By Sarah Flaherty
For their rematch against Birmingham in three days, the Women’s Blues found themselves in the unusual position of hosting a match in Cambridge itself. Lacking a suitable pool, the team is used to accommodating hours of driving to reach even nominally ‘home’ matches. It was therefore a welcome change to attend classes and other commitments, have a square meal, and meet early for a thorough tactics session and warmup. Physically and mentally ready to repeat their recent victory against the visitors, the team lined up for the starting whistle happy to be home.
Detracting from this advantage, the team was forced to contend with challenging playing conditions in a narrow, asymmetrical and inadequately-ventilated pool. While the team’s dedicated training had instilled some tolerance of the facility’s choking chloramine mist, both home and visiting players soon succumbed to the infamous ‘Leys’ cough’. We can only hope that Cambridge will one day come to its senses and build its athletes a regulation pool, or else have the medical faculty advise us on poolside treatment strategies for acute inhalation injury.
The Cambridge team had done their utmost to prepare for these difficulties, and played confidently and cohesively from the starting whistle. Overpowering Birmingham on the right wing, Sarah Flaherty and Claudia Feng scored early goals in rapid succession. Cambridge held this lead with an energetic defensive effort by the whole team, leaving Birmingham with few opportunities to shoot.
The team’s coordination was disrupted as they moved to attack the shallow end for the second quarter. The women were outpaced by Birmingham’s quick turnovers and, despite impressive goalkeeping by Blandine Bénézit, conceded two goals early in the quarter. Encouraged by captain Laura Schubert, the team responded with sustained effort and communication, and progressed to the next quarter with the score tied.
The team returned to play with renewed determination, bolstered by an immediate goal by formidable newcomer Lilly-Anne Hulshof. Returning to the stronger team dynamics of the first quarter, Cambridge pulled further ahead with goals from Flaherty and Kate Read. Despite a last-minute goal from Birmingham, the team finished the quarter with a restored 5:3 lead.
Cambridge carried this momentum forward into an intense final quarter. Bold long-distance shots from Birmingham tied the score within the first few minutes, but the team had plenty left in the tank to dominate the remainder of the game, with a goal from Frances Turrell and two more from Hulshof, our overwhelmingly nominated player of the match. With this comfortable lead, the team focused on keeping play controlled, but Ella Irwin saw an opportunity that was too good to pass up, scoring from the two-meter line with fourteen seconds left on the clock, and bringing the final score to a commanding 9:5.
The Blues leave this match with a definitive win and useful lessons to guide them to victory for the remainder of the BUCS season, and in the hotly anticipated Varsity match to be hosted in Cambridge later this month.