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101st Varsity Match approaches for Oxford University Lacrosse Club

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Next week, on the 25th February, St John’s College playing fields in Cambridge will play host to the 101st Varsity Lacrosse match. With men’s and women’s blues teams, a mixed team and male and female second teams (the ‘Iroquois’ and ‘Swifts’ respectively), there should be plenty of excitement to justify the bus journey. While Cambridge have dominated the women’s Varsity matches in recent years, losing just twice in the last decade, Oxford beat them 8-5 in a BUCS (British University and College Sports) match a few weeks ago, making the match difficult to predict. The men’s Dark Blues, meanwhile, come into this Varsity match after five consecutive victories, although without any recent matches between the two teams it is hard to tell who is the current favourite.

Both Blues teams finished third in the South Premiership this year, and have set their sights on reaching the BUCS semi-finals, but the big prize will be fought over in Cambridge. After a heavy turnover of players in the men’s team, with most of last year’s successful Blues squad having departed, the men’s team this year has focused on rebuilding, especially with the vast majority of the squad not having played lacrosse before. Coaches Pete Barry and David Morris have helped to create a strong positive ethos around the men’s squad, boding well for next week. The women’s team have had a gentler transition to this season, but have still had to deal with the integration of new players, as well as a number of positional swaps in the side. Another interesting aspect of the matches is the fact that Cambridge will be missing many American players in their side who are ineligible to play in Varsity.

While Cambridge have dominated the women’s Varsity matches in recent years, losing just twice in the last decade, Oxford beat them 8-5 in a BUCS match a few weeks ago

The match is also not lacking in personal interest stories. Most prominently, for the second year in a row, twin brothers will be facing each other from opposite sides of the pitch. Gabe Barrie, in Dark Blue, and Will, in Light Blue, faced each other last year with Gabe coming out on top, but his brother will surely be keen to even things up. The symmetry does not end there, for both brothers are Vice-Captains of their respective teams as well. As well as the familial aspect, last year saw a former Oxford captain lining up for the Tabs, increasing the tension.

In terms of international calibre, this game is not lacking either. Gabe Barrie was involved in the England U19 academy, and played alongside fellow Dark Blue Dom Hewitt in the South of England second team last year. The women’s team is arguably even more illustrious, with Alex Drewe and Zoe Thursz members of the current senior England squad, while Jane Lee is a South Korean international. The fact that Lacrosse is not as well-known as some other sports means that some of the best players around can be found in the Oxbridge sides, and that Varsity will be a show of real quality.

Those who arrive in Cambridge on the 25th of February will be treated to a first-class sporting spectacle

Lacrosse has a (perhaps unfair) image as a public school game in England, despite its Native American roots, but club president Rob Conway, a fourth-year medic at Green Templeton College, emphasises the accessibility of the sport. Like most of the men’s team, he had never played men’s lacrosse before he arrived at university – with mixed and women’s lacrosse better known – but after getting a taste for the game was drawn in, finding the sport’s “fast pace and physicality” particularly appealing. Most of the women’s teams have more previous experience of the game, but the club is constantly expanding and drawing more players in, holding taster sessions as well to help attract new members. Conway points in particular to the introduction of regular sessions for the men’s second team a few years ago as a catalyst for the expansion of the sport in Oxford, allowing more players to get regular game time.

Things, then, are looking up for Oxford University Lacrosse Club as Varsity approaches. While the men’s and women’s sides have had contrasting fortunes in recent years, both games seem finely balanced. What can be guaranteed, however, is that those who arrive in Cambridge on the 25th of February will be treated to a first-class sporting spectacle.

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