An Oxford player goes for the hoop Ben Phillips

Sunday March 3rd marked the Netball Varsity matches, hosted by Cambridge in front of a boisterous University Sports Centre crowd. The Blues capped off an incredibly competitive season with another spirited display, as the game only got away from them as the fatigue of a long season appeared to set in. The scoreline ultimately flattered a very well-drilled Oxford side, as Oxford finished the stronger, stringing together a series of goals as Cambridge tired.

The lively crowd had already been treated to a 45-40 win for the Swallows and a 53-32 thumping by the Jays. Oxford Blues, however, in search of redemption, had every reason to be confident. An undefeated season in the league meant that they carried a great deal of momentum into the match that would prove pivotal in the final result.

Rather predictably, the game got off to an incredibly fast start. Spurred on by the effervescent sell-out crowd – the Oxford stand seemingly at war with the Cambridge in making themselves known – Goal Shooter and former Oxford Captain Elsa Wakeman scored the first goal of the afternoon. Cambridge VC Zoe Starbuck shortly equalized to make it 1-1. What ensued was a game of cat and mouse, a back-and-forth between Wakeman, Ellen O’Brien and Starbuck and Sarah Godlee in an attack-dominated opening quarter: 2-1, 2-2, 3-2, 4-3, 6-6, 7-7.

Captains and Centres Sophie Maitland (Cambridge) and Isa Cooper (Oxford) went toe to toe, pulling the strings and providing key passes to set up chances. Neither attack was letting up, as the potent counterattack of Oxford met its match the more methodical buildup of Cambridge. A lack of discipline in defence, which arguably proved a thorn in the Cambridge side on the day, allowed Oxford the 8-7 lead. Thirty seconds before the end of the first quarter, Cambridge were pressing for a vital equalizer, and with it the momentum going into the break. Their shot was blocked, and Oxford capitalized: on the sound of the klaxon Wakeman converted, giving them the momentum and a two-goal cushion into the break. Just how crucial would this be?

Indeed, Oxford used this momentum to their advantage, and through Wakeman and O’Brien, the score was very quickly 11-8. Starbuck responded to cut the deficit to two after a great counterattack, as the injection of Centre Jordan Moxey added energy to Cambridge’s attack. The three-point cushion was restored, and so began a rather more cagey period of missed chances and inconsistent defence.

“The Blues capped off an incredibly competitive season with another spirited display, as the game only got away from them as the fatigue of a long season appeared to set in”

Indeed, the first scoreless minute occurred deep into the second quarter, a testament to the attacking capabilities of both sides. Nevertheless, it would be Wakeman and O’Brien’s ability to convert from long-range that proved the difference in this quarter. Arguably helped slightly by the run of the ball – Starbuck and Godlee were unlucky to land a few shots only for them to rebound – Oxford established a five-point lead at half time, once again scoring a vital goal at the very last second.

Cambridge introduced Carla Hill who quickly pulled a goal back for the Light Blues with a free shot at the start of the third quarter. Then, a great long-range goal by Godlee sparked something of a Cambridge revival – they reduced the deficit to three, and the crowd sensed that, with the momentum now tilting in their favour, they were very much still in it. However, the unrelenting Wakeman and replacement Goal Attack, Maddie Oshodi, were not making it easy.


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20-17 quickly became 25-18, as Cambridge’s impetus was firmly halted. Cambridge continued to fade towards the end of the quarter – Captain Isa Cooper was creating chances at Centre and Wakeman and Oshodi would duly oblige on converting. Cambridge will rue their discipline; obstruction and contact in the D allowed Oxford attackers on occasion three attempts at scoring, and players of their calibre were not going to forfeit such opportunities. A late flurry of goals from Wakeman meant that, as ever, Oxford finished the quarter the stronger. 32-20 going into the final period.

Unfortunately for Cambridge, it seemed that the competitive game of cat and mouse had turned into a rather less competitive affair of hare and tortoise. Within five minutes, Oxford had added eight goals to their tally. Wakeman was imperious, and took advantage of a tiring Cambridge defence. Repeated offences in the D meant that Oxford’s skilled shooters were given several opportunities, and perhaps the Light Blues sensed that on this occasion, they were simply outmatched. A spirited surge towards the end was to no avail, and after the full time whistle, the jubilant Oxford crowd careered onto the pitch in celebration. Credit to both teams, in what was a tight affair until the last quarter. Ultimately a deserved win for Oxford, who combined unwavering defence with ruthless attack. However, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. With the depth shown in the Jays and Swallows teams, Cambridge will travel to Oxford next year stronger and hungry for revenge.

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