On 24 January, exactly one month before the Varsity showdown, Oxford faced off against Cambridge in the Southern Premiership Lacrosse League. Both teams went into it undefeated in the Bucs competition to date, with the last meeting between the two sides finishing as a draw.
Although acting as a warm up for Varsity, this match was crucial; the victorious team would win the Southern Premiership title. The excellent form from both sides meant the top two positions in the table were securely theirs, with this game deciding top spot.
It was Cambridge who had the better start to the first half, scoring two well worked goals in quick succession. Yet some excellent Oxford defending coupled with quick smooth transitions up the field, resulted in goals for the dark Blues. Possession was shared fairly evenly between teams, and as ever the scores remained close: 2-3, 2-4, 3-4. Oxford went into at half time trailing by just one goal, but after a close first period victory was very much still up for grabs.
Straight from the half-time whistle, it was Charlotte Hoskin who once again secured possession for the dark Blues off the draw. Indeed, her performance was so impressive that she secured MVP after the game.
In sports like football both opposition alternate who takes possession from the centre, however in lacrosse the draw decides possession. The centres from each team align their stick heads with the ball trapped between the two. On the whistle both try to propel the ball towards a teammate. Winning the draw is therefore a test of strength and speed.
Oxford quickly carried the ball over the restrainer into the defence. The restrainer is a pitch marking that each team must keep five members (including the goalkeeper) behind at all times to avoid violating the offside rule. Since no fast break was on, the dark Blue attack progressed into a slow break.
Where there is no man up situation for the offensive team, the play moves into settled attack with even numbers defending and attacking: the slow break. From this position Oxford looked set to move in on goal, and some quick passing and cutting through the fan (area in front of goal) created space for a drive and shot.
However, a decent save from the Cambridge keeper generated another chance for the light Blues. The game continued like this throughout the duration of the second half; the ball transitioning quickly back and forth with the scores remaining within one or two goals. With 15 minutes remaining, Alexandra Drewe was given a yellow card for dangerous shooting.
During this two minute man down period, Cambridge had the first possession and looked set to move in on goal, but some amazing defending from Oxford ensured a crucial turnover, meaning that Cambridge failed to capitalise on their numerical advantage.
With five minutes on the clock, Oxford scored. Now only one goal down, and with the momentum swinging in Oxford’s favour, Cambridge, evidently feeling the pressure, called a time out. Tactically, this decision paid off; with only a few minutes left on the clock, Oxford went into full pressure backer defence, in hope that this risk would result with a turnover.
Yet it was Cambridge who scored several times in the dying minutes, and thus they were victorious at the full time whistle.
Nevertheless it was a great game to watch, and gave both teams things to consider before the Varsity Match on 24 February.