Blues 2-3 Oxford University (19-25, 22-25, 26-24, 25-16, 9-15)
A disappointing performance from Cambridge saw them go down to a five-set defeat against traditional rivals Oxford in their opening match of the 2001-2 season. Although worthy contributors to what was an exciting contest, the Light Blues will feel that this was a match they should have won.
Cambridge travelled without starting outside hitters Andrew Lynn and Ken Kato, but coach Dr Richard White was nevertheless able to field a strong line-up of Roger Konrad setting, Dan Roy at opposite, Rich Weinberg and Pierre Briguet-Lamarre outside and Dan Escott and Soren Koeppe in the middle. Denis Zuev rounded out the side as libero.
The team's first competitive match began badly. The Light Blues dropped to 4-12 after getting stuck in one rotation. Weinberg was struggling to ground the ball within the bounds of the sports hall, and coach White pulled him for Quentin Ramasse. Outstanding passing from Briguet-Lamarre and libero Zuev enabled Cambridge to pull back to 14-16, but Oxford stepped up the pace to take set one, 25-19.
Set two was a much closer affair, with neither side managing more than a two-point advantage up to 21-21. Captain Ramasse was imperious from the outside and got good support in the middle from Jean Jacquet, who replaced Soren Koeppe during the set. Unfortunately Cambridge made hitting errors at the worst possible moment, allowing the Dark Blues to steal the set 25-22.
With Cambridge now looking at a five-setter, coach White brought in Anthony Reynolds to quarterback the team, and in another tense game his understanding with opposite Roy began to turn the tide. The Light Blues held a clear advantage at 20-17, then lost it again, but finally snatched the set 26-24 on an Escott stuff block.
Game four was barely a contest, the Light Blues dominating all departments as they coasted to a 25-16 decision. Briguet-Lamarre and Roy were the stars in this victory, whilst serving specialist John Lin made sure of the set with a run of probing jump serves.
So the two teams began the tiebreak set, with veterans on both sides doubtless remembering Cambridge's famous 3-2 victory in the 2000 Varsity Match. Nerves were clearly frayed, with the Light Blues gaining a 3-1 advantage, then slipping to 3-5, coming back to 7-6 and then changing round 7-8 down. Alas the change-over killed Cambridge, as a series of poor passes led to unforced hitting errors, or allowed Oxford to win points in transition on their way to a 15-9 triumph.
Cambridge coach Richard White commented after the match: "This was a tense battle with all the emotion one would expect from a Cambridge/Oxford match-up. In the end Oxford showed better cohesion and determination, whilst we had understandable teething problems with new players in a new system. Nevertheless we have plenty of things to work on, and I'm confident this defeat will help us in the long term."
Cambridge's Dan Roy completed a remarkable debut performance, equalling Roger Martinez's University record of 27 points in his very first match, whilst Pierre Briguet-Lamarre and Jean Jacquet (with six blocks) both chipped in with 14. Cambridge's next match is away at Nottingham on Wednesday October 31st.
Report by Richard White
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