The Blues dominated on their home court this Wednesday. Oxford levelled their season head-to-head against their opponents Nottingham 1st’s, and sent them packing with a heavy defeat to contemplate on the journey home.
With the all-important and all-consuming Varsity match fast approaching, the OUNC girls were buzzing with energy, feeding off the hype surrounding it. Having drawn against Cambridge last week, they were keen to increase their intensity in this week’s match and to string together a series of wins on their way towards the big encounter. The pressure will be especially intense this year, with high expectations after a three-year winning streak against their arch rivals. After having seen their star centre injured, however, and a strong showing from Cambridge seven days ago, the girls will have a tough task on their hand when they attempt to extend their present record.
From the outset, the Blues were all about fast feet, strong interceptions and setting up goal-scoring opportunities. Within the first minute, the new addition to the Blues, GS Rhian Price, previously a 2nd’s player, had scored, giving Oxford the lead.
Oxford demonstrated excellent movement of the ball across the court, sending sweeping passes from player to player. Failing to finish, however, saw the Nottingham defence snatch the ball away and provide their goal shooter with a chance to score. It was successfully taken, and evened the scoreline. The game continued to move rapidly from end to end, with each team creating chances for themselves. By the end of a frenetic first quarter, which showed the skills of both sides, Oxford had managed to create a 7-3 lead, which was principally down to their superior finishing ability, and good marking inside the D.
Following a positive pep-talk from Coach Sandra Du Plessis, Oxford came back on court with a fiery temperament. By combining speed and composure, they scored an immediate goal. Du Plessis’ inspiring talks would be a constant feature throughout the match, with the hotheaded coach often supplying the encouragement her players needed to find the extra gear.
Despite the rousing words from the sidelines, Oxford’s momentum began to stall midway through the game. The Blues lost concentration and allowed Nottingham to perform combative interceptions and force even more opportunities to shoot at goal. The tourists’ shooters seemed to be finding their range as well, which led to Nottingham beginning to make small inroads into the Oxford lead.
In a frantic few minutes of play, Oxford began to concede numerous goals. However an injury time-out came as a godsend, providing them the opportunity to regroup. Following some bullet passes, they eventually scoreed and ended the second quarter with a one-point lead at 12–11.
The second half of the match saw Oxford prove themselves as the stronger team, both in terms of physicality and fitness. A new impetus seemed to grip the entire team after the respite of half time. They scored goal after goal against a tiring Nottingham outfit, who remained somewhat stuck on 13. It was clearly an unlucky number for Nottingham, as their shooting became increasingly erratic.
On the other hand, Oxford coupled excellent defending with a very strong attack, putting their opponents under constant pressure and forcing them to make mistakes that Oxford could immediately capitalise on.
As time ticked away, Oxford did their best to hide their tiredness and pushed for every ball. A brilliant one-handed take down the centre by OUNC President Holly Woolven was connected to the statuesque 6’2 GS Venetia Barrett. Another goal was scored for Oxford, and the match ended with a sterling victory to the Blues at a scoreline of 30-17.
Coach Du Plessis was delighted at her team’s success, and emphasised the ‘brilliant decision making’ and ‘fighting spirit’ that enabled them to play to their full potential for three out of the four quarters. Having struggled with consistency in the second half of the season, this particular win for Oxford provided a much needed confidence boost. Captain Zillah Anderson underlined their ‘mental strength and good point construction’ as key to the match,and she confidently looks forward to a successful culmination to the season.
The Varsity match, the biggest of the year, looms ever closer on the horizon. It remains to be seen if the pressure of previous years will weigh too heavily on their shoulders or if Oxford will rise to the challenge