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A refreshing debut: freshers’ Michaelmas sporting experiences (part 1)

Cherwell asked three freshers what their experiences of Oxford sport had been like this Michaelmas.

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 three 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.

Mauricio Alencar – rugby league, lacrosse, and football

One of the great things about university, they say, is that you can start playing a sport you had never thought about playing before. This year, that was all a little bit different. Covid restrictions on sport, lockdown, isolation, an online freshers fair, no BUCS going on, and diminishing prospects in sight of “shoeing the tabs” in the coming year meant freshers were set at a distance from playing sports at/for Oxford. I went for rugby league and lacrosse to start with, as well as playing football and rugby for college.

So, just as rugby league and lacrosse team members began to welcome me and integrate me, lockdown 2.0 kicked in. They were both sports I had never played before coming to university. Like in normal times, I had to quickly learn rules, techniques, tactics. I also had to wake up early, train late, put in some gym work in spare time – all things I had never done before. Playing 11-a-side football for Teddy Hall was also just as exciting, as we prepared to compete (and definitely win) in Cuppers and leagues, which was just around the corner. All that, only for November Corona rules to barge in and set me back to square one.

The lacrosse and rugby league clubs kept me engaged with online team gym sessions and video analysis workshops. The most difficult part of term has been socials. All the things a fresher is told about do not happen: no entry into Park End on a Wednesday, no ‘normal’ crew-dating with other Oxford clubs, and little to no socialising with other teammates. With gyms closing, rugby/rugby socials at colleges cancelled for Michaelmas, and football having to also stop over lockdown, there was little route into playing sport. Running in the park alone or with another mate, or doing press-ups in your university bedroom just cannot compare to anything like the sport you play with your club.

While the whole situation might make a fresher sad and jealous of older years and the ‘freshers’ experience’ they had had, it also makes a fresher more excited for the great sporting and social times to come. Michaelmas was a sneak peek into a sportsperson’s life at university, and as restrictions hopefully begin to ease as the rest of the academic year goes on, sport and sport socials will once again come back to life. Starting out with a sport you might have never played before will certainly be worth it in due course. To Hilary we come.

Matthew Cogan – water polo and football

It is fair to say that, much like everything else in the world right now, sport at Oxford has had a difficult last couple of months. As a fresher, sport was one of the major things that I was hoping to get involved in during my first Michaelmas term here at Oxford, and whilst Boris’s national lockdown clearly limited my options, it did not stop me from getting involved where possible. I had played water polo for a couple of years at school, and upon the discovery of a session at the Rosenblatt Pool during 1st week I decided to head along. The next few weeks consisted of two or three training sessions a week, one of which started at 6.30 am! I am not quite sure who thought that was a good idea but I can categorically confirm it was not. Unfortunately, the traditional crewdate could not take place; I am still yet to experience such an event but, when I do, I am sure that my shoes will see some drinking action. This was instead replaced by a social-distancing compliant dinner at Vincent’s where I was able to get to know other members of the club, something that myself and other freshers present were very grateful for.

I also managed to get involved in some college football throughout the term. There was a first session in fresher’s week followed by a first intra-club friendly on the same day as Matriculation – I am sure that you can imagine how well all of the freshers played that afternoon. There were further friendlies organised but, in typical 2020 fashion, these had to be cancelled as too many members of each team were in self-isolation. This, it seemed, would be the final action of the term but luckily, after the lockdown lifted, there was time for one more intra-club friendly on the Friday of 8th week. The word friendly in this context would be very much misleading: it was a game that was taken extremely seriously. The sides were fairly equal on paper, but after four 20 minute quarters, fitness not always at the highest level, my team had fallen to a harrowing 4-1 defeat despite dominating for much of the game. Michaelmas term has been a great introduction to Oxford sport and hopefully in Hilary there will be many more chances to get involved, not only through training, but also with the return of inter-college sport.

Esther Coomber – rowing

This year has obviously come with many unique challenges and, in terms of rowing, this has been no different. From national lockdown to self-isolation, my training has been disrupted and, at times, I have found it difficult to maintain motivation without being able to train alongside my teammates. I joined Oxford Women’s Boat Club this year as a fresher having rowed since age 13 at Maidenhead Rowing Club then Latymer Upper School. My favourite part about rowing is being on a team of driven, competitive and hard-working people reaching for the same goal – for us at Oxford this is to win the 2021 Boat Race.

The term of rowing, as a whole, has been physically demanding, as to be expected, but also an incredibly positive experience surrounded by encouraging and supportive teammates. Whether in person or via zoom, we train twice a day which, although it involves both time efficiency and organisation, I have found helpful in adding structure to my day, particularly as I study a degree without many contact hours.

As a fresher, rowing has also been a great way to meet people from across the university from different years, colleges and departments – something that has been especially challenging this year. Since joining the team in early September for preseason training, the OUWBC team have been incredibly friendly and welcoming and I particularly valued having friends from older years to turn to for advice as I started university. We were able to have socials, in keeping with the COVID guidelines at the time, including picnics and zoom quizzes, which has allowed us to get to know each other away from the intense environment of training. From January, our training load will increase as we get ready for the Boat Race held in early April which I am very much looking forward to along with the rest of the team, especially those who were selected to race last year.

Thanks to our contributors. Look out for part 2 some time after Christmas!

Artwork by Liv Fugger.

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