In one of the tensest affairs ever witnessed at the Sports Centre, Newcastle University’s Women’s Badminton Club narrowly missed out on a spot in the Premier North league. It was a night of battles, injuries and (some) tantrums, as the visiting Scots beat our girls 5-3 to retain their place in the top division after a dramatic evening of play-off passion and blistering badders.
Making our way to the sports centre, Edinburgh’s overly executive bus was pulled up outside, giving the appearance of a team who meant business. With the basketball play-offs taking place on the other side of the Sports Hall and respectable crowds for both sports, the thundering atmosphere only added to the restlessness of both sets of players as Claudia Heggie and Anna Bradshaw stepped up to take on Edinburgh’s first doubles pairing.
The Newcastle double initially found it hard to get a rhythm going against the solid partnership of Rachel Scollan and Joanna Shepherd, who set an early pace to lead 8-11 after some intense play. The Newcastle pairing were having none of it though, as with some words of encouragement from captain Beth Vickerman they managed to grab the game by the scruff of its neck and pull it back to 15-15. Smelling the opportunity, Heggie and Bradshaw piled on the pressure and opened a two-point gap when Edinburgh’s Scollan hit a tight smash out of play. The first game was swinging perfectly in Newcastle’s favour, as they wrapped up a 21-17 victory while Uni’s Isabelle Cain fought ferociously to peg back Edinburgh ace Britt Ashton. Despite her efforts, Cain fell to a 10-21, 11-21 defeat in what can only be described as a valiant performance. During this time, Heggie and Bradshaw had fallen to a 2-5 deficit at the beginning of the second game, however in a magnificent turn around the duo notched up a 15-8 lead and were in touching distance of winning the match. Scollan and Shepherd were doing their best to halt the pair who had picked up a head of steam, and as they drew them to within two points, 18-16, disaster struck on the middle court.
Anubhi Khandelwal, already playing with a leg support, went down injured. Having fallen to a 14-21 first game defeat, it was looking bad for Newcastle’s girls. While Khandelwal got treatment, Heggie and Bradshaw could only do what they do best – continue the fight. As the room’s excitement grew, the pair racked up a 21-18 second game victory to take the match for the home side – vitally important after Cain’s defeat.
Vickerman and doubles partner Cara Vincenti picked up the baton in the race for promotion, swiftly despatching Edinburgh’s second doubles pair 21-9 in the first game.
Meanwhile, Khandelwal had heroically gained her feet and took the second game 21-18 against Olivia Yu, before dramatically having to withdraw from proceedings to lose the final game 21-1, and forfeit her later match against Ashton. However, Claudia Heggie, Mrs AU herself, explained that should the play-off fixture finish in a draw, then crisis stricken Khandelwal’s second game victory would see the home side through to the Premier North division. A major event was on our hands.
Vickerman and Vincenti were making mincemeat of their opposition, as Newcastle looked to pull the overall score back to 3-2. With the second game demolition taking place, the double V’s took an early 7-2 lead, an extra point would see a scoreline last seen at Old Trafford in 2011 (niche), and sure enough the pair romped to 21-8 and took the match.
With three matches left to play, it was still in the balance. Simultaneously, Cain took on Yu in the final singles game, while Heggie and Bradshaw, and Vickerman and Vincenti all gunned for doubles glory.
Again battling strongly, Cain dropped her first game 15-21 against the resilient Olivia Yu, while the Breggie partnership raced to a 21-15, 21-15 run-of-the-mill victoire. Everything was starting to rest on the final doubles game that Vickerman and Vincenti were embroiled in, as Cain’s brave 18-21 second game loss made the overall score 3-4 to the visitors. In fine form following an entire season of rampant play, the VV’s took no time in taking the first game 21-14 as the crowd of friends, teammates and reporters slowly began to encircle the court of destiny. With tempers rising, and some racquet smashing from Beth ‘Andy Murray’ Vickerman, it all got a bit too much for photographer Calum Wilson, who had to run to the toilet in fear of Vickerman’s rage. Mother nature’s call answered, Wilson made it back in time for the culmination of the second game – a game Newcastle had to win in order for Anubhi Khandelwal’s heroic efforts to send the Uni up. In the tightest match-up since Burnley v Middlesbrough, the duo fell to a 20-22 defeat, before a largely meaningless final game finished 18-21. Despite the result, pride filled the room, as it should, after the girls realised what an outstanding achievement this season has been.