On the last Saturday in February University Parks was transformed into a sea of light and dark blue war paint, banners and ribbons. The pitch still fresh with the stud marks of the Swifts’ successful Tab-shoeing, the women’s Blues lined up for a stick check, knowing that all the hard work, sacrifices and 7am sprint practices had been leading up to this moment.
This was the match that everybody had been waiting for: crowds had gathered in their hundreds for the last lacrosse match of the day, and as the starting whistle blew, the spectators roared and waved their banners in support.
The first few minutes saw end-to-end play with a couple of great saves from Oxford goalkeeper, Alice Leach. The Dark Blues proceeded to have two goals disallowed in two minutes, one for a crossover and the other on the controversial grounds that a show from Emily Dally had hit the post, not the back of the net.
With the Oxford coach Raj Rout fuming on the sidelines, the home team finally broke the deadlock with a goal from straight attack Emily Sever. This came shortly after Cambridge defence Anna Harrison had been cautioned for a dangerous tackle and was relegated to the sidelines for two minutes.
Next it was Oxford midfielder Fiona Murphy’s turn to get a yellow card. Cambridge took advantage of their man-up situation to draw level with a goal from captain Alanna Livesey. After some solid settled play around the Oxford goal, Sever struck again with a brilliant assist from Lucy Andrew, but this lead was short-lived as Cambridge almost immediately pulled the score back to level.
This was the catalyst for a period of Cambridge-dominated play. The visitors went ahead for the first time with a well constructed goal from Laura Plant, and they quickly scored another, prompting Oxford to call a time-out with seven minutes remaining in the first half. The 90-second break served only to spur Cambridge on, and by half time they were four goals to the good, following a double from Welsh international Ellie Walshe, making it 6-2 to the Tabs.
As the players took to the field for the second half, it was Cambridge who remained on top for the first five minutes, scoring two more goals from settled play. Needing six to get back to level, Oxford managed to pull one back with captain Char Houston firing the ball into the top corner to make it 8-3, but the visitors proceeded to score twice in quick succession, putting victory all but out of reach for the hosts.
A goal from Sever, completing her hat trick, and another from Houston five minutes later tightened the score for the home team and gave them a glimmer of hope. But subsequent scores from Cambridge attackers, including Alice Bush, increased their lead to seven with five minutes left on the clock. A late goal from Fiona Murphy was a mere consolation for Oxford who, despite keeping up the fight until the final whistle, were beaten by the better team on the day.
The visitors had pulled two far ahead at the end of the first half for the Dark Blues to complete a valiant comeback. Elsewhere, however, Oxford enjoyed a clean sweep. The Men’s 1st XII thrashed their light blue counterparts 12-0, with the 2nd XII winning 4-2. Oxford’s mixed team and the women’s XII also emerged on top after close games, to make it an overall triumph for the Dark Blues.