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The first of three confrontations with the Oxford team this season, this match was a testing display of what the two opponents had to offer. As the Oxford team arrived the Blues were already busy warming up. A strong first six of Pascale Garaud (Capt) and Steph Bee setting, Louiza Loizou as receive specialist, Friederike von Tiesenhausen and Jo Coulson attacking though the outside and Sofia Oikonomidou and Emily Longmore with the middle-hitting positions, were complemented by a strong bench including Veronica Kunze, Janice Pedersen, Pia Sondergeld, Anna Woo and Amalia Skoufoglou.
The first set was evenly matched. Both teams suffered from pass mistakes throughout the set and were struggling to put cohesive attacks together. Better service and setting was gaining the Blues point after point and the Oxford side were less organised, giving away a number of points with elementary errors from the attacking back-court setter. The scores were very tightly matched into the 20's, with Cambridge edging ahead and looking confident enough to take the last two points. Somehow the Oxford team managed to get a couple of organised attacks together and stole the set by finding less well-covered areas in the Blues defence.
Fired by determination to get ahead from the start, and with the measure of the weaknesses in the Oxford side, the Blues strode out to a 13-6 lead in the second set. Better passing was paying dividends as replacement setter Veronica began to find the middle attack on a regular basis. Two or three thundering hits through the middle from Sofia were shaking the dark blue foundations and the in-team arguing that was apparent in the first set became increasingly more evident. Jo was working well in the back-court to defend the attacks from the Oxford side and the team gained momentum and confidence from the early drive to push to a victory.
A tactical change of Amalia for Friederike was introduced to gain benefits from the left-handed outside hitter. Amalia immediately made an impact to the game in back-court, sending a flurry of near-perfect passes to the head of penetrating setter Steph, who called on both Emily and Jo in attack to make points for the team. Again the Blues settled into a concentrated performance and pushed the score ahead. Intelligent play from Sofia had the Oxford team pushed back to defend hard spiked middle attacks and then struggling to fill the newly created space in the centre of the court, where she pushed tip after tip for scoring attacks. Setter Veronica was also cashing in on the fields of space in the Oxford cover, lobbing easy second-ball attacks behind the block. Anna replaced Jo halfway through the set and the fresh legs gave the team extra cover in defence and a useful point from a hard cut outside hit along the net.
The team started the fourth set unchanged and were ready to finish the game. A momentary lapse of concentration and some uncharacteristic receive errors off of an improved Oxford serve saw the Blues struggling to fight back a seven point deficit. With Friederike back in control on the outside, Steph and Veronica were both finding their attackers, the latter also having a nice spell of outside hitting into the bargain. The Oxford offensive picked up a gear and started to find a bit more pace, although some good blocking had contained this in previous sets. Despite the determined efforts of Louiza as libero player, diving to save stray balls that had been deflected out of court, and Sofia in the middle, still killing anything that moved within the zone of her arm, Cambridge eventually fought to the end of the set in second place.
Heading into the deciding set, the nervous tension was evident and the deafening support of the home crowd was lifting the Cambridge team to better performance. After dropping a couple of points through service error in the first part of the set, Cambridge went into the side-switch with a positive margin, maintained by some excellent back-court attacking from Sofia who was converting almost 50% of her attacks into points. The Oxford team, never to be underestimated, rose to the challenge and clawed their way back to level-pegging as tired legs in the Cambridge camp were being challenged by deflected attacks from the block. An unfortunate ending, despite the efforts of service-ace star Jo to clinch the set, saw Oxford squeaking a victory from the match.
Considering the performance in previous Varsity matches, the Blues team can gain merit from a gutsy and, in the most part, controlled and professional approach to this match. Based on individual performance the players should not be disappointed and it was gratifying to see 100% effort throughout the squad. Obviously the new team still has a way to go to realise it's full potential. The last two matches have given a sneak preview to what the squad is capable of and displays like today's game can only boost the team's confidence for a successful season.
Nominated Queen of the Court is Sofia Oikonomidou.
Quote of the match is from Richard Weinberg, whilst sitting on the bench observing the first of Sofia's destructive middle attacks; "Oh my God, that was some swing".
|Position||Sets Played||Attacks||Kills||Kill %||Aces||Blocks||Pass %||Total Points|
|Friederike von Tiesenhausen||O||4||19||6||32||0||0||1.75||6|
Report by Jon Clarke
|Pages maintained by Dan Escott||Last updated: October 2000|