Two years ago, in a cold green hall off Iffley Road, we lost 17-1 to Oxford. It was a crushing defeat and historically, the aim of the mixed doubles captain has been to avoid losing too badly in mixed Varsity. This year we were back in the same hall, but it would be a different story. The usually smug Larry (Oxford’s infamous coach) looked agitated, the cheers of Oxford’s spectators quietened as the day went on, and crucially the scoreline for our second team was (for possibly the first time ever) reversed.
A sleepy Cambridge mixed team arrived in Oxford to find we weren’t playing on the new “light up floor” that we’d heard so much about. We instead warmed up in the old sports hall together as a squad (read, pack), showing from the start that this year we meant business. The first team consisted of Zac Soh, Briony Whitfield, Ben Roberts, Neha Madhotra, Neel Doshi and Steph Potten. The seconds consisted of Andrew Sheat, Rachel Fenner, Tom Wade, Sylvia Ma, Rory Xiao and Becky Donaldson (captain).
The first games didn’t go our way for the first team, with Oxford showing just why they have been somewhat dominant in recent years, but it was a strong start for the seconds. Despite a shaky first set, Xiao and Donaldson finished off their strongest pair in three ends. They came off to see Fenners and Sheat (the tallest mixed doubles pair in the history of CUBaC ) also defeat their opponents - already our score from 2 years ago had been doubled.
Wade and Ma polished off their opponents with ease, putting the seconds an unprecedented 3-0 up. This was quickly followed by Xiao and Donaldson putting another on the board and after only an hour, Cambridge were well in sight of a victory for the first time in a very long while.
Up on the first team’s courts, the games were very close, with many going to three ends. Nonetheless, Oxford were demonstrating their skill and clinching victories right from the jaws of Cambridge. In particular, Soh and Whitfield were unlucky to miss out on a victory over Oxford’s second pair, who pulled out all the stops to return everything the light blues could throw at them, making very few errors in the process.
In the second team, Oxford were also starting to fight back, knowing they could not afford to concede any more games. Wade and Ma narrowly lost out to a strong first pair but on the other court Fenners and Sheat rose to the increased intensity from Oxford, thrashing their opponents to 10 and 7. Annoyingly, most of the points they lost were when they were being live-streamed to our Facebook, but once the camera was away they dominated the court and won with ease meaning Cambridge had sealed the second team victory. It was a feat that not even ‘Grandma’ Potten could recall from her many years in CUBaC, and certainly one to be celebrated.
With that in the bag, mutterings of an overall victory for Cambridge begun. Much maths was done (for a Saturday) to figure out what combinations of games could be won and lost for us to come out on top. It was around then that Roberts and Madhotra pulled out a stunning victory against Oxford veteran and President Michelle and a visiting international student. The usual shouts of “huge” and “teach me” intensified as Cambridge took their inaugural match win in the first team. Indeed, the overall feeling from our firsts was that if they had been able to pull out their best performances for every end, the scoreline would have been very different.
Back to the second team matches, and complacency at our quick win got to Xiao and Donaldson. They went from 18-13 up to 21-19 down and ended up losing in two straight sets. Fenners and Sheat also narrowly lost a close 3 ender with Oxford’s first pair who’d been forced to step up their game massively from the beginning of the day. Wade and Ma took their final match with relative ease, making the overall score 6-3 in our favour for the second team.
On the first courts, one final game was to be played; Soh and Whitfield against Oxford’s third pair. This was a great game to watch with Cambridge even bringing the vuvuzela out to provide eardrum-bursting support to the away team, which was met by a few displeased looks from the dark blue camp. A dodgy line call from Oxford brought the tension to the max and at the end of the second end it was all to play for. Oxford brought their A-game for the third end and despite some hefty smashes from Soh and brilliant net play from Whitfield it was a narrow loss for Cambridge.
The overall the score was 11-7 to Oxford but Cambridge came away with renewed hunger for main Varsity. Indeed, mixed Varsity has not been this close in years, and main Varsity is always a lot more successful for Cambridge, and carries the home advantage this year. After a tasty meal and a small dose of celebratory wine, the light blues returned home triumphantly to train harder than ever in preparation for the one thing on their minds - main Varsity. Looking at Larry’s expression this mixed Varsity, he knows as well as we do that Oxford should watch out on the 2nd of March.