After a challenging season which saw the team facing a very tough draw against top counties Warwickshire and Yorkshire, the U16’s finished the group stage in 10th place, earning them one last chance to progress through to Finals Day; however, they would have to get past 7th place Hampshire first, which on paper looked like a mountain to climb. So on Play-off Day, Saturday 29th April, the team made the long trek to Winchester:-
Sameer Chenia, Harry Clare, Rowan Clark, Joe Goodenough
Jess Allen, Tamsin Betts, Izzy Pike, Jess Rodgers
With mixed up first, the team walked on court determined to claw as many games as possible from the home side. Both Harry & Izzy and Joe & Tamsin worked hard to win their matches in straight games; although Jess & Rowan lost their close match, they took it to the 3rd end which would become an important statistic later on in the day. Sameer & Jess rounded off a great start for Leicestershire with a stunning 3 set victory over the Hampshire 1st pair Finn Saunders & Annie Lado with the visitors up 3 – 1 going into the singles.
Both Hampshire 1st and 2nd girls proved too strong for Jess A and Izzy, with Izzy giving it everything to level the score at 1-1 before losing in the 3rd. With Tamsin safely home the winner 21-10 21-10, could Jess R win a 2nd game for Team Leics? Having wrestled her opponent to a level score at 1-1 Jess couldn’t hide her disappointment to just miss out on another fantastic win, only just losing in the the 3rd 28-26! Sameer worked hard to defeat the strong Hampshire 1st boy in a very close encounter 10-21 23-21 21-19 and Joe also won his in straight sets; both Rowan & Harry lost narrowly with Rowan taking his opponent to the 3rd end and Harry just missing out 22-20 23-21.
Going into the level doubles, the score stood at 6-6 and the home team were starting to look a little concerned! With both teams knowing they had to win at least 4 of the remaining 8 games, things were feeling just a little bit tense. Harry & Rowan settled Leicestershire nerves winning both their matches in 2 and with Sameer & Joe also winning against the weaker Hampshire pair, the girls only had to win one of their 4 matches to reach the magic number of 10 – although this sounded straightforward the girls knew this would still be a difficult task against the very strong Hampshire girls. Jess & Izzy lost in 2 against both the 1st and 2nd pairs and with Jess & Tamsin also losing in 2 to the 1st pair, it all came down to the final game on court – Hampshire winning would give them outright victory but a Leicestershire victory would force the draw….no pressure then girls!
When the Hampshire pair took the 1st end 21-19, Leicestershire nerves were jangling; luckily Jess & Tamsin held their nerve and with their usual exceptional defence, began breaking down the skill of their opponents to win the 2nd 21-15. After a day where the teams had matched each other step for step the whole way through, it somehow seemed fitting that this final end should be the decider; and it was every bit as close as expected, with the Leicestershire girls holding off a determined effort to take the final end 21-19! Final score Leicestershire: 10 Hampshire: 10….the dreaded count back!
After a nervous wait, the Hampshire manager called players to attention, announcing Hampshire had won 23 ends and after a short pause, Leicestershire had won 24!! The Leicestershire players and supporters went wild! Against the form book and probably their own expectations, the team had pulled out all the stops, played the very best that they could and won, repeating the feat of the U14 and U18 Shires teams by booking their place at Finals Day and a guaranteed top 8 finish for this season’s competition. As one Leicestershire supporter commented “it was a shame one of the teams had to win” summing up the fantastic standard of play and sportsmanship by both teams throughout the day.