Yesterday’s Conference Cup finals saw both men’s and women’s first lacrosse teams manage the extraordinary feat of ending their seasons undefeated, with each securing promotion, as well as a set of golden BUCS medals.
Despite fixtures being after the end of term, meaning that several first team players were absent, the captains managed to gather strong starting line ups, and ensured that York was well-represented on the day of the Conference Cup finals, held in glorious sunshine and in front of vocal, bordering rowdy, support on the 3G pitch of Leeds Met.
First up was the women’s game, which saw Claire Thomas’ side triumph 19-6 against Newcastle seconds, in a match that comprehensively topped their 13-10 win at an earlier BUCS fixture, and saw the finest lacrosse the squad had produced all season. In scintillating form, the girls led from the off, entering half time with a comfortable lead, and then – remembering the fight with which Newcastle had come back in the second half of their last meeting – surpassing their opponents’ intensity and pulling away smoothly to dominate the final thirty minutes’ play, in which they only conceded one goal.
Chloe Searle controlled the draw throughout, allowing Katie Barrett and Alex Whitehand to implement many of their trademark fast breaks; solo efforts of such pace and skill that they had to be seen to be believed. Hattie Whillans and Sacha Greane were notable for their finishing ability, whilst Katie Gordon and Miranda Otter-Barry Ross were ever-present threats around the Newcastle goal. Defensively, the girls created a black and gold fortress, despite the absence of key player Ursula Wild, and a wonderful game by keeper Amy Blumsom, combined with the steely determination of Moylett, Bell, Pay-Savage and Leech, ensured that the York end was impregnable throughout.
The team played with unrivalled passion and flair, perfectly encapsulating the progress they have made this year, as well as cementing their position at the top of Northern Second Division lacrosse, and – afterwards – revealed none of their physical or emotional exhaustion; delightedly collecting the golden medal that had eluded them in last year’s Cup campaign, and spraying champagne with an abandon that belied the pinpoint accuracy they had produced during the game.
Next to play were the men, in what promised to be a tighter fixture, with Greg Markes’ side much more depleted, and Durham seconds – their League rivals – arriving with a large squad and convoy of extremely vocal American coaches. However, the men were not to be outdone by either their opponents or the success of the women, and fought with incredible intensity in a breathtakingly close and fraught match to come through as Cup champions, 6-5.
Against a technically capable and physically ruthless Durham side, York remained defensively strong, with the experience of Markes and Kosek controlling a backline bolstered by first team debuts from Pontifrex and Singh. However, many of the Durham shots that made it through were denied by the astonishing George Balmford in goal, whose phenomenal reflex saves and fearlessness have been invaluable to York all season, and were part of a standout performance in the final. In the midfield, Pick’s tireless work was instrumental, as was Ilenkovan’s face-off ability, which secured many key possessive moments for the black and gold side. Chalmers and Illsley were powerhouses from the top of York’s attacking formation, often fed by the perennially skilful Thomas, and ripping five shots between them past a hapless Durham keeper.
Despite the physicality of the game, which saw Beetham sidelined after just five minutes with a dislocated shoulder, and a near-endless stream of purple towards the sin bin, attitude in the York camp remained firm, bolstered by superb captaincy by Markes, and the deliriously happy women’s team, now taking their turn as York cheerleaders.
No team was ever more than two goals up, and the atmosphere – both on and off the pitch – was indescribably tense, and it was with incredulity that York greeted a Durham time out, called with just one minute and forty-two seconds on the clock, and York 6-5 up. However, nothing was to come of their last-minute tactical decisions, and – after the longest 102 seconds ever recorded – the final whistle sounded, supporters and substitutes flew onto the pitch, and York lacrosse’s afternoon of triumph was complete.
Division One will truly test both men’s and women’s sides, and each season brings its own upsets and challenges, but – with days like this – there simply has never been a better time to be involved in lacrosse at York.
Women’s First Team: Greane, Whillans, Gordon, Otter-Barry Ross, Barrett, Searle, Whitehand, Thomas (C), Moylett, Leech, Bell, Pay-Savage, Blumsom
Men’s First Team: Balmford, Markes (C), Pontifrex, Singh, Kosek, Philpott, Beetham, Illsley, Pick, Monyard, Chalmers, Thomas, Portal, Ilenkovan