Newcastle University achieved a record performance in BBC’s University Challenge, having reached the semi-finals for the first time in the team’s history.
A team comprising of Jack Reynard, Molly Nielsen and Adam Lowery alongside captain Jonathan Noble, beat four universities on their way to the semi-finals, where they were finally undone by a mesmeric performance by Merton College, Oxford.
Their journey endured a subdued start, beating Sheffield Hallam 170-40 back in September 2017, before the academic year had even got underway. Not only was it the lowest scoring bout in the first round, it is thought to be one of the lowest cumulative scores in the show’s recent history.
Despite the slow start, Newcastle kicked on. They faced big hitters Southampton, who were the second highest scorers in the first round with 280 points, only behind eventual finalists Merton College.
After a tight opening few minutes, Newcastle pulled away from their southern opponents, upsetting Southampton by a margin of 85 points. The 215-130 victory was inspired by captain Noble, though Lowery caught the imagination of the British public, with punters pointing to his vague resemblance to Eddie Redmayne in Fantastic Beasts, in dress sense if nothing else.
To progress to the semi-finals, Newcastle had to win two of their three quarter-finals. The first university they faced was Bristol, an impressive outfit having convincingly beaten both Trinity Colleges, by 135 against Cambridge and 105 against their Oxford counterparts.
In front of a packed crowd in Luther’s Bar, Newcastle put in a sterling performance to win 225-130, bettering their result against Southampton. The contest was finely poised at 50-45 to Bristol, but Noble again inspired the team to take the lead and stretch it to 95-50.
Much like the England squad, the Newcastle team appeared and acted like a solid unit, supporting each other throughout. Noble’s encouragement of Reynard epitomised that, with the third year medicine student going on to pull a few world class answers out of the top drawer.
In their second quarter-final, Newcastle fell to a tight but disappointing 160-135 loss to St John’s College, Cambridge. That loss set up a crunch knockout match against Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, after their own narrow victory against Emmanuel College, Cambridge.
Newcastle students will have been spread across the country for the last quarter-final of the round, with the encounter taking place on 2nd April during the Easter holidays. Though both teams started well, it was again Newcastle that pulled away, with Molly Nielsen putting in an especially impressive performance.
Having made history in the quarters, Newcastle were drawn against Merton College, Oxford in the second semi-final. Throughout the competition so far, Merton had looked on form, not scoring below 210 in any of their previous rounds.
Despite a sterling effort, Newcastle didn’t have enough on the day to overcome their opponents. The semi-final was watched by a packed crowd in Luther’s Bar, with the team being very appreciative of the support received from the student body.
Post-show, Adam Lowery said: “It is also really humbling to see how many people turned up tonight and were supporting us, and throughout the entire process. Every time we had a live screening on, so many people turned up and that felt so good.”
On Newcastle’s opposition he added: “You meet a lot of the teams and the further you go on, the more you interact with some of the teams, and I think everyone on our team will agree that we got along really well with them.”
“We were obviously sad to lose, however we were very happy to get this far and to compete against such a great team.”