For the second successive season the North Hertfordshire district team had triumphed in the Hertfordshire Junior League and thus travelled to the National Badminton Centre in Milton Keynes on 20th May to represent the League in the Under 14 age group of the national inter-league finals.  Three of the 2016/17 team were making their second finals appearance and they, with three new members, hoped to emulate the achievement of last season’s team, the bronze medal winners.

Matches comprised rubbers in each of five events: boys’ singles, girls’ singles, boys’ doubles, girls’ doubles and mixed doubles, with each rubber played as the best of three games, the first two to 9 points and the third, if needed, played to just 5 points.  This format modelled closely the senior National Badminton League, right down to the inclusion of “power-play” shuttles.

The format for competition between the eight finalists differed from that of last season: matches between four teams would determine a ranking order in each of two groups, and this would be followed by play-offs between the teams in corresponding positions in each group to determine the overall results.

In North Herts’s group were Stowmarket JBC, Chalfont Eagles JBC and a team know just by the acronym “BJBA” – we didn’t find out which part of the country they were from!  First up were BJBA, and it was apparent from the outset that the overall standard of the finalist teams was markedly stronger than in 2016/17.  Though North Herts picked up a game in the boys’ singles, they could not match the all-round strength of their opponents, and the match was lost 0-5.  Despite this reverse, the team bounced back strongly against Stowmarket and won 4-1, dropping just the boys’ doubles rubber.  The final match, against Chalfont Eagles for second place in the group, was extremely close, with three of the five rubbers going to a deciding game, but the North Herts team could not quite manage the win their determined play merited, and they lost 2-3.

Results in the two groups left the team to compete against Kesteven Superzone, third in the other group, for 5th/6th place overall.  A very tight and tense match unfortunately resulted in another defeat by 2-3, the girls taking both singles and doubles rubbers, but the team not being able to find that elusive third rubber.  The overall winner was the formidable BJBA team whom North Herts had played in their first match.

Sixth place was not a result to match the bronze medal of 2016/17, but the team had competed determinedly all day and its results had included some good performances from all the team members.  Furthermore, it was very apparent from the team’s own matches and from seeing the standard of play in some of the other matches that the level of skill on display was significantly above that of last season.  Viewed from a national perspective this is an encouraging development, showing how Badminton England’s initiative to promote the establishment of junior leagues across the country is contributing to an uplift in the strength of junior badminton below the County level, but of course it poses a challenge for the teams in next season’s Hertfordshire Junior League to match the overall rising standard of play!

Team:          Govind Singh Bains, Adele Bravi, Niamh Day, Rowan Grenyer, Holly Long, Akyo Morgan

Managers:    Bob Green and John Stobo (also wrote the report)