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.
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.