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By Matthew Handley
Oxford’s Ultimate Frisbee team finished a creditable 13th in the UK Ultimate University Nationals, but returned from Manchester disappointed after failing to meet their own high standards.
Ranked as second seeds following their win in regionals to qualify for the nationwide competition, Oxford (in Open Division One which comprised the top 16 teams of the 73 competing), were drawn into a group which also included Bristol, Portsmouth and Sheffield.
Oxford won their first game against Portsmouth 13-5, exhibiting strong defence in this game, but knew theywould have to improve their offence if they wanted to beat better teams in the tournament.
Their second game against Sheffield bore this out. The match went to sudden death, ending with an 11-10 victory for the Blues, but Oxford again regretted their inability to put their opponents to the sword. One again,they held firm at the back, but with the Oxford attack not quite clicking, Sheffield showed steel to take a lead towards the end. With the score standing at 10-7 to Sheffield at the hooter, the game was to be played to 11.
Oxford required four points to claw victory from the jaws of defeat.
Some very ‘chilly’ offence – ‘chilly’ being Ultimate slang for ‘patient’ – some impressive individual defensive plays from Sam Poulson and a drop on an easy pass to the endzone from Sheffield, which would have won them the game, meant that the Blues were just able to pull it out of the bag.
Daniel Aronov’s defensive efforts were prominent, and he would later win the ‘icicle award for chilly offence’ at the club’s AGM.
However, in the final group game, chilliness did not equate to sang-froid: Bristol took advantage of Oxford’s profligacy to seal an 8-7 win through sudden death. 7-5 at the hooter meant a game to 8, and Oxford pulled it back to 7-7 with help from a superb layout block (a diving interception) from Dan Wainwright. But Oxford could not pull off Mission Improbable for the second game in succession, and Bristol scored the last point with consummate efficiency.
This left Oxford in second place in the group, facing regional rivals Loughborough, but the team was thoroughly outplayed, with Loughborough still smarting after losing to Oxford 13-6 in the Regionals final. Injury was added to insult when Sam Lings tore a ligament to end his participation in the tournament.
Day Two saw Oxford go down 13-7 to third seeds Dundee in driving rain and strong winds, and continued bluntness in offence led some to question whether a six-week holiday before nationals was the best preparation possible.
The Blues rallied, though, winning their semi-final against Aberdeen 13-6, with an overdue improvement of the offense. Oxford’s final, a 13th-place playoff against Liverpool, proved testing, but was won 11-8, while the overall winners were Sussex University once again.
Sam Poulson was named Oxford’s Most Valuable Player: “His complete disregard for his own personal safety and uncanny ability to read the play of the game are a deadly combination on defense; it is no wonder that GB picked him to play in the under-20 European Championships last year”, commented team-mate Jonathan Saunders.
But what captain Samuel Vile summarised as ‘a disappointing finishing position given the talent that we had on the team’ could not dispel the optimism surrounding the Ultimate scene at Oxford. ‘When we finally got things going we capped a great season with two convincing wins’, Vile continued, praising the team’s fortitude..
“Ultimately,” punned club president Nathan Harper, “it was a special year for our team – one that will hopefully contribute to the success of the program in years to come. There is a solid base of players returning who now have the experience needed to take the next step and hopefully become National Champions.”
PHOTO/ Jeannie Moulton