20 December 2022

Marian Catholic College wins statewide country chess championship after tense grand final

| Oliver Jacques
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Students with trophies

Marian Catholic College acting principal Lora Segrave and chess coach Eli Marshall flank championship-winning team William Lancaster, Hugh Lancaster, Oliver Penedo, Jaidan Morrell, Bhavya Chaudhari and Elemeniko Valele. Photo: Supplied.

A team of seven students from Griffith’s Marian Catholic College has won the NSW Junior Chess League’s Country Secondary School Chess Competition 2022, the school’s first victory in the statewide event’s 26-year history.

Marian won the tournament – which tests the chess skills of NSW schools outside Sydney, the Central Coast and Blue Mountains – by defeating defending champions Lower Hunter school Merewether in a tense final in late November.

Each round of the competition pits a team of four against each other in a series of knockout ties, with the school winning the most games advancing to the next round.

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Marian’s champion squad consisted of captain Elemeniko Valele, who played alongside William Lancaster, Hugh Lancaster, Oliver Penedo, Jaidan Morrell, Bhavya Chaudhari and Anurag Dhot.

“Never have I been more tense than sitting, watching [those] chess games unfold,” Dr Eli Marshall, the team’s chess coach, said.

The Catholic school first won the Riverina division, beating fellow Griffith school Murrumbidgee Regional High in a tiebreak, then polishing off Narrandera High and Wagga’s Kooringal High before soundly defeating Albury’s Border Christian College in the regional final by three wins to one.

This saw Marian advance to the statewide finals, a competition Dr Marshall described as “nerve-wracking”.

“Marian Catholic College started the round with a match against the champions of the North West Region, Armidale Secondary College – Duval Campus. Each team won two games, but as Marian won the first two boards out of four, we advanced to the next round,” he said.

children playing chess

A NSW Junior League Chess event in North Sydney. Photo: Facebook.

The school then had a bye in the following round, before there was a twist in the grand final.

“Due to travel restrictions, the final was played online,” Dr Marshall said.

“Isaac Cruickshank from Merewether played an excellent game of chess on board, however, he went down to William Lancaster from Marian. Oliver Penedo and Elemeniko Valele from Marian also defeated Josiah Gadsby and Jonah Lancaster from Merewether on boards two and three while Alex Williams from Merewether was able to defeat Bhavya Chaudhari from Marian on board four.

“As Marian was able to win three of the four games played, we were crowned the NSW State Country Schools Chess Champions for 2022.”

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Dr Marshall firmly believed that the drama of the finals proved once and for all the board game was also a genuine sport.

“There are those among us that consider that chess is not a sport,” he said.

“After all, it doesn’t have a ball, a field, pads or gloves.

“But then, I would argue that a sport makes you tense. You train for a sport. And a sport is pitting your abilities against those of an opponent in the spirit of being a good sportsperson.

“Chess fulfils all these criteria and more … Training for chess is the same as training for any other sport and no other sport allows a year 7 student to pit their skills and abilities against a year 12 student and have a reasonable chance of winning.

“I would like to congratulate all the teams that played this year and look forward to the competition in the coming year.”

A full list of results of the Country Secondary School Chess Competition can be found on the NSW Junior Chess League website.

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