Revenge, Perfection and Uncharted Territory
Ben Jackson offers a round-up of recent lacrosse news.
The EULC Men’s 1st X began the second half of their season two weeks ago with a big reputation to live up to.
They were undefeated thus far but now faced their toughest league match of the season, away to Bristol.
On a damp Somerset day Exeter began slowly on a slippery surface and finished the 1st quarter at 1-1. During the break, the arrival of veteran long pole Alex Brown breathed life back into the team.
He and FOGO Ben Jackson had raced up the M4 after the completion of their morning seminars and Brown had an instant impact, running the ball the entire length of the pitch and almost scoring his first goal of the season.
From here the team kicked on and as the clock wore down in the final minutes Exeter had what looked like a comfortable 7-5 lead. The moment that this game will be remembered for made that lead far less comfortable.
American scholar (but clearly not gentleman) David Wiese lost his cool and brutally upended Bristol’s England international defenseman. The defender has been recovering from a fractured elbow but after spending several minutes unconscious he was eventually told that he now has a broken collarbone to recover from as well.
Good relations formed during tours in Dublin ensured that the crowd has been very well mannered towards the EULC to this point. However, Collarbone-gate saw a turn in their attitudes and tension descended upon Bristol University’s sports park.
Wiese took a 3 minute penalty and so for 3 of the last 5 minutes Exeter had to defend with a man down.
The attacking team should really expect to score a goal for every 30 seconds they play with an extra man so the final few minutes put Exeter’s unbeaten season in serious jeopardy.
However, the defence had plenty of time to rally while the injured man was being seen to and they came out firing. By the end of those five minutes Exeter had not only shut-out their opposition but had even tacked on an extra goal to finish the game 8-5 to the good guys.
The following week Exeter travelled again, this time to Oxford, where a win would almost certainly ensure that the EULC retained their Southern Premiership title.
The squad had been battered and bruised in Bristol though and so a thoroughly depleted squad headed to Oxford including debutants Nick Henderson-Williams and Tom Jordan.
David Wiese, perhaps lucky not to be suspended, scored within the first 10 seconds of the game and Oxford looked a defeated team from there on out.
The injury (and seminar) ravaged team strolled to a 12-4 victory and had now beaten the two next best teams in their league both at home and away.
Only a total collapse against Warwick, Portsmouth and Brighton would leave any chance for Bristol or Oxford to rob them of the title now.
The league had always been a secondary concern though. Months of practice and preparation had all been focused on one game alone – Sheffield Hallam. Exeter always knew they would come up against Hallam in the BUCS knockouts in a replay of last year’s demoralizing loss.
No team from the South had ever tangled with a Northern team and come out with a victory. Hallam are 2nd in the Northern Premiership and are therefore supposedly the second best team in the country.
Exeter were ready for them though. They showed up to Hallam’s pitch with nothing to lose and everything to gain. Alex Warehime stunned the home team with his opener which almost broke Sheffield’s net, although it did already appear to be on its last legs before the goal.
Hallam appeared confused that a team from the South of England had the ability to play the game and Exeter capitalized on the element of surprise, racing to a 4-0 lead. Hallam eventually showed their true class and pulled the game back to 4-3 before half time.
The game appeared to be slipping out of the EULC’s grasp and that all too familiar feeling of being inferior to the Northern Premiership began to creep in. But the men in green had trained all season for this moment and refused to give up.
Playing into the sun in the second half they reinstated their lead with a series of improvised finishes. First, Jamie Graham scored with a hockey shot off the floor before the flamboyant Charlie Higson-Smith weaved through Hallam’s defence to score with just one hand, which is all the more impressive given that he was playing more or less on just one leg having seriously damaged his ankle in the Bristol match.
Once again Sheffield Hallam came back and despite a resilient marathon of defending and some world class goaltending from Nima Barzin, the score reached 8-7 with 2:16 left on the clock. Exeter would barely see the ball in those final two minutes, but they ended the day in the same way that they started it: as the team who wanted it more.
The final whistle blew and the arrogant joking of the Hallam players had become some of the most despondent faces you are ever likely to see on a sports field.
Exeter had reached the final four for the first time in the clubs history and a Southern team had finally toppled a Northern one. The jubilation was such that the referees briefly forgot it had been a Quarter-Final and began congratulating Exeter on reaching the Final.
When the EULC Men’s 1st X do take part in their first ever BUCS Championship Semi-Final against Manchester University in 3 weeks time, they will be hoping to hear something similar from the referees come the end of 80 minutes.