The day began with a journey to the USC for the boys to get a coach to Loughborough, whilst the girls were chauffeured in the captain’s car. Travelling with the football team in the coach ensured the pre-match banter was present as always. Spirits were high on arrival.
Loughborough attempted to intimidate with a purpose-built badminton hall but we quickly settled in and enjoyed the high-quality venue. On the men’s team, Tom Wade (Catz) and Neel Doshi (Churchill) were limbering up for singles. Ben Wharton (St John’s) and Ayngaran Thavanesan (Emmanuel) were partnered for the second seed doubles while the Sheat brothers, Thomas (Downing) and Andrew (Emmanuel), were preparing to play as the number one doubles pair. On the ladies’ team, Sarah Collins (Fitz) and Maria Chukanova (Selwyn) were getting psyched to meet their singles opponents. Jean Yang (Murray Edwards) and Ellie Marsh (Darwin) were set to play as first seed doubles, whilst Catherine Yong (Girton) and Katie Clark (Murray Edwards) were playing as number two doubles pair. Pleasantries and warm ups out of the way; we began.
Play started with Neel and Sarah playing singles against their number one and two seeds respectively. Neel opened with a flurry of good shots and some exceptional movement around the court. Unfortunately, his opponent was unfazed and met this with good composure and play that was a delight to watch. Neel lost to single figures but the score didn’t reflect the excellent form Neel was in. Meanwhile, Sarah was on form bringing to court a constant barrage of outstanding shots, giving few opportunities for her opponent to snatch some points. Sarah won in straight sets, with an exceptional score of 21/10 and 21/8. At the same time Maria was taking on their first singles seed. It was set to be a tough match but Maria fought fearlessly for each point not letting her opponent phase her. Despite her best efforts Maria lost with a respectable score of 21-10 and 21-12. Ben and Ayngaran opened against their top doubles pair, who played with a skill that showed that they were opponents to be feared. Another early loss for Cambridge.
Next on for the boys were the Sheats and Tom, apprehensive after Loughborough’s strong start. The pre-match nerves quickly vanished and everyone was playing well. Tom lost 21-17 and 21-16 in what was a close match against a similarly matched opponent, sadly ending his unbeaten winning streak in BUCS matches that had lasted the previous year. Team Sheat lost the first set to 16 and eventually lost the second 22-20 in a nail-biting match. They came off disappointed with “we could’ve taken that” being muttered many times. On the girls’ side, Jean and Ellie were taking on their second doubles. Things started well with them clinching the first game 21-19. The good play continued with some very tight games but it was not to be as the Loughborough pair took the last 2 games 21-19 and 21-18. Meanwhile, Catherine and Katie fought valiantly against their strong first doubles seed bringing home a respectable loss of 21-11 and 21-17. After these close games, Loughborough looked beatable.
Things turned from bad to worse for the boys as Tom and Neel both lost their second singles games. In an attempt to “know your enemy”, Ayngaran called upon an inside man who knew the opponents well but his loyalties were questionable. With an overall win for the boys now impossible it was all they could do to gain some honour in the last two games. The first was the much-anticipated encounter between the first seeded doubles pairs. Thomas put in some stellar defence against their punishing cross court smash and Andrew rained down smashes but little seemed to break through their solid defence. The game ended with a loss for the Cambridge boys. On the girls’ side things were looking good in the singles, with Sarah putting out another strong performance against their first singles seed taking both her games at 21-15 and 21-12. Meanwhile, Maria was fighting strong against their second singles seed, pushing her opponent physically and mentally with her relentless shots. Her strong form led her to take the first game 21-19 but her opponent regained her composure and took the last two games 21-14 and 21-8.
With two games still to play on the girls’ side, the atmosphere was tense, with a draw still all to play for. First up were Jean and Ellie against their first doubles seed. The Loughborough pair were tough opponents with their seemingly impenetrable defences leading them to take it in two sets with a scoreline of 21-10 and 21-8. At the same time, Catherine and Katie put up a strong fight against their second doubles losing their first game narrowly at 23-21. With fire still in their bellies they pushed on but sadly lost their second game 21-14. On the boys’ side, it had come down to the final game to prevent the feared 8-0 loss. Ben and Ayngaran fought well, narrowly losing the first set 21-19. Then they came back to win the second 21-17 after a series of lethal attacks which left the opponents defenceless. This was it, we were poised to deny Loughborough their total victory. Unfortunately, Loughborough clawed it back and claimed the last game of the match. Thus, the first match for Cambridge in the Midlands 1A league ended as a loss against last year’s league winners.
After the 8-0 and 6-2 loss for the guys and girls respectively, we had clearly not made quite the impression we had wanted to on Loughborough. Tom soon rectified this by lying on the floor after his second singles game and leaving his interpretation of a snow angel on the floor in sweat. A testament to the hard work put in by the team. So much so that a ‘wet floor’ sign was called for.
We returned to Cambridge down but not out, with hopes high for our match against the University of East Anglia at home the following week.