Kesteven and Grantham Girls’ School became the first Midlands team to take the English Schools National title at Oundle last Wednesday.
In a landmark victory, the girls wrenched the title from the northern schools which have long dominated this competition.
KGGS headteacher said the school was very proud of the girls’ achievement: “Two years ago, they returned having come third. Last year they returned having come second, and this year they have won.
“We are very proud of them. This achievement is a fantastic result and the product of three hard years’ training.”
The 13-strong squad, which qualified as outright Midlands winner – unbeaten in the preliminary round in Warwick four weeks ago – joined five others from the North, South and Midlands to battle for the national crown, and emerged with an unblemished record of winning scores throughout the competition.
As fate would have it, KGGS’s first group match was to define their battle for the title as they faced the competition ‘favourite’ and defending champions Crompton House – an experienced adversary determined to put up a fight.
KGGS found themselves under pressure and Crompton broke through to score first as the half time whistle was blown.
Both sides showed caution after the break until Rose Bitowt found herself free to score with a great goal to the far post.
The game remained tightly contested but KGGS held their nerve and were rewarded with a well-planned attack which saw Giorgia Bosworth support and India Wilkinson score a screamer of a winning goal.
Having beaten the clear favourites so early in the competition, coaches Jack Shennan and Dan Bosworth delivered a series of inspirational team talks to keep the players grounded and focused on the task in hand. Both coaches, from King’s School, have worked tirelessly with the squad over the last few months on consistent focus and improvements in technique – and this was the moment for it all to pay off.
In the second game against Notting Hill and Ealing High, linked play from Holly Robinson and Gabby Cox, with support from Georgia Coyle and Amelia Peters, secured a 7-0 win with relative ease. Goals came from Bosworth (2), Bitowt, Wilkinson, Peters, Lily Jackson (1) and Katie Knott.
These two victories qualified KGGS as group leaders and took them to a semi-final against their old Midlands adversary Bedford Modern – never to be under estimated but this time out-classed by KGGS’s growing confidence and determination, notably from Alex Barnett and Ellie Kirke.
KGGS players were disciplined with superb defensive work from Jackson and Knott, dismissing the opposition 10-0 to go through to the final. Goals were scored by Bosworth (5), Wilkinson (2), Knott (2) and Holly Robinson.
As anticipated, KGGS found themselves once more facing title holders Crompton House in an evenly-matched and tense final.
Strong, persistent attack and defence created a nail-biting series of plays, with both sides going very close to scoring on numerous occasions.
Perseverance on KGGS’s part led to two consecutive well-worked team goals fed by Coyle, then Ellie Robinson on the right wing, and finished from the pit by Wilkinson. Unremitting defence denied Crompton House getting on the scoreboard in the first half.
A fast start to the second half from Crompton House saw them pull a goal back and then win a penalty, but Naya Patel stepped up to the plate with a great save to regain possession of the ball.
Crompton pressed and KGGS struggled to find a way to progress the ball, which resulted in a foul being conceded with only 30 seconds of play remaining. But with admirable grit and determination, KGGS’s defensive play was superb, managing to steal possession back and progress play until the final buzzer sounded.
Rose Bitowt’s mother, Julie, said the team had been determined to come away with the title: “The victory was a real team effort in the very best of sporting traditions, with every single player’s contribution being essential to the overall result.
“All players rose spectacularly to the occasion, playing at the very top of their games to achieve this goal.”
KGGS under-16s are, from left, back – coaches Dan Bosworth and Jack Shennan; middle – Ellie Robinson, Holly Robinson, Gaby Cox, Georgia Coyle, Katie Knott, Ellie Kirke and India Wilkinson; front – Alex Barnett, Lily Jackson, Giorgia Bosworth, Naya Patel, Amelia Peters and Rose Bitowt.