Last weekend saw the St Andrews Korfball 1sts gain an unprecedented silver medal in the annual BUCS Nationals in Manchester.
The tournament began with three group stage matches against Reading, Leeds and Birmingham, with the top two in each group progressing to the top half of the draw and a quarter final place. After a slightly disappointing fourth place showing in the Northern regional qualifying tournament, most predictions had Saints vying for second place spot in what was the toughest group in the draw. However, the team was confident that their extensive preparations and the strength of their squad would see them through.
Opening against an undermanned Reading team, Saints were quick to find a rhythm and, conscious of the potential impact of goal difference in the group, rolled to a 22-5 victory. England international and AU President Andrew Hall became the first Saint to score 10 goals in a single game, backed up by five from Calum Lindsay.
The second match against Leeds proved to be significantly more challenging. Both teams struggled for rhythm, with each playing exceptional defensive korfball. Saints took a two goal lead but missed opportunities allowed Leeds to gain momentum. A somewhat bad-tempered and stressful game ended in a 7-7 draw, perhaps a disappointment for both sides.
This left the team knowing a victory against Southern regional champions Birmingham – who had beaten Leeds 9-3 earlier in the day, and who would eventually finish third – would see them qualify top of their group. Birmingham came out with a clear plan and executed it strongly, gaining an early two-goal lead by playing smooth and structured korfball and making excellent use of their girls. Saints adjusted their defensive strategies, and adopted a system that Birmingham were largely unable to counter. With Saints’ own girls in particular able to negate the aggressive tendencies of their Birmingham counterparts, Saints scored six unanswered goals. Despite being less polished in their attacking approach, an ethos of tough defence and an uncanny knack for sinking the important shots saw the Saints progress at the top of their group with an 11-7 victory, setting up a quarter final against Cambridge, who had qualified second from a significantly weaker group.
The subsequent 17-7 scoreline reflected Saints’ domination, and rounded off a psychologically and physically draining day’s korfball, at the end of which Andrew Hall and CJ White were chosen to represent St Andrews in the North vs South All-Star Game.
Day two began with a semi-final against the perennial korfball powerhouse Sheffield Hallam University, featuring free-scoring Great Britain international Charlie Vogwill and a strong supporting cast. Past games between the two have been typically tense and attritional and this game was no different, with defence dictating the game throughout. Hallam gained a two-goal lead going into half time, which they kept for much of the second half. Saints’ cause was dealt a significant blow when one of their strongest girls, CJ White, was carried off with a dislocated ankle, having had an immensely strong tournament. Liana Hewson entered the game as a substitute and continued the exceptional defensive play that was the hallmark of Saints’ weekend. The team regrouped, and led by a remarkable shooting performance from captain David Ewing, an exceptional goal from Andrew Hall, and a game-winning long shot from AJ Battey, they held out for a nervy one-goal win and a place in the final.
The final itself proved to be a bridge too far against a Nottingham side widely held to be the finest student team of recent years. Nottingham built a significant lead in the first half, their attacking channelled largely through GB internationals Ben King and Joe Bedford. The Saints acquitted themselves well, but the final margin of victory (17-6) was reflective of Nottingham’s dominance throughout the tournament.
At the final presentations, Saints (including White, returned from hospital) collected their silver medals, and Andrew Hall was named tournament MVP as selected by the referees, a not insignificant honour in itself.
Reflecting on the weekend, Saints captain David Ewing said: “The effort from the entire team over the weekend was outstanding. Everybody supported each other and stayed together as a team, even when games weren’t going our way, and that team spirit got us the results we deserved. The club’s first ever nationals final was a great result which shows the strength the club has developed over the last few years.”