About the course:
With a range of incredibly steep hills, near constant undulation and a thick (although thankfully dry), orange mud, Oxford’s course at the Shotover Country Park was completely alien to the Cambridge runners. Despite an early hill which actually incorporated steps, and despite the final hill slowing some of the club’s best runners to a walk, the Hare and Hounds used their experience on the flat, alongside eight weeks’ worth of diligent training, to really challenge Oxford.
First to run were the women’s seconds, set to complete a single large lap of the Shotover course, which totalled 5 kilometres. With some of the Cambridge girls having run times which on previous years would have gained a place on the Blues team, the light blues were well placed to snatch victory from the Oxford seconds girls, who’d claimed the Varsity for the ten consecutive years prior to this year. This, the Cambridge ladies certainly did. Despite an exceptionally speedy Simon Paulson and Sarah McCuaig of Oxford claiming first and second place respectively, the Cambridge women’s captain Megan Wilson finished just behind, taking third place in a time of 19:05. Behind Megan, Cambridge girls Katy Hedgethorne, Lauren Major and Chloe Beckett took fourth, fifth and sixth place – each working exceptionally hard to prevent any Oxford scorers from passing in the closing stages of the race.
That Cambridge gained the four consecutive places behind the two leading Oxford girls certainly contributed to the Light Blue victory. Also essential, however, were the performances of team members Jane Thomas and Alice Feslier Holmes. Despite not scoring for the Cambridge team, both Thomas and Feslier Holmes ran a very strong race to finish in front of the final Oxford scorer – a result that was absolutely crucial to the Cambridge win. As a team, the strength, dedication and sheer determination of the Cambridge women’s seconds were unbeatable on the day.
Women’s Mob Match
A similar story of stamina and gutsiness was demonstrated by the ladies who ran in the thirds match. Indeed, that Cambridge gained all three of the top positions in this race certainly illustrates the depth of the talent in the female Hare and Hounds this year. Particularly notable performances were had by Carrie Beadle, who – seemingly at home on the hilly course – snatched the winning title in an exceptional time of 19:50, which would have placed her ahead of three Oxford runners in the seconds race. Finishing just behind Beadle in 20:00 was Emma Elston, followed by Nadia Ogilvie in 20:06. New to the club this year, Elston and Ogilvie have improved steadily throughout their first term at Cambridge, and are certainly looking promising for the fixtures ahead.
Despite exceptional and dedicated performances from all of the Cambridge ladies, the nature of the ‘Mob Match’ ultimately led to an Oxford victory in the race. Indeed, in a race in which the size of the team is essential, it is unsurprising that Oxford, on the day, put out a much larger team on their home course. What is more astounding, however, is the enormous presence which the Cambridge ladies had in the upper places of the race – a presence which would undoubtedly have earned Cambridge ultimate victory in a non-mob match setting. Certainly, the depth of the talent of the Cambridge ladies, illustrated in both the seconds and the thirds races in Shotover, was incredibly broad and highly commendable.
Next up were the men’s seconds team, which was obviously affected by the ‘loss’ of Alex Short to the GB U20 team which meant James Hoad was drafted into the Blues team, leading to Lorcan Murphy’s promotion to the seconds. Possibly the most impressive performance of the day was Andrew O’Donnghaile’s storming run to victory by 26 seconds whilst Phil Crout managed to break away from a group of three Oxford runners to take second. With the two team very evenly matched, it would only take a few battles won and lost here and there to decide the final result. The middle pack was eventually strung over around 30s, with Josh Carr and Pete Townsend finishing sixth and eighth respectively. Will Bowers in his last ever Varsity match race characteristically took to the hills well finishing ninth whilst fresher Joe Bowness was the sixth and final scorer not far behind. Murphy and middle-distance runner Lloyd Hilton worked well together to hold off the last Oxford runner, with the final result coming down to the wire with the Light Blues taking the match 37-41.
The thirds’ match was similarly close but Oxford eventually took the win at 37-43. The contrast between Wandlebury Common where the trials took place and Shotover was evident with a Cambridge team with predominantly track athletes bravely taking on the hilly course. Will Kirk managed to judge his pace to good effect, finishing first out of the Cambridge runners in fourth and fresher Matt Duffin three seconds behind, but an Oxford 1-2-3 dealt a critical blow even though the last three Oxford scoring runners finished sixth, eleventh and fourteenth. Going into the second (and final lap) the Light Blues were still in contention, but the last section of the course saw a group of four Cambridge runners fall back with track stars Zac Howe, Ed Smith and Mark Nelson finishing seventh, ninth and tenth respectively with former Dark Blue Ben Trigg in eighth. Oliver Garner more than proved his point having been put in the team only a couple of days to go, and beat three Oxford runners in the process, as did Pete Cameron. If it had been eight to score rather than six it would have been a 68-68 draw, showing that unfortunately the Light Blues’ strength in depth was not enough, although no one could accuse anyone of giving less than all they had.
Men’s Mob Match:
The fact that the men’s fourths match was so tight was testimony to firstly the enthusiasm of Light Blue runners to turn up for an away match and secondly the efforts of the club to recruit runners – the final score was a victory for Oxford 504-513 with 22 Cambridge runners. To put this into perspective, Cambridge had won the home match in 2012 by a margin of 158-451. Although due to the scoring system for the mob matches it was always difficult to see an away win, the Light Blues certainly did their best, with nine out of the first eleven finishers from Cambridge. Notable runs were from Oliver Maskell who took a fine second place in front of track athlete Richard Ollington in third, although most will remember the race best for Paul Hodgson’s sprint finish to ensure a sixth place finish behind Sam Bell and Pete Gould in fourth and fifth respectively. With many of the above leaving at the end of the year, it will be a challenge to replicate the true strength in depth that has been present in the whole squad for the past few years, although the promising performances of freshers across the Varsity matches bodes well for 2014.