Champions: The Cambridge Men's Handball TeamAnna Khalfaoui

Handball used to be a sport only known on the continent, but since the London Olympics, it is becoming increasingly popular in Blighty, and it has made an appearance on the British university sports scene. Only two years after forming, the Cambridge University Handball Club (CUHB) have already won their first accolades at the British University Championships. The men’s team won the championship title in style, crushing all opposition including GDBO. The women’s team returned home having achieved a great third place in the Plate Finals.

Regional round

The competition started in Michaelmas, when both the men’s and women’s teams went to London on the weekends of 22nd/23rd November and 14th/15th February to play the regional round.

On the first weekend, the men won 4 games, drew against Bath and lost against Oxford. The weekend was more of a challenge for the women’s team. To begin their first ever competition, the team faced the two strongest seeds of the group, and unfortunately lost.

The second weekend got off to a good start when the team were given the wrong set of keys for one of the CUSU vans and had a flat tyre on the other van. Cool, calm and collected, Cambridge somehow made their way to Birmingham. The men’s team won all of their matches, putting them level with Oxford at the top of the group. The women’s team won two points because UEL could not field a team, but had to give in to strong teams from other universities, including AECC and Oxford, who were the second and third placed teams in the tournament.

National round

The already thrilling tournament was to reach its peak in the national round, taking place in Birmingham on the weekend of 7th/8th March.

The women's team entered the Plate Finals and had to face a difficult task: playing six matches with no bench and one player down – five instead of six field players. Impressively, Cambridge were still a dangerous threat to the other teams, winning against Lancaster and Bangor in two excellent matches on the first day. The defence nicely hindered the attacking teams in scoring.

Hartung on centre and Vaideanu on half-right coordinated the defence superbly. The wing players Lubel and Pahita shifted in nicely to help the outnumbered centre and half-players, only ever allowing shots from the weaker wings and thereby helping goalie Woo to fend off attacks. Woo's quick reactions were impressive, saving two penalties and stopping countless shots.

On the second day, the women's team started off with a tie in a tough match against Birmingham. The result, 3-3, would not have been possible without goals by Hartung from the 9 metre, Khalfaoui from the right wing and Vaideanu from the right back.

Cambridge then had to give in to the strong teams of Warwick and Kent, who went on to take the top two seeds in the group. Both teams were experienced enough to halt the attack of the Cambridge team, who were outnumbered. In their last game of the finals, Cambridge mobilised their last reserves for a win against Bath. As the fighter she is, Vaideanu would not let her opponent pass her at any price – her commitment earned her a questionable one-minute suspension. This left Khalfaoui, Hartung, Veith and Pahita to confront Bath with two players down.

Cambridge Women celebrate their third place finish in the Plate FinalsAnna Khalfaoui

Remarkably, they were able to avert the danger and prevent Bath from scoring. By the end of the match, Cambridge led 3-2 thanks to goals by Veith and Hartung. This was all at risk in the last minute of the match, when instead of using the time in their interest, the team rushed to attack and unnecessarily lost possession of the ball. Trying to stop this, coach Zuehlsdorff screamed his head off in vain on the sideline. Luckily, nothing changed with respect to the score, although the thrill added an extra level of excitement to the match. Instead, the team secured the third win of the tournament and achieved an impressive third place. 

The men’s team cleared the group stages of the Nationals without breaking a sweat. A reality check came in the last-16, when they won against Kent (9-7), a side that had poor attack and a weak defence, but most of the chances for Cambridge ended in near-misses. GDBO were waiting in quarter finals, coming into the game as reigning Varsity champions. Every time the teams had met, Oxford had won by a slim margin. With a barrage of Cambridge shots from the get-go, the boys seemed up for the challenge. Cambridge heavy-hitters Dan Bode and Ignacio Vázquez dismantled the timid Oxford attack, with the matador Alejandro García widening the gap and putting the nail in the coffin with his 9-metre slapshots to take the score to 13-6. For the first time, Oxford had nothing to write home about.

The tightest and most spectacular match of the competition was yet to come against Cranfield in the semi-finals. Cranfield did not lose any time in showing what they were capable of and put up a fight from the start. On Cambridge’s first attack, Cranfield's left winger intercepted the ball and ran towards Cambridge’s goal without opposition. There he faced the Cambridge goalkeeper Kerberos Klos, who pulled off a magnificent stop, the first of many incredible feats he accomplished during the match. Nonetheless, Cranfield secured a one-goal lead for most of the first half. Thankfully, Cambridge managed to score in the very last seconds, equalising to 5-5.

Oxford crashing against Cambridge's equanimous defenceAi Fujita Fryett

Boosted by this comeback, Cambridge emerged from the half-time break ready to kick on, their well-oiled defensive machinery running at full power and launching devastating fast-breaks. Four minutes before the final whistle, Klos saved a penalty which proved to be the decisive moment of the game as Cambridge scored in the following attack, achieving a three-point lead for the first time. Seeing their chances to reach the final slipping away, the Cranfield men gave it everything they had. Unfazed, Cambridge kept their cool, with the defence holding fast to ensure that they stayed ahead for a ticket to the final. The team eventually won a clear-cut victory 13-10.

Cambridge had all the pressure on their shoulders as favourites for the final. Bath opened the scoring, but Cambridge's de Bussy-Girard soon equalised. Mid-way through the match, the “Bavarian Bros” Stefan and Florian Ströhl knifed through the Bath defence. The bench lost count of Stefan’s lob shots to the top corner, so beautifully executed that all the teams watching from the sidelines cheered in the crowd (including GDBO). The lads were the undisputed winners of the tournament with a clear victory in the final (13-8), coming home with a clean sweep and a trophy to drink from.

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