This week the Oxford Blues women’s lacrosse team took on Cambridge in their first clash of the new season, having crushed Bath 15-5 in the middle of a hailstorm last week. Last year’s three Oxford-Cambridge fixtures all resulted in victory for the Tabs but this year Oxford seem determined not to let that happen.
“A new season, a new squad. Everyone is beatable, it’s just a case of composure” were the pre-match words of one of the Oxford coaches. Speaking to defender Gabriel Harris, I was told why the squad were especially keen for victory this week, “It’s both the captain and the vice-captain’s birthday today and so we are especially pumped up and ready to go out there and give it our all.”
Following the Swifts’ 24-1 victory over Loughborough minutes earlier, the players took to the field. As the draw was set up and the umpire called for quiet on the sidelines, the tension mounted and the Blues’ most crucial league fixture got underway. After a couple of minutes of settled play at both ends, Oxford’s Emily Sever hit the post and the Cambridge goalie did well to save another Oxford shot.
The deadlock was broken moments later by vice captain Beth Denham, who was assisted by Sabrina Gordon’s meticulously placed feed. Two minutes later, the same duo combined to give Oxford a 2-0 lead, this time with Gordon firing in a shot. The perfect start continued with Gordon’s third, which forced Cambridge to call an early time out.
Cambridge were obviously frustrated by the home side’s strong start, and despite their captain’s angry words, Oxford remained on top after the 3 minute break with Denham finding more gaps in the Cambridge defence with a drive from behind the goal.
It took Cambridge a good 12 minutes to get into the game but even when they did, their first few shots on target were skilfully blocked by the Oxford goalkeeper, Alice Leach. Ellie Walsh gave Cambridge their first goal after about 15 minutes, quickly followed by a second from Allana Livesey. They could have drawn level but again Leach proved unbeatable in goal and Lucy Andrew scored her first of the match to put Oxford 5-2 ahead. Cambridge pulled a goal back just before half time still leaving Oxford three ahead at the break.
Less than a minute after the restart, Denham drove to goal and completed her birthday hat-trick, making it 6-3 and Emily Sever soon found the back of the net to take Oxford to a 7-3 lead. For the second time in the match, Oxford found themselves 4 goals to the good but Cambridge came out much stronger in the second half.
As a result of the end to end play, both teams had to continually sprint the full length of the pitch after shots were saved or possession was lost. Gabriel Harris and Jane Dougherty proved to be a crucial pairing in the Oxford defence, relentlessly recovering the ball and moving it up into the midfield and attack. Cambridge began to settle on the ball much more but still struggled to convert chances.
A well crafted goal by Cambridge’s Laura Plant was arguably the turning point for the away side and suddenly the Tabs found themselves level after a second goal from Allana Livesey and two in quick succession from Daniella Allard.
Oxford called a time out and suspense built up with only ten minutes to go. Cambridge continued to keep possession threateningly close to goal and to Oxford’s despair, Allard scored her third of the match from inside the fan.
As the clock ran down, a tactical battle arose as Cambridge played a possession game, whilst Oxford pushed up on the attack. With two minutes to go, Oxford gained the ball back superbly and seemed likely to score on the break, but it was too little too late and difficult chances were missed by Murphy, Gordon and Andrew. As the whistle blew for full time it was Cambridge who were celebrating the narrow victory of 7-8.
The overwhelming feeling on the sidelines was that after dominating the first half and playing their hearts out in the second, Oxford were unlucky to lose. It was most certainly a game of two halves; Cambridge learnt from their mistakes in the first and went all out in the second.
Perhaps Oxford should have capitalised more on an early lead but it is far easier said than done, especially against a side of Cambridge’s calibre. The home team demonstrated fantastic teamwork and equal play, whereas Cambridge relied more upon the individual talents of a couple of star players.
After the game Laura Plant, a key midfielder for Cambridge, said, “That was definitely the closest match we’ve ever played against Oxford. Varsity is going to be very tough this year.” If this game is anything to go by, it most certainly will be.