The JMAN Group 120th Varsity Hockey Matches were held at Southgate Hockey Club for the eighteenth time. The women’s Blues arrived at Southgate on Sunday 1st March hungry to win back a trophy that was last in Cambridge in 2015, whilst the men’s Blues brought the men’s trophy with them following their 3-2 win last year.
The scene for the day was set by a Cambridge win in the Old girls match, as well as a thundering 9-1 victory in the SuperCuppers match for Cambridge’s Trinity-Fitzwilliam college team. (Unfortunately, we could not find enough ex-men’s Blues to field a team in the Old Boys match). The best, however, was yet to come.
On paper the Cambridge women began the day as underdogs, their opposition having played in higher leagues on both Wednesdays and Saturdays this year. However, this certainly didn’t translate into the on-pitch performance. Despite early pressure from Oxford, it was to Cambridge that the first goal-scoring opportunity fell, and it was taken excellently by captain Amy Edwards with a reverse stick shot from the top of the D in the opening 3 minutes of the match. Each side then settled into the game, neither team able to break free and assert themselves, and what followed was a thrilling, close-fought contest between the two sides. Oxford replied to the goal with a sustained period of possession and attack in the Light Blue half of the pitch, which led to them scoring an equaliser via a well-worked short corner routine. Cambridge stayed in the game, however, and after defending valiantly against another period of Oxford dominance, they scored a short corner of their own, Izzy Montgomery touching in the deflection after being fed by Ella Hordern from the top of the D. It did not stay 2-1 for long, however, with Oxford countering again in the following minutes, and scoring with an excellent reverse stick volley. There was still nothing to separate the two sides when the players went in for half-time at 2-2.
The second half was played out in a similar fashion, end-to-end, highly entertaining to watch, with both sides having chances at goal. With 12 minutes to go, the dark blues then built on a good passage of open play to unlock the Cambridge defence, scoring following a pass across the face of goal, and taking the lead for the first time. But the light blues were unphased, and replied just as quickly as Oxford had in the first half, winning a short corner right from the restart, and scoring via Hordern to make it 3-3! There was nothing to split the sides during normal time, and the game stayed at 3-3 until the full-time whistle blew. Penalty Shuffles it was to be. This was the first time the women’s match has ever gone to shuffles since these were introduced in 2014. With Montgomery unfortunate not to add to her earlier goal and hitting the post in Cambridge’s first shuffle, it was Mollie Ring who put the Light Blues 1-0 up with a very well worked routine, turning it around the Oxford keeper. Goalkeeper Morgause Lomas then made three crucial saves to ensure that Oxford did not score any, leaving vice-captain and eventual woman of the match Bethan Moncur the chance to win it for Cambridge. Disappoint she did not, convincingly scoring the penalty flick she was awarded when the Oxford keeper was adjudged to have fouled her during the shuffle. It was a dramatic ending to what had been an edge-of-your-seat match throughout and ensured Cambridge were victorious in the women’s match for the first time since 2015.
It was Coach Darrel Cassidy’s first Varsity victory since he took over the women’s team in January 2018, and was certainly the highlight in what has been overall a successful season for Darrel and his squad. The club would like to thank Darrel for his commitment to the women’s team this year and hope we can look forward to more successes in seasons to come.
Then came the men’s match. The men, in contrast to the women, arrived at Southgate as slim favourites against the Dark Blues, having beaten them 4-1 in a BUCS fixture just two weeks before. The returning Blues amongst them, however, knew that Varsity is an altogether different affair. Yet following the lead of the women earlier on, the Cambridge men scored the first goal very early on in the first half, veteran Johnny Staunton Sykes, in his 5th Varsity Match, passing it across the face of goal for Johnny Parke to finish at the back post, following a great ball in from ex-captain and eventual man of the match Sean Gilmore. Both teams settled into the game after this, with action at both ends of the pitch and an even period of play. Cambridge could not be stopped, however, and towards the end of the first half produced a fantastic team goal, starting from their own half and finished off by Harry Atkins in the back of the Dark Blue net eight passes later. Cambridge were unlucky not to score a few seconds later following a broken-down short corner, and whilst Oxford then played themselves back into the game to an extent, the half-finished at 2-0.
Cambridge started the second half just as they had the first, holding the possession and attacking the Oxford D. It was therefore very much within the run of play when forward Seb Shaw picked up the ball just outside the D, beat two Oxford defenders with some beautiful 3-d skill, and drove the ball into the back of the goal to make it 3-0. The result was never in doubt from here on in. Goalkeeper Toby Brooks made an excellent save from an Oxford short corner to keep his sheet clean, but despite some good attacking passages of play, the Dark Blues were unable to find the back of the Cambridge net. 3-0 and with the second half progressing, the Cambridge men could have been content to step back and defend their lead, but instead, they went hunting for more. A fourth goal resulted from a good attack down the right-hand side, with Shaw turning provider this time and pulling the ball back for Harry Leng to slot in. To their credit, Oxford never gave up, but it was Cambridge’s day, and the Light Blues scored their fifth from a short corner, Staunton Sykes cleaning up after an initial save from the Oxford keeper, to cap off what was an utterly dominant display by the Cambridge team.
The men’s win continues an impressive period of Cambridge dominance in the Varsity Match since coach Charlie Bannister took over the men’s team for a second time at the start of the 2013/14 season. During this tenure, Charlie has seen his teams lift the trophy in five of the seven Varsity Matches he has prepared them for, along with many successes in the leagues as well. The club would like to thank Charlie for the time and dedication he puts into his training sessions and on matchdays, playing such an instrumental role in the success of the men’s team over the last few years.