Oxford 37Worcester 26Oxford’s netball team got their season off to the best possible start at Iffley Road last Wednesday. The Blues decisively beat Worcester, likely to be one of their biggest rivals for BUSA league promotion, while the reserve team, the Roos, crushed their opponents. The Blues’ performance was particularly encouraging for the season ahead. The game against Worcester was always going to be tight. The two teams had built up a rivalry in the BUSA Midland’s Conference 1A, the highest league below the Premiership. Last year, both sides were just one win away from promotion, and thus have their sites firmly on going one better this season. With only one team to be promoted, Oxford couldn’t afford to start the season with a home loss. With the usual difficulties of a first match – a brief training period of just a week and having to become familiar with the ten new freshers in the squad – the pressure was on the Blues to perform. They rose to the challenge extremely well. Individual skills suffered from a lack of match practise, particularly goal-shooting, which hovered around a disappointingly low average of 60% accuracy; but the team performance was impressive so early on in the season. In defence, they operated an area defence which created perhaps a dozen turnovers by forcing Worcester into difficult or speculative passes, starving them of possession. Going forward, the Blues were marshalled by the experienced trio of player of the match Sarah Hannibal, star Captain Becky Swarbrick and top scorer Caroline Sherrington; with their team-mates constantly looking for space off the ball, these three were able to create numerous shooting chances. These two qualities won Oxford the match. After the first half had finished at 16-all, the Blues put in a devastating spell with the defence working flat out to prevent Worcester from even attempting to shoot and supplying their own shooters with a flood of scoring opportunities. By the time Worcester had responded, they faced an insurmountable seven point lead. Their resistance was largely broken, and Oxford slowly stretched out their advantage over the remaining twenty minutes to a good margin of victory.In the first half, the Blues had looked anything but comfortable. Hannibal and Swarbrick dominated the midfield but, faced with Worcester’s tall defenders, Sherrington and Goal Shooter Venetia Barrett struggled to convert the chances created for them. In the first quarter, Oxford were largely handed a 10-6 lead through a stream of needless Worcester penalties; however, when they improved their discipline in the second quarter, their more accurate shooting allowed them to equalise the scores by half-time. An away win looked a real possibility until Oxford’s charge after half time.Commenting on the win, Captain Swarbrick attributed the victory to the Blues’ superior work off the ball and desire. She admitted a “half time speech” was needed to inspire the Blues’ decisive charge, but they are looking to use it as a base for securing the promotion that they narrowly missed out on last year.Earlier, the Roos had set the tone by demolishing newly promoted II. While the victory reveals little about how they will cope with tougher opposition, it was impressively clinical and will serve as a confidence-boosting start to the season. Derby II 67-3.ARCHIVE: 3rd week MT 2005