Photos taken by Claire Zhang and Elen Parry. Videos taken from CUBaC live streams on the day.
It had occurred to me after some brief digging around that Mixed Varsity, as an event, hasn't received nearly enough documented love as its older brother Main Varsity held at the end of Lent term. Hopefully this article can pioneer for giving mixed badminton its due respect in years to come.
A relatively prompt matchplay start of ten o’clock meant that alarm clocks were set unusually early for your average Saturday morning. Not that they were needed at all, as much of the Cambridge team caught onto the matchday excitement at six in the morning before unconsciously refusing to fall back asleep for the next two hours. Or maybe that was just me.
Our team of hopeful individuals wandered beady-eyed into University of Cambridge Sports Centre half an hour before match time, ready for the day. A warm-hearted Domino’s team meal the evening before had everyone nicely carb-loaded and raring to go. Having impressively redistributed playing tops the night before, the stars must have aligned as all 12 players from the Cambridge team formed a light blue armada, with uniformness our president George would have squealed in delight had he been present on the day. The Oxford team joined the party, and shuttles started flying as warm-up ceremonies began.
Last minute breakfasts were finished, an assortment of tripods examined and tested for live-streaming capabilities, and most importantly pre-match motivational speeches were made. Fired up and ready to hit the courts in good stride, the first of the matches began, as the Mixed Captains give the reports:
First Team Match Report
James Xu/Helen Yan
Richard Parsons/Cherizza Choi
Zack Schofield/Rosia Li
Quick out the gates were Richard and Cherizza, taking advantage of their speed and alertness at the front of the court. Richard wasted no time in slicing and dicing his slightly cold Oxford opponents, with Cherizza brushing off net kills better than she brushes off back-to-back hangovers from Halloween weekend. A quick 21-13 win in the first set was followed by a counter attack by their opponents in the second. All to play for in the third, a miraculous display of strategy and placement took them over the line with a 21-17 win for the tabs.
However, our fortunes momentarily ended here, as Zack and Rosia got off to a false start against a very sharp looking Oxford second pair. Bombarded and blitzed by very attacking and fast play, they couldn’t seem to find their way into the rallies. Despite a valiant defensive display, the momentous castle fell under siege, and the games dropped comfortably in favour of their opponents. Helen and James meanwhile looked to come out of hibernation after not hitting a shuttle for the first hour. A lack of concentration saw them watch the first set slip away 24-22, but, eager to get into the swing of things, ramped up the intensity in the second. A clinical 21-10 second set victory set them up for a photo finish in the deciding end, but a flurry of mistakes and woes in the crucial minutes conceded the game 17-21.
A worryingly tired-looking James jumped immediately back on with Helen to face the pair that had taken Zack and Rosia’s lunch money the previous round. A rather downbeat, mistake-packed performance from both sides saw the match come down to the wire in both sets. Helen showed her defensive prowess, and James sought to charge up his backhand, but overthinking shots led to their demise - dropping the first game 21-19 despite being 19-17 up, and losing the second to 18. Richard and Cherizza faced the Oxford first pair, and sadly got a taste of what hitting a brick wall felt like, as there didn’t seem like there was a particular way through their opposition. Acrobatic lunges across the court from Richard and quality shots to the net from Cherizza pleased the home crowd, but the consistency of their Oxford opponents pulled through in the end, winning in 18 and 14. Zack and Rosia slowly warmed up and sharpened their knives ready for the chopping board against the same opponents, but the Oxford first pair left nothing in the kitchen fridge. They shut the door on Cambridge hopes with a routine 17-21, 12-21 win.
The last set of games witnessed a defeated mood across the pairs. Eager to get more points on the board, Zack and Rosia rose from the dead to liven up into a spellbinding performance. Despite dropping the first set 16-21, Zack unlocked super saiyan mentality and started running around the court more gracefully than a Theresa May through fields of wheat. His flawless technique and stubborn defence allowed Rosia to intercept risk-free mid-court pushes from their opponents. With a few characteristic squeals of approval along the way, a locked-in Rosia guided the light-blues to an emphatic 21-17 and 21-19 victory in the second and third sets.
Richard and Cherizza were just as keen to pick up another win. Faced against Oxford’s second pair, some surges of brilliance pegged the sets to be extremely close in both ends of the court. Cherizza’s fierce side-steps announced fear in the opposing pair’s lady, neutralising her previous dominance at the front-court against previous Cambridge forces. This opened the way for Richard to clash head on with the big bad wolf Andrew Zhu of Oxford, to which the light-blues sadly fell short in a 19-21, 18-21 loss. Heads up Richard and Cherizza, the scores could have been flipped on another day.
