Oxford snooker is reborn

Competing in the BUCS Championships Snooker event for the first time in many years, Oxford University’s five man team promptly saw off all challengers to win the second tier Shield event,  doing so in the most dramatic of fashions.

Ties in BUCS snooker, this year held in Leeds, involve five individual matches, each played over 2 frames. Oxford began brightly with victories from Mark Pitfield and captain Richard Walters contributing to a 7-3 triumph for Oxford against Imperial IIs in the group stages. Prospects looked more ominous, however, at the start of Oxford’s second match against Ulster IIs, as the Northern Irish team’s lead player Darren Ryles opened with a superb break of 55 at his first visit to the table. Jonathan Leader Maynard, however, fought back, conceding the opening frame narrowly, before winning the second to record a significant draw for Oxford. Pitfield meanwhile dominated Oxford’s second match for a 2-0 victory, and Ulster then crumpled, conceding more than one of their remaining matches outright, to allow Oxford a thumping 9-1 victory. Oxford’s final group stage tie against Exeter was a far more tightly contested affair, but victories from Maynard and Joe Sturge helped secure a 6-4 victory.

Coming through the group-stages undefeated, Oxford overwhelmed Durham IIs in the Shield quarter-finals; Walters, Pitfield and Maynard winning all of Oxford’s first six frames and in doing so ending the tie after the third match, 6-0.

Reaching the semi-finals of the Shield resulted in a special one-off match against Championship team Ulster Is, with the possibility of qualification for the intermediate ‘Trophy’ event. None of the Shield semi-finalists managed to beat their respective Trophy teams, but Oxford came by far the closest, drawing their match with Ulster’s first team 5-5 and only eventually conceding defeat in a tight one frame decider.

Business resumed as normal back in the Shield semi-finals, as the team lined up against Southampton IIs, Sam Packwood winning the single frame needed from his final match to secure passage for Oxford 6-3.

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Victory saw Oxford face the daunting prospect of taking on Leeds in the final, a team that included star player Glen Spalling, who had set a new BUCS record with a high break of 112 earlier in the weekend. With matches in the final being the best-of-three frames, the teams needed to win three matches of the five to take the title. Mark Pitfield opened strongly for Oxford with a 2-0 win, and Jonathan Leader Maynard became the only player in the event to take a frame off Spalling, before eventually conceding defeat 2-1. Captain Richard Walters had to fight back in successive frames in Oxford’s third match, and did so superbly to win 2-0, but Joe Sturge, Oxford’s only player to remain undefeated in the six previous ties, needed snookers in his match’s deciding frame, making defeat all but assured.

This meant that everything fell down to the final match, with Oxford’s hopes resting on St. Anne’s’ Sam Packwood. With the first two frames shared 1-1, it all went down to the final frame and while Packwood fought hard in the decider, he eventually found himself 7 points behind with just the final 7-point black on the table.

A lengthy safety battle ensued, with Leeds supporters joined by a vociferous group from Ulster, Spalling’s former university, backing his Leeds team mate. Undaunted, Packwood eventually resolved the deadlock with an extraordinary long pot on the black; tying the deciding frame and forcing a re-spotted black to determine the winner, for likely the first time in BUCS history. Further safety was the unsurprising result, before Packwood produced one final, truly astounding pot. With the white in baulk and the black near the cushion about six inches below the middle pocket, Packwood slammed the black into the bottom right corner pocket at pace, securing the title for Oxford.

In reaching the semi-finals of the Shield, Oxford ensured qualification for the first tier ‘Championship’ next year, and the team’s success has validated captain Walters’ efforts to develop snooker alongside OUPSC’s more established Pool circuit. OUPSC has, in the past, sought half-blues for the sport, which currently remain unawarded. This success in BUCS however, may increase pressure on the Oxford University Blues Committees to relent to their recommendation.

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