By Laura Schubert
The women’s varsity match of 2017 was truly enjoyable for the Cambridge team, as they retained their trophy after a 10-3 victory. Though while in the pool the match went by in a blur, memories from the stands, the bench and the pool being you the detail of an hour of action!
The whistle blows and Claudia Feng, a sprinter, competes in the swim off. Although Oxford get the ball, Cambridge’s defence is strong and aware. All the shots are deflected by the goalie Blandine Bénézit, who put in a strong performance throughout the match, and this leads to a corner that is shut down swiftly. An energetic and rapid counter from Cambridge follows and after 5 minutes Captain Laura Schubert bangs the first goal of the match into the top right corner of the very tall shallow end goal.
The next minute sees two exclusions for Oxford, with the first man-up for Cambridge played in practiced 4-2 formation but without goal. The second man-up, however, has Kate Read, as ever looking ridiculously calm every time she holds the ball, fake, and fake again, until the ball is released into the top left corner. The quarter ends Cambridge 2, Oxford 0 and a sentiment of “Yes- we’ve got this!”.
Oxford swap goalies ahead of the second quarter, and Cambridge looks to attack the deep end with fresh energy in the pool thanks to frequent substitutions directed by women’s coach, Ashley Bygraves. Laura Robinson is sent out in her first Varsity match for closing in on an Oxford player too soon after a foul. The man-down is handled well, with a secure defence, where it seemed to the spectators that Morgan was able to ‘push Oxford against the wall and all over the place’. Either those leg sets pay off or it may just have been easy to stand and push. It’s Cambridge’s attack, and the 30 seconds are nearly over when Schubert kicks away as she turns her defender, she shoots hard and the ball lands in the bottom left corner of the goal. A restart and again Cambridge steals the ball. It is passed from newcomer Ailsa Kiely up to 2m on the right wing, where the team’s lefty, Sarah Flaherty waits in position. A classic move that has saved many a match, the shot from that left hand give Cambridge a lead of 4-0.
The team sees more subs, and Ella Irwin sets up in pit, and when passed the ball tries a backhand twisting shot which narrowly misses. Oxford attack and Read in pit defence holds Oxford to account. But an exclusion for Read gives Oxford the man-up advantage, and their first goal falls. Just 30 seconds later foul words leave Read’s mouth, resulting in her second exclusion of the match. No harm done until Feng is sent out, and Bénézit is out to the test during the man-down defence. The ball hits the crossbar low, bounces down onto the back of her head and into the goal. Oxford’s second goal was a spectacle to watch. Under a minute to go, and Cambridge set up a neat attack. A clean pass from Feng to Schubert results in a flick shot into the right corner. Communication is key and at halftime Cambridge are are leading 5-2.
Third quarter starts with the reassuring sound of the vuvuzela. Crowds cheer from the stands and one can be sure that the alumni have returned…at least this year there was no drum. Attacking the shallow again, Claudia narrowly loses the swim-off, but within 5 seconds Irwin steals the ball at half way and passes it forward to a sprinting Schubert at 4 meters. She doesn’t stop, and with the defenders on her back a push shot must do to secure Schubert’s fourth goal. After some confusion with substitutions, first 6 players then 8, Cambridge again bring in their newer players Lara Tritton, Ailsa Kiely and Becky Mackett who play their first varsity match with a cool head. But more confusion arose as Oxford scored shot, and despite it being a non-goal, the teams lined up for a restart, while the ball is still in play. Defence in the deep end is held strong, with last year’s Captain Frances Turrell and Francesca Giordaniello keeping the ball away from the pit in this quarter.
Attacking the shallow Oxford’s defence is strong, and so at 30 seconds Schubert dumps the ball in the corner for the second time that match. But too late- the gong has gone and she is excluded for wasting time. Oxford set up their man-up, and a strong shot from ex-Cambridge player Rosanna O’keefe is blocked by Flaherty. Only 30 seconds to go in the quarter, and Cambridge gain another man-up as an Oxford player is excluded for swimming over a Cambridge player. A pass from Schubert to Turrell to Flaherty on the right wing. No shot from there in the shallow, but with the top two pressed out, Flaherty passes back to Schubert on the right post and it’s another goal for Cambridge bringing it to 7-2.
As the final quarter begins there is loud cheering to be heard, and Turrell has her family and colleagues holding a banner as big as a goal up to support. Oxford swap goalie again to no avail, and at one point there are two balls in the water, as the men’s team were already warming up for their match. But this was not before an Oxford player was excluded again, with the man-up in the deep end leading to a deflected shot. Turrell takes the corner and passes to Read in pit who is positioned goal side and shoots but it is saved, resulting in another corner on the right wing. Turrel takes it again and Read shouts ‘they’re pressing – quick 1-2′ so Turrell passes and swiftly receives it back from a flick, shooting unmarked to secure Cambridge’s 8th goal.
Substitutions result in a change in team for fresh energy, and as Oxford attack and wrestle for the ball with Bénézit, Read helps out with a casual grab of costume, leading to her third exclusion – she is wrapped. During the man-down Cambridge steal the ball, and Irwin sets up in pit in the deep. With a well timed pass from Morgan, Irwin shoots and lands the ball in the upper right corner giving Cambridge a 7 goal lead with 4 minutes to go. But Oxford don’t give up, and at 2 minutes left, they score their third goal. Cambridge also play full force, but the ball goes back and forth. With 10 seconds left, the ball is at half way, and Turrell on the left 7 m out. Time is running out: there’s a quick shout, a quick pass, and Turrell has the ball. 3 seconds. She see the goal and wants it. She goes for a lob shot, and miraculously the ball lands smoothly in the bottom right corner as the clock shows 0.01.
The game ends there, 10-3, and the team cannot contain their joy and excitement at the beauty of that last goal. Turrell’s family go wild and she is ecstatic to have ended her fourth and final varsity in that way. Coach Ashley is pushed into the pool by assistant coach Emma Tarrant, and hugs and shouts follow.