As its Oxford-Cambridge Varsity match enter its 100th year, Lacrosse continues to be one of the fastest growing sports in the UK. To mark the momentous, historically significant occasion, University Parks is set to be transformed into a hub of on and off-field entertainment this February 27th. Following the controversial government decision to retract visas from a number of American coaches, who were in the UK to develop the sport, Lacrosse needs this high-profile day of matches at now more than ever.
To reflect this, and the general magnitude of the occasion, this year’s event is bigger than ever. The smorgasbord of sport will begin early, as both men’s and women’s alumni teams take on Cambridge opposition. In total, seven matches will be played across the day, and ex-Chair of the England Lacrosse Association David Shuttleworth will be presenting the trophies. Oxford rarely allow a moment of historical significance to pass quietly, so an alum from the 50th Varsity match will join Shuttleworth at the day’s presentations. The fact that this is the first year both men’s and women’s second teams’ will have their own trophy is a mark of just how far the sport has come.
Katharine Bailey, the women’s Blues captain, sees this year’s encounter as a perfect opportunity to celebrate the ‘amazing team sport’ and the ‘friendly and vibrant university clubs’ that have been fostered in both Blue camps. Given the sport itself is technical, physical and incredibly athletic, a full programme of matches from Blues to alumni looks set to be one of the sporting highlights of Hilary term.
Of course when it comes to Varsity, putting ceremony aside, only one thing matters: the result. Whilst Bailey is under no illusions as to challenge her Blues side face – they have lost 12-11 and 8-4 to their undefeated light Blue counterparts this year – she is confident Oxford can reverse these narrow defeats to put the recently crowned South Premier champions ‘in their place’. For the women’s seconds, which Bailey describes as ‘one of the strongest’ squads that she can remember, a 12-6 victory over Cambridge in Michaelmas provides cause for buoyant optimism as their Varsity match approaches. Obviously, as with all great one-off sporting encounters, the form book rarely counts for anything. The fact both women’s squads have been approaching training with an exceptional ‘enthusiasm and intensity’, therefore, has left Bailey confident, if not expectant.
On the men’s side of the encounter, both the Blues and the seconds will be looking to build on a hugely successful 2014-2015 season, which culminated in an outstanding set of Varsity performances on Cambridge soil. Whilst the second team drew 12-12 against a Cambridge side with far greater depth, the Blues secured an impressive win. In fact, last year’s 13-10 triumph sealed the men’s Blues fourth consecutive victory, so success in this 100th anniversary year will come with a special significance.
As a university sport, Lacrosse is growing in support and the quality of on-field performances is, as a result, rapidly improving. This trend is being reflected across the country. However, as the movement of foreign coaches into the country to promote and develop the sport is restricted, Lacrosse still has a long way to go. The 100th Oxbridge Varsity encounter will undoubtedly help to protect and progress the profile of this burgeoning sport.