Tonbridge Grammar School sent a team of U16 netballers to the National Schools Finals on Saturday 18 March, representing London and South East (LSE), having qualified as the winners of the Regional Finals earlier this year. The event was hosted by Stanborough School, Welwyn Garden City, lucky enough to have 9, recently laid, netball courts and therefore able to host the 54 teams competing at the 3 different age groups (U14, U16 & U19).
The girls arrived at the early time of 7:45am, with grey clouds overhead. After erecting our new gazebo, kindly funded by the PTA, we all got ourselves ready to put a determined effort into a recently devised 25 minute warm up routine on court, after our shooters had had time to put up their practice shots. With half an hour before we were due to play our first match we felt prepared, if a little nervous, and excited all at the same time, wearing our newly supplied professional looking black and red dresses (thanks to our sportswear suppliers Xstream).
We had 8 games scheduled, 5 before the lunch break and 3 after the lunch break, against the winners or runners-up of each of the other 8 regions. With 6 independent schools in our group, 2 Grammar Schools and 1 Academy, we knew that we had a tough day’s netball ahead if we were to achieve a place in the semi-finals by either coming first or second in our group.
Our first match, against Southend High School (East), saw some early nerves, but we soon got into our stride, playing some easy flowing netball, with positive shooting, strong passing and good movement down court, resulting in a final score of 14-4. Always good to start with a win!
Newcastle High School (NE), in their striking teal coloured dresses, were our next opponents. Again, we played our composed game, and came away with our second victory, with a final score of 12-3.
By our third game, we were feeling a little more confident and able to ensure all but one player had had some court time, as unlike many schools, we felt it was important that all girls got to play in the National Finals, at some point during the tournament, rather than merely watching all day from the side-lines as a reserve. We posted our third win, with a winning score of 14-3 against King Edward’s Bath (SW).
Hurstpierpoint College (South) next, and despite all starting to feel a little weary from the early start and thinking about lunch, we managed to achieve our fourth win with a score of 13-6. So, at the half-way point we had put 20 points on the scoreboard and not given away any points to the opposition (5 points for a win, 3 for a draw and 1 for scoring more than 50% of the winning team’s score).
Our last opponents before lunch, Quinton House School (E Mid), had managed to get a couple of wins under their belt in their previous rounds, so we were prepared to have a tougher match as we took to the court. This was the first match where we needed to dig deep and work hard off the ball to make sure that we finished in a winning position. The final score of 12-7 reflected the tougher nature of the match.
Finally, we could take some relaxation time at the lunchbreak, and sitting at the top of the table, we knew we were now the team to beat. However, having been in this position only last year at the U14 Finals we had learnt from our previous mistakes in not relaxing too much. We all re-fuelled but got ourselves up to perform part of our warm up routine ahead of the afternoon’s first game against GSAL (Yorks), determined not to lose to them as we had done in that first game after lunch last year. However, we knew it was not going to be easy and we had to fight hard for the narrow but high scoring victory of 17-15. This was the first time we had been truly challenged this year but the girls were impressive in their determination to make every pass count. Our shooters were on top form and defence were putting pressure on every ball.
So, to our final 2 matches, knowing we had to face the toughest 2 opponents in the group. Our 7th match was against Higham Lane (W Mids). We started the game well and after the 7 minutes first half we were in a strong position with a lead at 10-5. Unfortunately, rather than concentrating on holding possession of the ball, we let our concentration slip and a few unforced errors saw the other team claw their way back to a draw at 12-12, which meant the final game was going to be the group decider, as our next opponents Hulme Grammar (NW) were in the same position as us with 6 wins and a draw each. The match was highly competitive, as was to be expected, but with a wonderful display of fast flowing, well executed netball and, fortunately for us, some strong umpiring, we came out victorious with a 14-7 win. Our opponents were clearly disappointed and left the court without acknowledging us.
As winners of our group, we faced the runner’s up, Brighton College, from the other group. One match stood between us and reaching the final, so we got ourselves into the right frame of mind, focussing on the match ahead of us and performed another short warm up, in the 15 minutes that we had before the start of the match. Our opponents, wearing their unusual maroon and navy tiger striped dresses, were obviously just as keen as us to finish the match on the winning side, but we were the team to start well and were ahead at half time. Once again, we knew the second half was all about holding possession from our centre passes and this time we were not about to let that slip. We did give the ball away a few times but the girls played some outstanding netball to come away with a 12-8 win.
Feeling elated with the win, we watched the remainder of the other semi-final match, Millfield vs Hulme Grammar, which had gone into extra time, having finished in a draw in normal full time. We were anticipating Millfield in the final, as they had a 6ft4” shooter, but Hulme managed to defeat them in an outstanding final few minutes of highly contested, physically challenging netball.
So here we were, in the Finals, at the National Schools U16 Competition. At this point, we were the only team left in the competition not to have lost a single match through county finals, regional finals and national final group stages. However, we knew that Hulme Grammar were determined to reverse our result from the group stages and they came onto court with a real fighting spirit. Their physical style of play meant that we were unable to get into our natural flowing game and saw us 7-1 down at half time. A few positive words at the 1 minute interval along with some fantastic defensive interceptions resulted in a string of goals for us early in the second half and a renewed belief that we could pull this back. Unfortunately, our opposition had other ideas and stretched the rules to their limit, stopping our flow by contacting and obstructing virtually every ball with the umpiring being less than consistent. Despite the girls giving 100% and leaving nothing on court we finished the game as runners up with a score of 11-6, totally deflated and upset, but nonetheless taking silver medal at the National School’s Netball Finals. What an amazing achievement!
Julie Cross, our dedicated netball coach had the following to say about the experience:
“I would like to thank all the girls for their hard work and commitment at training throughout the season and for their wonderful performances on court. I could not be prouder of this fantastic success, which I hope, now they have had time to reflect, they realise is outstanding, given our limited resources in comparison to many of the schools competing at this level. I would also like to thank the parents, grandparents and siblings for their wonderful support on the side-lines and to the three members of the PE department who give up their weekends to support the girls in achieving this level of success, not just at netball but across the sports offered at the school. It is a real team effort and one I am very honoured to be part of. Thank you girls for being the best team I have ever had the opportunity to work with. You are all winners in my eyes. “
We would like to thank her for the huge amount of time she volunteers to coach the girls and umpire matches, not only for the Under 16 team but throughout the school. Her dedication, commitment and impact is clear to be seen. Her help is invaluable.
“I am very proud of what the team has accomplished at the nationals. It was fantastic play and the support from everyone who came was overwhelming. Thank you Mrs Cross (coach), Miss Duncan and Miss Redding for all your hard work for the team!” Chantelle: Under 16 Netball Team Captain
Huge congratulations to our Under 16 Netball team who have finished the year as the National Schools Netball Under 16 runners up.
Silver medal squad: Holly (Vice Captain, Year 11), Jasmine (Year 10), Emily (Year 10), Monique (Year 11), Jasmine (Year 11), Lucy (Year 10), Georgia (Year 10), Millie (Year 10), Rachel (Year 10), Heather (Year 10), Chantelle (Captain, Year 11)
Head of PE