The 139th Varsity Match on May 18th ended in another desperately disappointing result for OUAC, losing all 4 matches, despite two very strong Blues teams – the men being the strongest losing team to lose Varsity for over a decade – running Cambridge very close.
In the Men’s Match Oxford followed their victory at FEAR by scoring 1-2’s in the opening two track events. Incoming captain Adam McBraida led home Craig Morten in the 400 hurdles with both athletes under the Blues time, a feat matched by Tom Frith and Adam Lewandowski who defied a fast pace to steam ahead in the home straight of the 800 metres – Tom winning the Drake Digby Trophy for performance of the match. Combined with a surprise 1-2 in the Discus through Marcus-Alexander Neil and Chris Kneale-Jones the team had certainly avoided the slow start which cost the team victory last year. Cambridge inevitably fought back, beginning with a spectacular 100 metres where a sub 11 clocking for new President Vartan Shadarevian was only enough for 3rd, but wins for Pete Hodkinson in the Steeplechase and Sam Wareham in the 400 metres over more illustrious Dark Blue rivals left everything all square with 8 events left and Tom Frith favourite for a double in the 1500. Alas, here the tide turned against the Dark Blues. Jon Cook, originally withdrawn from the Cambridge team to prepare for his England debut the following day, was persuaded by the tightness of the contest to run and outkicked a tired Tom to reignite Light Blue belief. Despite a dominant win from Aidan Reynolds (2nd in the UK Junior rankings this year and winner of the Paul Gomme Trophy) in the Javelin and a heroic late charge from McBraida and Morten to 1-2 the 200 hurdles the team needed the sprint relay to stay in the match. Against a faster Cambridge squad, superior changes – including a novel diving change from James Dargan – resulted in a 2 metre lead with 20 metres to go. But a stunning burst from the winner of the sprint double saw Cambridge secure the match on the line. Pride was restored in the 4×4 as both Oxford teams beat the Cambridge Blues but the CN Jackson trophy remained in Cambridge for the fifth year running.
The Women’s Match was even closer – had some of the surprise performers for the Millipedes staked their claim to a Blues place before the match Oxford would have retained the trophy. The team’s effort was, as last year, built around their captain Nadine Prill who saw off an impressive Cambridge Fresher to retain her sprint triple and anchor the team to two relay wins. Rose Penfold, light blue captain gone dark, retained her 800 metre title. In a significant turn-around from last year Oxford dominated the throws with Anna Niedbala, incoming women’s captain Katie Holder and Charlotte Warwick winning the Discus, Shot and Javelin respectively. Unfortunately, as with the men the jumps gave Cambridge four victories – even Montana Jackson being unable to prevent Cambridge’s UK Champion High Jumper Emma Perkins from winning another triple. Despite this Cambridge only sealed victory with one event to spare following a 1-2 in the Steeplechase which underlined their domination of the distance events.
The second team matches were less tight, Oxford being heavily depleted by absences from those who did not wish to compete in an away match during exam season. Future committees must do everything possible to raise the profile of the second team matches – both teams could have run Cambridge very close with their full team in place. Nonetheless particular mention must be made of certain Centipedes and Millipedes. Ralph Eliot, who was desperately unlucky to be in 2nds for the second year running due to the strength in depth of the 400 squad, won this event in under 50 seconds as well as showing an unorthodox technique to win the unfamiliar 200 hurdles and running Cambridge’s ex Nigerian international very close in the 200 flat. Freddie Hendry dashed back from his year abroad in Paris to dominate the High Jump. But pride of place must go to Jenny Richards, only in the 2nds for tactical reasons, but taking the opportunity to set a new Hammer record for the match and also winning the Shot to secure herself the Steven Stuart Trophy for second team performance.
The Blues matches were high quality encounters and it was no disgrace to lose narrowly to such strong opposition. But this is the third whitewash in four years and with the 150th Anniversary match at Iffley next year everyone involved with Oxford athletics must do everything they can to ensure that this trend is well and truly reversed by next May. With most of the squad remaining, there is no reason it cannot be so.
Men: Craig Morten (400 hurdles, 200 hurdles), Aidan Reynolds (Javelin, High Jump), Sam Trigg (Triple Jump), George Gundle (400 metres), Tom Frith (1500 metres, 800 metres), Adam McBraida (400 hurdles, 200 hurdles), Adam Lewandowski (800 metres), Marcus-Alexander Neil (Discus), Sam Wareham (400 metres)
Women: Rebecca Simpson (Hammer), Nadine Prill (100 metres, 200 metres, 400 metres), Montana Jackson (Triple Jump), Anna Niedbala (Discus), Michelle Sikes (5000 metres)
Report by Dan Hooker, Blues Captain 2012-2013