For the last match of the day James and Helen trundled back on court to take on the Oxford first pair. Nursing an incapable left knee, James feared the worst as a half hour sitting-off time had summoned the soreness and stiffness into his overworked legs. Helen was determined to avenge their previous losses, but just like Little Red Riding Hood, little did they know of the traps that lay ahead for them. Their Oxford opponents were machine-like in their precision and simply refused to make errors on the day - wearing and tearing James and Helen down until inevitably something gave way. With a few cautious hops of pain and tentative footwork, James’ fitness on the day was very much like Pranav’s team talk - non-existent. A measly score of 8-21, 6-21 says it all, and a defeated and very much broken Cambridge pair walked off the court.
A 2-7 loss for the first team is certainly not a bad performance with previous Mixed Varsities in mind. A well fought match from both teams, and perhaps the ability to now get on the scoreboard serves as a benchmark for Cambridge teams in Mixed Varsities to come.
Second Team Match Report
Finlay Smith/Alethea Tan
Tom Wade/Sylvia Ma
Pranav Santhosh/Anchal Garg
The Second Team players marched onto the court with high hopes, knowing the games would be tight and wins would be hard fought. Never a pair to shy from a scrap, Sylv and Wade were first up against the strong Oxford pair of Pippa and Rob. As anticipated, the first end was breathtakingly close, and Wade and Sylv were pipped at the post, losing 20-22. Knowing a win was very much achievable, the pair were told to unleash their trademark tactic simply known as ‘smashy-smashy-bashy-bashy’. Unfortunately, the defence of the Oxford pair proved too much for the attempted powerplay - culminating in a 17-21 loss - won by well placed counter crosscourt blocks and lightning speed drives.
On the adjacent court, Pranav was preoccupied against a different type of battle with his long luscious locks. After chats with the unofficial beauty consultant Anchal, some stylish but practical hair clips were donned. Now, the pair looked ready for their first match. Having already proven her ability with 21-0 wins in the BUCS leagues, Anchal showed similar skills to control the front court with her deft net shots and interceptions. This tactical play perfectly set up her partner Pranav for deceptive smashes and drops to keep their opponents guessing. Another close match, narrowly lost at 17-21, 19-21.
The two-love deficit at the beginning of Round Two did not faze the newcomer Finlay, nor the returning CUBaC member Alethea. Back in Alethea’s day, Oxford beat Cambridge; today however, Alethea had returned from the corporate world to seek vengeance. Both stepping onto the court with something to prove, they looked to implement their signature flat game to move their opponents side to side and open up gaps on court. They were slow to start against the already warm Rob and Pippa, leading to a tough first end loss. They returned with a steely attitude, with a game plan courtesy of the ‘high-level’ analysis of the previous match by Mixed Captain Sylvia. Only Finlay and Alethea know if they heeded any of Sylvia’s gibberish, but a much better performance and an extra seven points won led to a 19-21 loss in the second. Round Two was ended by an even more tense match between Anchal and Pranav, narrowly losing 22-24, 19-21. If only Pranav maintained his longer lockdown hair closer to his normal length, the extra weight lost may have given the edge required here. Props to Oxford for holding their nerve in such tightly contested games.
Round Three saw the first set won by Wade and Sylvia! As the previous tactic to out-smash their opponents did not go as planned, Wade and Sylvia instead worked to solidify their defence with outstretched diving returns. Unfortunately, the dives were in vain leading to their bruised egos and bottoms as Oxford came from behind to win the match as a whole 21-16, 17-21, 18-21. Similarly, Alethea and Finlay found an extra gear against Oxford’s second pair. Two points into their encounter, both teams contributed to a 60 shot rally filled with the works, drawing in a crowd of spectators with bated breath. Alethea and Finlay soaked up the pressure to win the point, much to the delight of the home crowd. Perhaps due to their high work rate (with more movement from Alethea than seen since 2014), fatigue overcame the pair and Oxford were able to tease out another win.
A special thanks to the supporters who continued to bring a wonderful atmosphere of cheers and air horning during the finale of Round Four and Five. The encouragement from the spectators kept the players energised and motivated to persevere to the very end. The CUBaC team gave the last matches their all, leaving everything on the court to deliver some great games to the spectators. Kudos must be given to Oxford for their resilient mentalities to time and time again rise from the ashes and secure wins from behind. Just how morale boosting are the Oxford team talks?
The last matches brought the final tally to a 2-16 loss to Oxford. Although the scoreline is painful, the scores really do not reflect the high intensity and closeness of the matches, and hide a much more nuanced competition. Thanks to all those who played for their fighting spirit and commitment to training. Mixed Varsity would not have been as competitive without having spent the long hours perfecting partnerships and dragging ourselves to 7am training sessions. And once again, thank you to the spectators who supported the Mixed Team and filled the USC with a vibrant atmosphere.
That’s all the Varsity news for now. Don’t worry though, the Oxford and Cambridge rivalry will return in a few months time in the biggest event of the year - Main Varsity. #GDBO
Reports written by James Xu and Sylvia Ma
CUBaC Mixed Captains 2021-22
Thanks for reading! See you next time!