As with all aspects of university life, playing sport at Oxford was an unusual prospect last term – especially for incoming freshers, ever keen to showcase their existing skills in Uni sides and try their hand at new sports. Cherwell asked four more freshers how their experiences (if any) of Oxford sporting life had been in Michaelmas, how the Covid pandemic had affected their opportunities to join in with University and College teams, and what their athletic ambitions were for future terms.

Elena Buccisano – fencing and lacrosse

Prior to my arrival at Oxford, I knew I wanted to get involved with the Oxford University Fencing Club, having previously fenced before. So, I signed up for the Women’s Fencing Preseason which, in light of the situation with Covid-19, was going to run differently from previous years. However, shortly before it was due to take place the preseason was cancelled – a recurring theme for university sports this past term! Despite this, the Fencing Club was granted return to play with additional restrictions from the beginning of Michaelmas term. As normal, the levels were split into Beginners, Intermediate and Advanced – with each level given different training session times. The Beginners course ran in the Cricket Centre and all Advanced and Intermediate sessions were done in the main hall of the Iffley Sports Centre.

As a Fresher at both Oxford and the Fencing Club, the Covid-19 protocols caused me some apprehension. Not only was it more difficult to meet and speak to the other fencers, the prospect of fencing under different conditions and in a completely new environment made me a bit uneasy. However, before the second lockdown, I attended an Intermediate training session at Iffley which promptly dispelled my concerns. The club implemented a one session per week rule in order to make sure that everyone got a fairly even allocation of sessions and my experience of the training was strange albeit overwhelmingly positive! The fencers were split into groups of six with each pair fencing for three minutes. Having to fence with a facemask on, despite the fact that fencing already takes place with a mask, was, let’s just say, interesting!

Unfortunately, in-person training was short lived (two weeks of proper training took place) and as soon as Boris announced the second lockdown training moved online. The virtual training was very well organised by the OUFC president and the Men’s and Women’s fencing captains. The training and exercise classes were free and available on zoom twice a week to all fencers, regardless of their level. Footwork, yoga and HIIT sessions were amongst the variety of classes on offer. In light of all the setbacks, I think the OUFC coped very well! It has undoubtedly been a challenging time for all university sports and in normal circumstances I’m sure that the training and socials would have been even more successful.

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In Michaelmas term, I also decided to give lacrosse a go, both because it intrigued me as a sport and because of significant peer pressure… The Oxford Lacrosse Development Squad seemed like a good place to start but unfortunately, the first training session of the term was cancelled because of high winds in Uni Parks! We then went into national lockdown, so I still haven’t been able to pick up a lacrosse stick. Hopefully, I’ll have more luck next term…

Theo Lewis – football

In lots of ways, I was reluctant to join the Keble football team – I hadn’t touched a ball in a year so subsequently I had poor cardio and the flexibility of an old man. However, after finding out many of my fresher friends were all hoping to join the team, my enthusiasm was revived.

The first training session came around and I played centre-back as usual. I was eager not to go unnoticed – so much so that I went for a questionable challenge on the club captain, injuring his ankle. This definitely made me memorable but not in the way I hoped – I still get flashbacks and feel guilty every time I see Jon around college.

Karma soon caught up with me however and an injury came my way.

I decided to play in goal for one session since one of the keepers couldn’t make it. After diving on my side in an awkward position, I dislocated my shoulder. One uncomfortable taxi ride to A&E, two x-rays, and some gas and air, then I was back to normal. The physio said that I would be out of sports for 3 months, but physiotherapists are the Oxford Brookes of doctors, so I didn’t listen and intended to show to training the following week (unfortunately I was then isolating with Covid, so I was forced to take some recovery time).

All things considered I’ve loved my experience playing football at Uni so far. Playing football also has the side effect of making me manage my time better by providing a reasonable work-play balance. I urge all freshers who haven’t yet joined a sports team to do so. The community created by the team is a great one and now I can’t imagine how boring my first term would’ve been like had I decided against joining.

Hector Skipworth – rugby

Three weeks before term started, I was surprised with a phone call from the Captain of the Blues asking me if I would want to join the preseason training camp. A week before term, 50 players assembled at the Iffley road sports ground, 5 of which were freshers. Looking around it became apparent I would now be playing with men, not boys. They tolerated us youngsters and were very welcoming. The training consisted of a gym session in the morning, then two sessions in the day. To reduce the number of people we were in contact with we were split into 3 groups which we trained with all term. We rotated around different stations which involved a mixture of touch games and working on specific skills such as offloading, passing, kicking etc.

Whilst the Covid restrictions compromised our training to a certain extent we did manage to play an adapted round robin on one of the Saturdays. This adapted rugby game that England rugby set out was very similar to a touch rugby league game. This was also the first time I played with some of the established blues players. Training in term consisted of sessions on Monday and Wednesday evenings plus a gym program that had been tailored to each of us.

Lockdown put a halt to group training, but I was able to keep up with the gym routine by squatting with a bubble mate on my shoulders! Next term is looking hopeful for a return to rugby as we know it and potentially getting back to playing contact matches.

Harry Way – football

Despite the difficulties of Covid, my first experience of Blues football has certainly been an enjoyable one. Pre-season began in late September on the grass at Marston Sports Ground, with the team immediately striking me as a talented and focused one. As Michaelmas term started and the new squad began to form, training moved to Oxford City with three sessions per week. As well as two midweek evening sessions on Monday and Friday, this included a 7:45 AM Sunday morning session, with those who had gone too hard on the Saturday night quickly found out through one too many misplaced passes. Although we were unable to play any competitive fixtures due to the postponement of BUCS, the Blues did go unbeaten through Michaelmas with wins against Oxford City U19s and the Centaurs as well as the highlight of the term in beating Brookes 4-3. 

Through lockdown the boys stayed sharp through online strength and conditioning sessions, as well as helpful webinars on sports psychology and nutrition. On the social side there was a weekly quiz night which started with each fresher giving a rendition of their chosen song. Those present (and my neighbours) were treated to a stunning performance of ‘I Want It That Way’ by the Backstreet Boys from myself. In addition, highly competitive 1v1 foot tennis matches were organised on the weekends in University Parks, allowing players to maintain some ball skills whilst also having a catch up with another team member.

Overall, I’m happy to say that over the course of Michaelmas I have begun to feel like a true member of the Blues football team which is testament to the welcoming nature of everyone involved. Hopefully in 2021 we can continue our unbeaten run into the BUCS campaign, as well as the all-important varsity matches against Brookes and Cambridge.

Artwork by Liv Fugger.