Agneepath 2023: The Ashoka Report
By Kartikay Dutta, UG23
After four long years, Ashoka University welcomed back Agneepath to its campus between 17th and 19th February, 2023. In its fifth iteration, Ashoka saw the arrival of 29 different colleges and universities from across the country, and 700+ participants, competing across 9 different sports. For a large number of undergraduate students, it was a special experience of welcoming a vast variety of different contingents and personalities and to play host to them for the first time in their time at college, putting forth Ashoka’s best and receiving it in return. It was a weekend that breathed life into campus, with energy and excitement beginning early in the afternoons and carrying forth into the evening, manifesting in a frenzied energy at the volleyball and Dhaba basketball courts, all the way to the student-run stalls set up in the atrium.
At the end of the day, the weekend was about sports. At the home fest, the pressure was always on Ashoka’s student-athletes to put on a show and produce results, to proudly defend their home turf against opposing teams that were just as hungry to win.
Ashoka put forth two teams in chess, which was the first event to conclude, and both made it through to the semifinals. While the Ashoka Red team would progress to the finals after a contest which went all the way to a tiebreaker against Shiv Nadar University, Ashoka Blue would fall to IIT Delhi in the other semifinal, setting up a final between IIT-D and the host team. Once again, it was a tight contest between the two outfits, with the 4 main matches being drawn at 2-2 and a blitz-style tiebreaker being repeated, with each team putting forth one member to compete in a best-of-three, five-minute format. Unfortunately for Ashoka Red, IIT-D pulled through for the victory — but left Ashoka with a well-deserved silver medal.
It was in the team sports that Ashoka had the greatest success. Perhaps the most heart-racing event for the Ashokan contingents throughout the weekend was volleyball — in particular, Ashoka’s matches against rivals O.P. Jindal Global University, both on the men’s and women’s side. First on Friday, the women’s teams: Ashoka were slow to start, and Jindal took the first set, but found themselves faced by a more determined Ashokan outfit, who levelled it at 1-1, setting up a mouth-watering deciding set. Jindal sprinted ahead 13-6, but Ashoka once again showed that they would not be pushovers, and forced deuce before going on to claim victory in a memorable romp of a volleyball match. It was a near-identical sequence of events on Saturday in the men’s match, as the first set went to Jindal, before Ashoka won the next two sets, saving a match point in the decisive third set to boot.
The men’s team set up a semifinal against UPES, and would win the first set in that contest, only to fall behind to the visitors and ultimately lose 3-1 on sets. UPES went on to lose the finals to a powerhouse BML Munjal University team. Meanwhile, the women’s team qualified for the finals, but were up against a well-drilled and strong Lady Shri Ram College, who emerged comfortable victors — but both teams’ matches and energy will live long in memory for their quality and the drama it involved.
Ashoka’s most dominant sport across the weekend was certainly tennis. A mixed event in a best-of-5 format, with men’s and women’s singles, mixed doubles, and men’s and women’s singles, the Ashoka Red team bludgeoned their way through the entire tournament, and ended up as runaway winners. Signal-sending victories in the group stages against Munjal and Jindal set up a semifinal against IIT-D, and the momentum continued as the team established themselves as the unit to beat entering the finals against Sri Venkateswara College. With silverware on the line, Ashoka won both singles matches through Sarthak Gandhi and Deepika Vadlamani, and although there was a stutter with a loss in the mixed doubles, the momentum couldn’t be arrested as victory was sealed with a men’s doubles victory to seal the tie 3-1 — the last event to end at Agneepath, a crowning moment for Ashoka.
The most popular and well-watched sports across the weekend, however, were the usual suspects: basketball and football. It is a credit to both the quality these teams put on display and the raucous support their friends and collegemates who came to watch provided that there were representatives in all 4 of the finals across these two sports. Supercharged by the home atmosphere and months of work dedicated towards this weekend, the Ashoka Red men’s basketball team won group stage matches against Munjal and Bennett comfortably, before beating their Ashoka Blue counterparts in the quarterfinals, and persevering in a tight semifinal 50-46 against SNU despite trailing 46-45 in the closing moments. They were up against powerhouses in basketball Kirori Mal College, and unfortunately for the team, that was a step too far as KMC ran out to a 25-point lead in the third quarter and held on for a 51-34 victory, However, it was a memorable, high-quality, and well-fought tournament for the Ashoka team, and one they will no doubt be proud of in the days and weeks to come.
