Having earned a place on Finals Day by beating an excellent Hampshire side by the narrowest of margins in the playoffs, Team Leicestershire’s U16’s travelled to Stoke Mandeville Stadium in Aylesbury on Sunday 14th May with a determination to prove worthy of their place in this season’s final 8….
Sameer Chenia, Harry Clare, Rowan Clark, Joe Goodenough
Jess Allen, Tamsin Betts, Izzy Pike, Jess Rodgers
With the top 4 counties of Surrey, Bucks, Warwickshire and Essex playing one of the bottom 4 in the first round, the team knew they would be in for a torrid time in the first rubber! Having drawn Essex, it was time to make a start. Typically strong in the mixed doubles, Leicestershire flew into an early lead with Harry & Izzy just squeezing past their opponents 21-20, closely followed by Rowan & Jess and Joe & Tamsin both winning to 17 for an early 3-1 lead. Moving on to singles, Harry and Joe both worked to earn wins and although only Tamsin would manage a win for the girls, Leicestershire stayed in touch to trail by 5-7 going into the last 8 level doubles games.
With the strong Essex boys taking 3 of the 4 boys games, Essex only had to take one of the 4 remaining girls encounters for the outright win. Jess & Tamsin just edged past the Essex 1st pair 21-20 while Jess & Izzy dispatched the 2nd pair 21-16 to close the gap to 8-10. As the levels reversed, Izzy & Jess worked hard to keep touch with the Essex top pair, knowing they had to win to keep Leicestershire in the rubber. Could they do it? Yes they could! A 21-18 win leaving Jess & Tamsin with just the 2nd pair to beat, which they did with their usual calm demeanour and superb defence 21-18.
As the teams gathered round the courts at 10-10, calculators worked furiously on both sides and it was a while before it could be confirmed: a win for Essex by just 2 points! Although disappointed to have lost so narrowly, the team can be proud to have chased one of the top counties so close and only missing out on a top 4 finish by 2 points!
Leicestershire 10 Essex 10 (Essex win by 2 points)
With Cheshire confirmed as our next opponents, the team were determined to capitalise on an excellent performance in Round 1. Once again, they flew out of the blocks, winning 3 of the 4 mixed with Harry & Izzy, Rowan & Jess and Joe & Tamsin recording easy victories. Although Sameer and Harry and Jess & Izzy were unable to overcome their top 2 singles opponents, both Rowan & Joe and Jess & Tamsin worked hard for wins, with Rowan and Joe doing particularly well to beat their more highly graded Cheshire counterparts. Going into the level doubles, this left Leicestershire leading 7-5 and needing to win 4 of the remaining 8 games to win outright.
With both Harry & Rowan and Sameer & Joe winning one apiece, could the girls do the same? Yes they could! In fact, they cleaned up all 4 of their level doubles for a good Leicestershire victory:
Leicestershire 13 Cheshire 7
The last rubber of the day was a playoff for 5th/6th place against a Yorkshire side unlucky to find themselves outside the top 4 going into the Finals. The team knew they would need to put in a big final effort if they were to push themselves ahead of a side which had already beaten them during the group stage and which was at full strength after having fielded a slightly weaker team during the last encounter.
Once again, mixed doubles gave Leicestershire a positive start with both Harry & Izzy and Rowan & Jess putting in excellent wins for a 2-2 scoreline going into the singles. With Yorkshire fielding 8 very strong singles players, Leicestershire were unable to put a win on the board, leaving them 2-10 down and Yorkshire only needing to win 1 of the last 8 level doubles games to win outright. It was too big a mountain to climb this time. Harry & Rowan wrested their game from the 2nd Yorkshire pair while both Jess & Tamsin and Izzy & Jess managed a win apiece but it wasn’t enough. The final score:
Leicestershire 5 Yorkshire 15
So Team Leicestershire ended U16’s Finals Day and the 2016/17 Shires League season in 6th place, a fantastic achievement for a team which had to do it the hard way after facing both Warwickshire and Yorkshire in the group round followed by another very tough match against Hampshire in the playoffs. And but for those 2 points, they would have achieved a stunning upset to earn them a top 4 finish alongside powerhouse counties such as Buckinghamshire, Surrey and Warwickshire! Congratulations to all the players!