Mixed Lacrosse Varsity Preview: ‘It’s been the best thing I’ve done since coming to Cambridge’

23 February 2018

It seems like sport at Cambridge rarely provides reprieve from the barrage of labs, lectures and 4am essays. It is, often, cold comfort – the cold, boggy rugby pitches, the tryingly pithy words of encouragement from the cox, the browbeating expectation of seniors come Varsity.

But CUMLC captain Katherine Phillips, just 24 hours ahead of the men’s, women’s and mixed lacrosse Varsity at Oxford University Parks, was refreshingly effusive about the lighter side of University sport. “It’s a nice way to mix up your friends,” she said. “Some of my best friends are fifth year Vets and Medics who I would never have known if I hadn’t played lacrosse.

“You have a lot more of a team atmosphere [with the mixed lacrosse club]. If I don’t see one of the team for about two days it’s very weird. We have our fitness sessions twice a week, and after fitness a group will go and have breakfast together pretty much every week. We’ve had a new session this year up at the sports centre and one of the girls lives in Robinson and so she hosted everyone for breakfast afterwards.”

Make no mistake, mixed lacrosse is not just leisurely breakfasts, a gentle pastime for the genteel as is often perceived – it’s combative, fast-paced, “hockey in the air” as Phillips ominously puts it. She has the bruises to prove it. “In our mixed league games it’s a non-contact sport and we’re not allowed to check each other’s sticks,” she said. “But we play checking in Varsity. It’s technically a non-contact sport, but it can be very physical. We played the women’s three weeks ago and the bruise I had on my arm has only just faded. I’ve had a few concussions in my time.”

Phillips plays wing defence, a kind of midfielder position, she explains to me. “You do a lot of the running. There are two wing defenders and one of them can go forward to attack at any one time because you have to have four people in defence throughout the match.”

“I like communicating,” she smiled, captain of her school lacrosse team throughout her A-Levels. “And offense. If I ever get the chance to go and attack, a quick stick goal is my favourite. They look really stylish.”

The Light Blues have been prolific in recent years, suffering only one defeat since joining the English Lacrosse Mixed Lacrosse Midlands league in 2015, and look set to clinch their second title. And while the team have only played one competitive fixture in 2018 due to league match cancellations, Phillips was confident that they have the edge over Oxford – history, after all, is on their side.  “We’re feeling very strong at the moment,” she said. “We’ve won for the past five years … so there’s a bit of pressure. But we played Oxford last term in a friendly and we beat them 9-5.”

Yet, inevitably, tomorrow will be one of those more physical, feisty days. “They’re the best team we play all year,” Phillips shrugged. “It won’t be an easy match. They’re good competition, they’ve got some really good players.”

So, as a prospective lacrosse enthusiast, why go with the mixed team? “I played lacrosse at school from the age of 11,” Phillips explained. “I originally actually wanted to join the women’s team, but I then decided that the mixed was a bit more chill, a bit more social.

“It’s not like most other Uni teams where you have to have played to a high standard before. We very much accept people who have never played, it’s quite nice having a mix of abilities throughout the club.

“A lot of the teams see sport as this is my sport team, I do it to play sport. The women’s team have four or five England players, so obviously if you’re at that high level then go to the women’s team. They’re a lot better than us!

“We’ve probably had a few more socials over the last three years,” she laughed, adding that with a mixed team they could also dodge dubious trips to Sesame. “I think we have a few people who pay subs just for socials.”

“But I still think I play a high standard of lacrosse in the mixed, and I have a lot of fun,” she smiled. “I think it’s better, but I’m biased.”

Phillips’ acclamation did not stop there. “I’d recommend Uni sport to anyone. I don’t think time is a problem really. The majority of our team is Vets and Medics but since our Varsity squad got announced we’ve been training six times a week.

“Just try it. It might seem like a lot of commitment, but it’s so worth it. Lacrosse has been the best thing I’ve done since coming to Cambridge.”

Tomorrow will be particularly special, the biggest day in the lacrosse calender – and true to the ethos of CUMLC, there’ll be a proper knees up afterwards. “We’ll have a big dinner with all the lacrosse teams after,” Phillips said. “Kind of like a formal. It’ll be really fun, we’ve been on a drinking ban for two weeks.

“And hopefully,” she added, “it will be a celebration.”