With a number of the players from the thrilling 2001 Varsity match still in the Cambridge Blues squad, the return fixture for the 2002 match at Iffley Road, Oxford, promised to be an even match. With split results from the two previous BUSA meetings of the two teams, it remained to be seen who had the edge on the day to take Varsity honours. The Varsity Squad for Cambridge this year was; Anne Mullin (Capt.), Nadia von Maltzahn, Pia Sondergeld, Jen Anderson, Belvin Gong, Maria Markaida and Christine Robins, with Louiza Loizou, Jo Coulson, Janice Pedersen, Ulli Klossek and Sandra Sudhoff on the bench.
Set one started the contest with each side nervously testing the other out, as in the previous meetings. Anne was on form, taking a number of early points through outside attacks, whilst Christine was working well in back-court defence and serve-receive. The Oxford service picked up towards the end of the set, leaving the Cambridge defenders with questions to answer after a number of overpassed receives were pummelled into the Blues court. Pia found some recompense with consistent deep-court serves, but the turning point in the set came with a long rally in which Jen was decisive in picking up the ball, but hence not being able to set, and the point and set eventually went to the Dark side.
Cambridge were looking for something to break the even scoring in the second set. Maria came straight onto court with her first ace of the match and better sets by Jen to Anne allowed her to attack with strength on the diagonal. Christine began to open up her account on the outside too with a number of smart attacks hammered through or high off of the Oxford block - the resulting scrappy overpasses by the Oxford side picked off of the top of the net by the commanding figure of Nadia. With Oxford feeling the heat and the coaching staff forced into using both time-outs, the Blues forged ahead at 24-25 with 3 points to win the set and level the proceedings.
Riding on the buzz of the last set the Blues set forth into set 3 with determination. After taking the first point with a beautifully timed block from Nadia, Christine took a run of five points on serve, forcing the Dark Blues onto their back foot. Anne was again making excellent plays, tipping from the top of the block into space and then toppling the whole Oxford team with a sizzling attack that blasted through the block and the sprawling players behind. Jen, traditionally unknown for reaching the top of the net, found inspiration in a second ball attack through a 2 woman block too. However, as the set wore on the Dark Blues crept back into play. Serve-receive errors, that prompted the change of Louiza for Maria, saw the Blues release the lead and a four point push at 17-23 wasn't enough to save the set.
With an uphill task not beyond their capabilities, the Cambridge team went into set four looking for the sparkle that had won other tight matches against Oxford. The Dark Blues had stepped up a gear and were starting to find the floor with harder attacks. Some tired back-court passing and sets that weren't reaching the outside, resulted in the changes of Jen and Maria for Janice and Jo, a double-play to rotate the set from front-court. This temporarily subsided the flow of points, but further errors in serve-receive resulted in two Cambridge time-outs. This pushed the Blues to rally late in the set, but the damage had been done earlier and Oxford resumed their record of Varsity wins.
Report by Jon Clarke
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