The Light Blues squad has lost only a few players from last season and apart from the talented all-rounder Helena Blechova, who graduated last summer, they only lost their spots to competition at trials. In theory then, the Blues should be a stronger unit, a match against the old enemy was the first real test of this notion, especially seeing as Cambridge had fallen to Oxford twice in BUCS qualifiers last year, not to mention at Varsity.
For the third week running coach Jacquet was able to select 12 players from a near complete squad. In the search for stability, especially facing a confident and experienced Oxford team, Cambridge’s starting six saw just one change from that which comprehensively beat Nottingham the week before. With Anna Protasio and Barbora Doslikova holding their setting and opposite spots respectively, Petra Schwalie and Alice Hsieh on the outside and Sarah Greasley in the middle, the team was rounded out by middle blocker Debbie Cheng, and Tina Schwamb in the libero shirt.
Cambridge immediately showed their intent, solid hitting from Schwalie and Doslikova shook the Dark Blues as they fell behind 4-0 and then 9-2. Indeed the visitors could not make inroads into that lead until it had stretched to 19-6! Some complacence in the final stages from the home team gave the set score a more respectable appearance but more importantly as Oxford’s diminutive but dynamic outside hitters Jan Orszaghova and Becky Siddall started to find their range. Cambridge may have won the set but they had lost the momentum.
The second set saw an almost exact reversal of form. This time it was Oxford who grabbed the early lead, going up 2-8 and then 3-12. Cambridge looked somewhat shell-shocked as the visitors drew on their mental strength to play as if the first set hadn’t happened. Time then, for the Light Blues to show some grit of their own and re-establish dominance in attack as well as block. With improved focus in serve receive and then smarter serving both were achieved. The introduction of Deidre Cleland for Protasio gave Cambridge renewed energy and although they lost the set 17-25, this time in was Cambridge who finished in the ascendance.
At 1-1 the third set can be the effective decider and so it proved in this match. Squad captain Maddi Sowash replaced Greasley in the middle for Cambridge for the next two sets and inspired a confident and aggressive performance from her team. A more balanced attack had all the Cambridge hitters scoring and both teams served with aggression to give their defence any chance. Serve of the match had to go to Schwalie who made the ball float one way then the other to baffle and ace Oxford’s usually ultra reliable libero Hannah Ruddick. Although the set score was reasonably close the home team looked the stronger side.
From the start of set 4 the game was only going one way and Cambridge’s new middle blocker put her mark on the match. With numerous soft blocks, one stuff block and five kills from six swings Cheng took control of the front row. Oxford battled on but after serve runs from Protasio and Doslikova followed up by consecutive kills from Sowash they gave up the hunt and Schwalie finished the match with a trademark spike over the block.
Apart from the blip in the second set the Cambridge girls can be pleased with their performance, Oxford do not have much depth in attack but they are well organized and their Ruddick-inspired defence can be hard to break down. The return fixture at Iffley Rd will be a new challenge with Oxford keen to impress before the Varsity match showdown in February.
MVP: P Schwalie
Report by Jean Jacquet
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