Oxford 1 – 10 Cambridge WITH convincing wins against Exeter, Bristol and Bath behind them, the Blues Women’s Lacrosse team were prepared for a tough match this week in the University Parks, as they played host to their Varsity rivals. But despite having an equal share of possession, they could not have anticipated the reality check they were dealt when on the final whistle they had only one goal to their name.
When Cambridge shot out of the blocks to go 2 goals up after just 5 minutes, the girls in dark blue realised that victory would entail a fight from start to finish. However, some loose passing and turnovers against them at the beginning of the game undermined good work done in defence. After saving the first Oxford shot, a Light Blue fast break clinched them a third goal, asking questions of Oxford’s communication in defence. After their coaches called a timeout, the home side jogged back onto the pitch with renewed resolve, but unfortunately this did not translate into a score, as the attacks settled into rather flat play, inviting Cambridge to turn over, leading to a sustained attack around the Oxford goal and a fourth score for the visitors.
Not long before half-time, captain Els Sobczyk gave Oxford an early lifeline from the goal, pulling off a great save to redeem the score margin, and Claire Strauss made an excellent tackle on a Cambridge player’s shot to suspend Cambridge’s goal flurry. This seemed to lift the players  somewhat; after speedy first-year Leah Templeman flew past countless players in midfield to create a break for the Blues, Oli Valner linked up in attack and finally put Oxford on the scoreboard, deftly nudging the ball past the goalie, the post and into the back of the net.
With an appetite for goals, Oxford’s attack picked up pace, and Kate Hobday ran off a well-placed pick which Emma Readman had sprinted up from defence to set, only to see her shot skim the outside of the post. With the half-time whistle signalling a much-needed break, Oxford seemed to be back in the game, despite being 3 goals down.
Valner and Templeman looked dangerous around the Cambridge goal at the beginning of the second half. However, when the ball was turned over and play swiftly changed ends, Oxford’s defence was caught without a player marking the post and Sobczyk was given no chance against a precision-angle shot from a player running from behind the goal.
 In response to Cambridge’s re-applied pressure, the home attacks ran some set-plays, but some unusually slow stickwork and good hustling by the Cambridge goalkeeper, both in and out of goal, denied them a score.
Despite assertive defence from Rosie Price and Strauss who were forced to make two more checks on players mid-shot, the fast paced game Cambridge had chosen to play was working, and a sustained period of attack and sharp passing were rewarded with more goals. When the score reached 8-1 another Oxford timeout was called, but with 13 minutes left to play it would require something extraordinary for them to turn the game around.
Despite inevitable tiredness at the end of a very physical game early in the season, the Dark Blues did not give up, and the last quarter saw some of the most linked passes of the match. Amy Jordan was instrumental in some promising attacks on goal, and on most occasions it was the frustratingly good play of the Light Blue goalkeeper that prevented Oxford from scoring, as there was no lack of shots. When she decided to stray from her circle on a trip behind goal, Sophie Caulfield and Valner’s aggressive tackling raised spectators’ hopes as they seemed determined to secure another goal for their team.
It was not to be, however, and despite dominating the last few centre draws, Oxford did not have the consistency or finishing ability to match the Cantabs on this occasion. With inevitable complacency in the Cambridge camp, the road to Varsity will be bumpy for the Dark Blues. But glimpses of potential and impressive determination in the face of defeat suggest that this contest is by no means over.