps the most impressive performance of the day from a Cumbrian team came in the under-13s boys.
There were 10 teams from as far as Ludlow competing, with the two Cumbria representatives in different groups.
Dowdales finished as group runners-up and progressed to the semi-finals, while St Bernard’s eased through their group and gained impressive wins in both the semi-finals and final to beat Garstang and Calday Grange, West Kirby.
In the under-11s boys, the result went against the form book. Cumbria champions St Columba’s topped their group with victories against Buildwas Primary, from Shropshire, and Oldham Hulme Grammar School, O’Flynn winning all his games.
Askam also made good progress.
Although beaten by Garstang Community Primary, they won against St Mary’s Preparatory School to put them into a semi-final with St Columba’s.
This match was a completely different story to the county final.Askam’s top two, Reid and Shepherd, showed the improvement they have made in recent weeks, while the top two players for St Columba’s showed nerves on the big occasion.
Askam raced into a 2-0 lead as Shepherd beat O’Flynn and Reid defeated Mellen.
Gwynne pulled a match back by beating Irvine, but the Askam lead was stretched with wins from Knowles and Reid, in a five-game battle against O’Flynn.
Saints rallied as both Mellen and Gwynne posted wins, but it was Irvine who won the decisive match against Lashmar in another gruelling five-game battle. The win meant Askam qualified for the regional heats despite losing for a second time against Garstang when the two met in the final.
CUMBRIA ROLL OF HONOUR
Under-19s Boys Champions (not played for): Barrow Sixth Form.
Under-16s Boys: Champions – Dallam School. Runners-up – St Bernard’s.
Under-16s Girls: Champions (Not played for) – St Bernard’s.
Under-13s Boys: Champions – St Bernard’s. Runners-up – Dowdales.
Under-13s Girls: Champions – Dowdales. Runners-up – St Bernard’s.
Under-11s Boys: Champions – St Columba’s. Runners-up – Askam.
Under-11s Girls: Champions – St Columba’s. Runners-up – Askam.
NORTH WEST ROLL OF HONOUR
Under-16s Girls: Runners-up – St Bernard’s.
Under-13s Boys: Champions – St Bernard’s.
Under-13s Girls: Champions – St Bernard’s. Runners-up – Dowdales.
Under-11s Boys: Runners-up – Askam.
Under-11s Girls: Champions – St Columba’s.