By Eddie McAteer, Sports Investigations Editor
University of Bristol's korfball team defeated Bristol Thunder 5s by a single point in the tightest of games. The topsy-turvy fixture saw the students emerge victorious, despite being behind for much of the game.
As February drew to a close, the University Korfball team took to the sports hall court of Bristol Grammar School for their fixture against local side, Bristol Thunder fifth team. Much of the team had arrived early to watch Exeter 1s take on Thunder’s first team and were treated to an end-to-end game of real quality.
However, once the clock rolled over to 2:30 p.m., the main spectacle (at least from a UoB perspective) began. Thunder, kitted out in sky blue, started things off and quickly made their way into the Bristol half. A solid defensive set soon repelled them and launched a threatening Bristol counterattack. Unfortunately for the university side, they couldn’t make the pressure count despite numerous efforts on the hoop.
Eventually, Thunder found themselves with the ball in the Bristol half, only to turn the ball over and find themselves one goal down thanks to Bristol’s no.3, Ed Wagner. After taking the lead, Bristol were faced with a barrage of efforts from their opponents and eventually conceded the equaliser. As is customary in Korfball after two points, the teams then switched sides, meaning that attackers became defenders and vice versa.
Following the change, Thunder pushed on and took the lead before conceding a penalty, which was calmly converted by Nicole Jean-Louis to level the scores. What followed was a real game of cat and mouse. Thunder took the lead on several occasions, only to be pegged back by Bristol each time. Eventual MVPs, Jean-Louis and Wagner both scored to keep their team in the hunt, with Wagner scoring a hattrick before the half was even out.
Despite these goalscoring feats, the University side went into the second half one score behind their local rivals. Upon starting the second half, it didn’t take Bristol too long to equalise but once again they fell behind. It looked as if the game of cat and mouse was going to continue for the entire game, but Bristol tightened up the defence and stifled Thunder’s attack.
With the score at 7-6 to Thunder, Bristol began to edge territory and possession. They were eventually rewarded with a penalty but unfortunately missed it. Not that it mattered too much, as Alice Lomas scored from behind the post soon after. For those who aren’t familiar with the sport, there is an area past the post where teams can still score from, and Bristol used this to their advantage.
The half sped up a little with the scores equal, and Bristol started to look the more likely to score. They were once again awarded a penalty, but once again the ball only came agonisingly close to going in.
The game was very much in the balance, but, despite their dominance, Bristol couldn’t edge themselves ahead. That was until Club Captain, Maddy Stubbs, stepped up to give them the lead for the first time since the opening point.
As the first half had shown, though, a one-point lead is far from comfortable, and Bristol knew they needed to score more in order to see off their opponents. They upped the pressure on the Thunder defence, keeping hold of the ball for long spells, and managed to draw a foul. Unable to score directly from this platform, the team could have lost their heads, but once again Stubbs found herself in space and calmly slotted the ball through the hoop.
With a two-point advantage, it was very much Bristol’s game to lose, which they nearly did. Thunder, desperate to regain the lead they had held for so much of the match, threw everything they had at Bristol. The game had been so tight it was almost inevitable that they would score, the question was whether they could score enough.
A swift counterattack brought them to within one point, but a frantic attack in the closing seconds of the game wasn’t quite enough for them to equalise. At the final whistle, Bristol’s students were victorious in a truly nail-biting finish.
After the game, Stubbs credited the team’s defensive performance for the win, but was obviously thrilled to have scored the points that gave them a cushion.
Stubbs also said, ‘It was a very stressful game, but also very fun as we just had to keep going. It could have gone either way, but we just kept going and it definitely paid off in the end.’
The season has been one of development for the side, as over half of the team only started the sport this year. Despite their influx of new members, they currently sit fifth out of nine in the South West Korfball Association’s second division with one game remaining. The game will be a fifth-place play-off on finals weekend and, in one of those classic quirks of sports, they will once again take on Thunder 5s.
Thunder will surely be looking for revenge, as well as fifth place, but Bristol have beaten them once and can build on their previous victory to make it more convincing this time. For anyone wanting to cheer them on, the fixture will take place on 25 March at City Academy.
Featured Image: Bristol Korfball