Priory Ruskin Academy took a minibus of coaches, teachers, supporters and their under-13 girls’ table tennis team to the Butterfly Schools National Championship Finals at Hinckley leisure centre, Leicester, on Saturday.
The tournament began with 292 schools and was finishing with 32 teams across four boy and girl age categories – U19, U16, U13 and U11.
The Grantham girls, Stefi Popa, Lucy Bridle, Hannah Latter, Megan Rowley and Lucy Potter, had fought to be one of the last four teams standing; already champions of the county, zone and region, they would be receiving a trophy, but which one.
The girls played impeccably in their first tie with Bredon Hill Academy and they were quickly 4-1 up.
In a tournament of eight matches per tie, the first to five wins and anymore is a bonus. Lucy got to play the match that would create an outright win and confirm third place.
Parents and teachers watched anxiously but there was no need for concern, Lucy won in straight sets, 3-0. The following two matches, despite great play by Hannah and Megan, went against them to finish the tie 5-3 to Priory.
News that the other two teams had drawn 4-4 and Wade Deacon High School from Widnes had won on countback, meant two tough ties were still to come.
The second tie with Sacred Heart School went like the first, the Grantham girls’ team spirit and cheers quietening the confident Londoners, and their performance drove home another 4-1 lead, with Lucy having the opportunity to close the tie again.
She did not disappoint but the girls were not finished. Megan and Hannah put in super performances but Sacred Heart converted a close five-setter with Hannah,and so the final score was 6-2 to Priory to secure the runners-up spot at worst.
The last tie with Wade Deacon would decide the champions and it went neck-and-neck, each side playing some outstanding rallies. It went player seeds and at halfway it was 2-2.
As if it was possible, the standard of table tennis rose and nothing separated them except how a cluster of points landed across at the end of each set. Stefi laid her heart on the table but the Cheshire side won. They smelled the opportunity and Hannah faced an energised opposition, resulting in another loss, putting Priory 4-2 down.
Lucy led the counter in the seventh match and her performance – a 3-0 win – both silenced the Cheshire side and also kept Priory’s chances alive.
With the final poised at 4-3, the winner was dependant on the final match; there was still all to play for as a 4-4 draw would be sufficent for Priory who had the set advantage on countback.
It had been Priory’s team spirit that had blossomed over the tournament stages, always lifting them to their best, and the girls could be seen kneeling on the floor courtside, cheering and offering words of advise to Megan in the eighth and final match.
As good endings and finales are, it went to the wire in the fifth set – but someone had to win.
The championship is a great competition but it was decided in the end on only a few points; for Priory that meant second in U13 girls as the final set went Wade Deacon’s way, 11-9.
But it was still a remarkable achievement for the Grantham school who, back in October, were still looking to find enough players to make a team. However, they achieved much more than just putting together a team, they created something special within the girls for the future. It was also an achievement of which their community can be proud. Well done girls for an outstanding effort.