This year’s Volleyball Varsity took place on Saturday 24th February. The Women’s Blues were confident going into the fixture, having previously faced Cambridge twice this year and won, beating them 3-1 and 3-0.

Yet at Varsity, Cambridge upped the ante, and the Dark Blues fell to a 3-2 defeat. Oxford’s women struggled to exert the dominance they had over Cambridge in the earlier BUCS league games.

The Dark Blues started strongly, keeping five points clear of Cambridge until the end of the set, when Cambridge closed the gap. After a few solid hits from both teams, Oxford came out on top 25-23. The second set was close, each team fighting for single points, with Cambridge eventually pulling away for a 3-point difference at the end, winning 25-22.

The loss in the second set threw the Dark Blues off, and with a loud Cambridge crowd, a string of good serves and strong blocks from Cambridge, they pulled clear and won by a large margin (11-25).

However, the Dark Blues reset mentally after the third set and came back into the fourth fighting. Libero Alba Piacenti’s digs, energy and fighting spirit reignited the team drive. Setter Macy Cottrell played quick balls in the middle court, which middle blocker Debbie Malden scored.

A string of float serves by opposite Colleen Stebbens bought the team space to fully utilise their attack. Ladan Sadri’s powerful hits and high block, together with the middle blockers Pinar Kolancali and Nicola Trendel, turned Cambridge onto the back foot. Outside Hannah Berwian’s backcourt defence and precision hits managed to overcome the Light Blue block, all enabling Oxford to secure a solid win of 25-19.

The decisive fifth was fought tooth and nail. As this was the deciding set —played to only 15 points— every player from both sides had to give their all.

Oxford’s tenacity paid off and by the time the teams switched courts at the halfway marker, the Dark Blues led 8-6. Eleanor James went in to support the defence in the back court and delivered with a powerful serve.  They continued to pull away and soon led by 12-7.

Cambridge grafted back with a series of strong serves and suddenly the Dark Blues found themselves trailing 12-14. Power hitter Victoria Pelletier was substituted in and pounded home point 13 for Oxford. However, fortune did not favour the Dark Blues, and one error cost them the final point, resulting in a final score of 13-15 to Cambridge, their first Women’s Varsity Volleyball win since 2014.

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