Thrilling netball Varsity ends in Tab double

The 2011 Netball Varsity in Cambridge ended in disappointment for both university teams this weekend. With last year’s results at the forefront of their minds, the Blues were looking to extend their 2010 winning margin, whilst the Roos were seeking to avenge their tight loss from the previous season. With a season of mixed results and various setbacks, the squad was prepared for a challenge in a match which has come to be notorious for its closely-fought nature.

The seconds match, between the light blue Jays and the dark blue Roos began in an unsure manner, with several missed goals and footwork penalties for both teams. The Oxford team in particular was composed mostly of first-time Varsity players, likely contributing to their anxiousness to move the ball as quickly as possible down the court – a feat which when achieved was impressive, but was frequently cut short by unforced errors. Calm, composed rotation and shooting from Oxford’s Holly Youlden and Lara Jackson kept the Roos in the match despite persistent hassling by the Cambridge defence. Winning by a small margin at half time, wing attack Kirsty Macdonald was brought on to further boost the high work rate of the centre court. Cambridge fought back though, and after three- quarters the score was level. Sensing that they could steal the win, the light blues stepped up in the final quarter winning by an agonising two goals, the final score being 36-34.

The Blues then took centre stage. Cambridge, having played in the league above Oxford all season, stepped onto the court looking confident – but Oxford looked determined in the warm-up, not wanting to be seen as the underdogs. A tense first quarter was played goal-for-goal, with both teams relying heavily on dominant goal shooters who appeared to have the better of two sets of agile defence. The second quarter continued in a similar fashion, with both teams knowing that consistency and discipline was key. Sadly, the umpiring was less consistent, with the officials penalising both teams with some questionable decisions and at times stilting the flow of the game. Several harsh contacts in a row were given against England player and Oxford’s goal defence Layla Guscoth – this disrupted the dark blue team, leading to a few balls being thrown away in some uncertain passages of play, giving the home side a slight advantage at half-time.

Having shuffled Oxford’s attacking unit for the second half, coach/captain Emma Lonsdale(unfortunately sidelined due to injury) sent Rhian Price into the shooting circle in an attempt to foil Cambridge’s defence by moving the useful height of Nathalie Hoon to goal attack. The tactic appeared to revive the dark blues, with several interceptions and conversions on the trot bringing the teams back level to 27-27 after three-quarters, reminiscent of the same point in the seconds’ match. The crowd, sensing that their support was suddenly needed, became more vocal in the final quarter, clearly lifting the light blue team. Goal keeper Antonia Akoto came into her own, making some vital interceptions which the Oxford team were unable to match. Clinical finishing from their shooters sealed a Tab victory at 40-34; a score which did not reflect the largely-matched playing standard of the rival teams.

Coach Lonsdale said: “Both teams should be proud of what they achieved at the weekend, after a very difficult season for both squads and after facing many obstacles along the way the teams performed well, but sadly it was not meant to be. I’m very confident both squads will come back stronger next season to avenge this recent loss.” And with neither team losing many players this year, new sponsors, a coach and promotion on the cards, the squad are already looking like favourites for next year’s Varsity Games.

Photo courtesy of The Tab