Varsity Match 

Blues 3-2 Oxford University (19-25, 24-26, 25-22, 25-18, 15-9)
Kelsey Kerridge, 10/02/2001

The Varsity Match this year promised to be a closely fought battle judging by the previous meetings of the Light and Dark Blue teams this season. Both teams were fielding slightly depleted in power from their normal BUSA squads because of more stringent varsity rules on player eligibility. The Light Blues were lining up with a squad that only included two previous Blues players; Captain Pascale Garaud and outside hitter Friederike von Teisenhausen. The squad could not be said to be lacking player experience however, with setter Veronica Kunze and middle attack Sofia Oikonomidou both having played to an International level. With Steph Bee and Janice Pedersen setting, Anne Mullin, Jo Coulson, Louiza Loizou and Anna Woo as outside hitters and Emily Longmore and Pia Sondergeld making up the middle options, the team was looking forward to trying to reverse the Oxford domination of the previous Varsity matches (at least as far back as anyone could remember!). The added prize would be a result for the BUSA midlands conference match 6 replay that may be decisive in the league finishing order.

After a perfect start to the day for the home crowd, watching the Cambridge Men comprehensively taking apart the Oxford team in less than 60 minutes for the third time this season, the atmosphere in the Kelsey Kerridge hall was already electric. The spectators were introduced to the teams during a high-octane warm-up session and took their seats in anticipation as Steph, Veronica, Emily, Sofia, Anne and Friederike took to the first 6 positions to receive service. In the opening plays the scores swung from side to side as the teams tested each other out and tried to find their rhythm. Uncharacteristically it looked like the Cambridge side was more affected by the great atmosphere that their supporters were generating. The tension was obvious on court and even though the Blues were benefiting from numerous Oxford service errors, they were not as fluid in transition as in previous games and the cover play was a little slow. Mid-set the Blues gained a slight edge through a good service run of punched low deliveries from Friederike that the opponents were having trouble setting any attack from. However, later in the set, despite efforts from libero Pascale and replacement outside hitter Jo to get the team to push forward, the Oxford defence proved too strong and the first set slipped beyond the Blues' grasp.

Cambridge started the second with the same starting six. Immediately the probing serve from Steph and better defence play opened up a commanding 6 point lead and forced an early Oxford time-out. The play seesawed after this and was delayed when an unfortunate Oxford player went down with a nasty ankle injury that put her out of the game. However this set-back seemed to spur the Oxford side and their Captain put forward an impressive run of service to push them back in front, partially aided by some serve-receive and communication errors from the Blues defensive line. The fight was on and the Blues were responding with both setters putting up stuff blocks on the outside Oxford attack and Veronica finding points with intuitive fake attacks. However, the team was still not looking confident in attack with several points lost through hit errors and misunderstanding in the middle plays. At 24-24 the Blues conceded two easy points to go two sets down.

With a mountain to climb at the start of the third set the team were asked to find a higher level of play. With Jo replacing Friederike and Pia on for Emily, the crowd lifted the team with a wall of noise as the team set out in a last chance to regain Cambridge pride. The set was again fought point for point with both coaches having to make tactical use of time-outs to gain advantage. The Blues looked to be increasing their pass accuracy with Anne and Pascale instrumentative in delivering the ball to the setters. Veronica continued to be the main play-maker, blocking well and setting to position from anywhere on the front line. At 23-19 the Blues stumbled momentarily before Anne was given the ball by a strong middle attack from Pia and finished the set in style.

With the set-winning six back out for the next set the Cambridge team seemed to be transforming in confidence and rising to the urges of their supporters. The basketball squad were particularly vocal as an "Anne Mullin fan club" and were enthusiastic in their comments on the game to the Oxford coach. Veronica and Steph were both being found at the net with the ball and the team opened up in attack with a range of combination plays. Both Pia and Sofia were punishing anything placed a metre above the net with a single Oxford block. As the Cambridge confidence level rose the Oxford team seemed to have already peaked and couldn't take their game up any further. Jo and Anne were also being found high on the outside and suddenly all the attackers wanted to ground the ball with vigour. Veronica was again having a good spell at the net, sending the Oxford block into the depths of confusion by trying to guess where the next attack was coming from. In cruise mode the team took the last 4 points of the set to send the wall-banging crowds on the balcony into a lather of anticipation.

An unchanged team went on for the last set and soon set up a lead that was protected with some of the best defending so far this year. At the change the Blues were 8-5 up and looking calm and collected. In the decisive next spell of play Veronica sent over a volley of 4 serves that could only be given back to the Blues to set up some devastating attack plays, Sofia at last finding the angle and the floor twice and Anne slamming a six-packing ball in to an unsuspecting Oxford defender who didn't have time to react in self-protection. At this point the match was won - the Blues held their game together to push through the last points, giving Steph the chance to finish the game on her service with pinpoint accuracy.

The celebrations were fitting for the success of the team in this match, having the composure to fight back from 0-2 with grim determination and get back on top of their game in front of the home crowd. With double-honours for the two Varsity teams this year, and with the Cambridge Women's team guaranteed a second place in the BUSA qualification league, this continues the team's amazing run this season. Forward to the finals...

Queen of the Court: it would be unfair to single out an individual performance for merit in this match as the whole squad deserve to be acclaimed for their part in this win, whether from the bench or the court. Special praise? The Squad.

Quotes of the match: Dr Richard White on witnessing the "mikasa-tattoo" inflicted by Anne in the final set, "I've never seen a Cambridge Woman's team player ever hit the ball that hard before". Sofia, on being called by the ref for a lifting offence for the third time, raging towards the coaching bench with a high speed string of expletives which I can only assume was Greek.

Players awarded Full Blues: Steph Bee, Veronica Kunze, Anne Mullin, Sofia Oikonomidou Players awarded Half Blues: Emily Longmore, Jo Coulson

Report by Jon Clarke

NamePositionSets PlayedAttacksKillsKill PercentAcesBlocks Pass Total Points
Jo Coulson O 4 9 2 22 0 0 1.9 2
Pascale Garaud S 5 0 0 0 0 1.8 0
Steph Gipson (nee Bee) S 5 8 2 25 5 0 7
Veronica Kunze S 5 21 7 33 2 4 13
Emily Longmore M 1 1 0 0 1 0 1
Anne Mullin M/O 5 49 20 41 2 3 1.9 25
Sofia Oikonomidou M 5 37 9 24 0 1 1.3 10
Pia Sondergeld M 4 10 5 50 1 0 6
Friederike Von Tiesenhausen O 2 13 1 8 0 2 1.4 3
Team Total 148 46 31 11 10 67