It was a similar story for the women’s basketball team, who went unbeaten in their group stage matches against Bennett, SNU, and WUD, showing a dominance and confidence in their play which suggested that they intended to make the most of their home-court advantage. A confident victory over Jamia Millia Islamia in the semifinals secured a gold-match match-up against Jesus & Mary College. In many ways, the paths of the men’s and women’s team mirrored one another’s: they showed great ability and grit throughout the tournament, but were simply outmatched by strong opposition in the final. JMC would put a stamp on Ashoka’s scoring with fierce defence, and ended up 35-15 victors. Two finals in basketball for Ashoka, and two silver medals — plenty of positives and memories to take forward, but also an opportunity for both teams to learn from it and improve going forward.
An event in which tournament-long dominance also resulted in a gold medal was women’s football. Fresh off a gold medal at the LNMIIT sports fest in Jaipur, the team would have been in-form and high on confidence, and it translated onto the field, as Ashoka Red beat rivals Jindal 3-0 in the first match of the tournament, captain Dhrthi Bhat scoring all 3 in the first half and sending a message: this was their patch, and they didn’t intend to let anyone else win. A 3-0 against the Ashoka Blue team followed, setting up a semifinal clash against JMC. In the tightest match of their run, playing a technically-secure and competitive JMC team, the Ashoka outfit was still capable of digging deep and grinding out a 1-0 result, setting up a final against Krea University, flying in all the way from Andhra Pradesh. A quick start saw the women’s team take a 1-0 lead into half-time via Neeta Kumari, before capitalizing on Krea’s need to score by adding on two late goals — a 3-0 victory, clinching a huge gold medal for Ashoka, seeing the women’s team win the trophy and keep bragging rights.
The men’s football Red team began their tournament in an equally dominant fashion, putting 4 past Munjal in their opening group game before beating WUD comprehensively as well, qualifying for the semifinals. It was the Blue team which had the more dramatic and heartbreaking rub of things, as they edged past Delhi College of Arts and Commerce with a late penalty 2-1, before nearly repeating the trick against Bennett. It wasn’t to be, though, as Bennett scored a last-minute equalizer to book their place in the semifinals at Blue’s expense. It was a revenge game for the Red against Bennet in the semis, and a true test of what they could do on home patch. In the end, it was a narrow 1-0 victory sealed with a penalty after a handball call against Bennett, and Ashoka were once again through to the finals, with the opportunity to seal a famous football double in Agneepath 5.0. It was a slow start for the hosts as they were caught napping to go down 1-0, but the second half began strongly with an equalizing goal by Aryan Yadav, before Zahaan Shapoorjee scored the goal that put the title in the bag for a joyous home crowd who had shown up in massive numbers, and made an immense wall of noise that undoubtedly spurred the Ashokan players on.
In the end, the contest for the overall Agneepath trophy was as tight as could be, and it was neck-and-neck between Ashoka and fierce rivals Jindal. Ultimately, Jindal were awarded the rolling trophy for their quality and the results they produced, taking the trophy back across the highway for the next year — but there is no doubt that Ashoka’s athletes will be thrilled with what they were able to achieve, pumped up by the promise of what the future could hold, and hungry to bring back the trophy to home shores next year.
Swimming was dominated largely on the men’s side by swimmers from Jindal, and on the women’s by JMC. Those teams swept the individual category, but Ashoka did come away with 3 silver medals and 1 bronze. It was in the mixed free relay that Ashoka shone, winning a gold medal and putting the hosts on the board.
Cricket was played at the nearby Red Panther Cricket Academy’s ground, and the men’s team won their first match against World University of Design to qualify for the quarterfinals. However, it would be heartbreak in the quarters against Munjal, as Ashoka were always in the contest while chasing a target of 106 in 15 overs, but fell agonizingly short by 8 runs. The cricket tournament would be won by a dominant Jindal outfit over Manipal Jaipur.
Table tennis was a disappointing event on both men’s and women’s sides, as the men’s team lost both their matches, and the women’s team lost each of theirs. Jindal claimed gold in both categories, silver in the men’s, while Plaksha University claimed silver in the women’s.
On the badminton courts, where Ashoka entered four teams — two in the men’s and two in the women’s — but unfortunately would see none compete in the finals, as stronger opposition outlasted them in crucial matches. On the women’s side, Ashoka Red were knocked out final in their group stage match against Bennett University, who entered the final against eventual victors Jindal. On the men’s side, the Red team did qualify for the semifinals and were up against the IIT-Delhi team. It was a tight contest, as the two teams split the first 4 matches evenly, setting up a deciding winner-takes-all singles match. In the end, it was IIT-D that proved to have too much depth in its ranks, setting up finals, yet again, against the eventual champions Jindal.