Pioneer Sports were at Big BUCS Wednesday from midday all the way through to the late evening. Soaking up the best of not just Lacrosse: Rugby League, Rugby Union, Hockey, Football, and a myriad of other sports were all on display, even fencing!
The day’s first men’s game was a see-saw battle between Sheffield University and Cambridge. The men in black and yellow jumped out to an early lead but Cambridge fought back to lead 7-3 going into the final quarter. It was time for Sheffield coach Benjamin Scola to make a game winning tactical adjustment, moving England u19 international Matt Tatton from short stick midfield to long stick D. Tatton was able to nullify Cambridge’s potent attack men and with Cam Parks bagging 6 goals in a man of the match performance, the men from Yorkshire ran out winners.
Next up was the Women’s Championship Final. Last year’s winners, Durham, were back again and it was Exeter trying to stop them retaining their title. Unfortunately for the ladies from the West Country, although their performance was brave and spirited (none more so than their goalkeeper who made a number of fantastic saves) they just didn’t have enough to really threaten Durham. As the low scoring game dragged on, Durham were able to mercilessly grind out a 7-2 win, meaning they had won both Women’s competitions on the day, as their 2s had earlier defeated Cardiff 15-10.
The stage was set for the main event. With a cacophony of noise coming from the adjacent hockey pitch Durham and Nottingham Trent stared each other down during the full team line up. Two things were very apparent. 1) Trent’s matching navy blue Cascade Rs made them look like a slick professional outfit. 2) However good they looked, Trent only had three poles, something which would go on to be a telling factor.
The opening faceoff set the standard for the rest of the game; James Pomfret dominating. With possession won Trent began their first long, patient offensive set. With the joint top English point scorer from the 2016 European Championship (Zac Guy) calling the shots in attack, an alley dodge from Pomfret was quickly redirected through X and the ball found Jamie Powell. After taking a second to check himself the finalist playing his final game for Trent took a crow step and buried a shot mercilessly past Michael Grace in the Durham goal. It was his first of three on the day.
Unfortunately for Trent, their lead was short lived and the first time Durham went down the other end Jack Bobzien, who won an NCAA Championship with the Denver Pioneers, found a cutting team mate who finished impressively while spinning away from goal. Soon afterwards Durham doubled their score line and took their first lead of the match. A febrile silence descended on the predominantly Trent crowd. Was this simply going to be a coronation for Durham?
If the first quarter was Durham’s, the second most certainly belonged to Trent. Durham had elected to simply try and spoil the battle at x, putting a pole at the centre spot whose sole job seemed to be to take lumps out of Pomfret. Despite this, Trent were once more able to gain possession. Zac Guy sold a trademark face dodge to an overcommitted defender and, with the defence scrambling, Guy found Trent Captain Alex Huntley on the back stick. From their Trent landed a number of body blows on their foes, including a majestic split dodge followed by cannon like shot from Will Hardy which almost took the goal off the ground when it hit the back of the net. With the Trent defence now face guarding Bobzien, Stee Shaw began a night of heroics in goal. After saving a shot straight down his throat, Shaw sparked transition for the men in pink. From there, Durham were caught out in D once more, this time overplaying former Hokie Pat Greenwood who scored his first of the game. A Durham penalty gave Trent a man up opportunity and the sweet and sour combination of Hardy and Guy opened up acres of space for their team mates who put Trent further in the lead. Despite Durham pulling two back, Trent ended the half emphatically after Pomfret won yet another face off, glided downfield and buried a hard shot in the Durham goal before sliding in celebration.
Trent Coach Sam Patterson called time out to chalk up a play with 3 seconds left after Trent had won the final faceoff of the half. A long range shot into a crowded crease didn’t produce a buzzer beater but all in all Trent went into half time 6-4 up. Where the crowd was nervous at the end of the first quarter, they could now dare to dream!
Pomfret had dominated the first half with power and speed, he now employed the sleight of hand to secure his team possession; either popping it out to his line mate Tom Hallam or leaving it in the centre spot for him to collect while he took the Durham attention elsewhere. If Durham were on the ropes in the first half, they were rattled at the start of the second. They started to call for everything from the referees and the patient Trent offence exacerbated their frustration. When they failed to score though, it was Durham’s turn to pile on the pressure.
Despite only having three poles, with steely determination and Shaw behind them, Trent almost managed to wrestle possession back on three consecutive occasions. Unfortunately, at this level “almost” isn’t good enough and Durham clawed a goal back. Soon after, another possible seminal moment in the game, Will Hardy went down in midfield. The Trent bench held its breath and all in the crowd fell silent. Fortunately, Hardy was able to limp off and the early signs do not point to any long term damage, but his afternoon was over. On the next possession Bobzien took a long arching dodge on his way to pipe city, but not before the Trent pole marking him was penalised for a hold. With only two other poles reaming the Trent players had to switch sticks on the pitch, so were effectively playing with 2 ½ long sticks, nowhere near enough to prevent the crisp Durham passing finding a free man. Bobzien was the architect once more as Durham pushed on.
The half was not over though. After a fast break came from nowhere a pink tsunami was charging towards the Durham goal. A score before the quarter end could wrestle precious momentum back but an errant pass saw the ball skip agonisingly off the pitch. There was a possible reprieve for Trent though. Head referee Gregg Irwin deemed Durham offside, a decision which sent the team in white into apoplectic rage. Crucially though, Trent could not score on the final possession of the half. As the whistle went for the end of the quarter, the Durham bench rushed onto the field and congratulated their D like they had just won the game.
Where Durham had looked on the ropes and rattled earlier in the game, it was Trent’s turn to look like they had gone through a few tough rounds as they came out for the final 20 minutes. Amazingly though, after another Shaw wonder save they were on the offensive and scored the first goal of the quarter. After the ensuing face off, Pomfret and Hallam once more brought the ball down to their attack but a quick turn over saw the Durham LSM bring the ball back upfield almost instantly and tombstone the ball into the Trent net. In what seemed like mere moments later, the same LSM was charging down the field once more but this time chose to pass off to an attacker, whose shot hit Shaw’s helmet so hard that the ricochet went over the 20 ft fence behind the goal. Unfortunately it was not long before Bobzien , while surveying the pitch from X, found another free man who finished while falling to his knees. Desperate calls for a crease violation came from the Trent players, but the prayers weren’t answered. From here the game became scrapy, with Durham giving away a number of penalties but Trent being unable to convert their chances. One exception to this was after a flag was thrown for a hold by another Denver National Champion, D pole Patrick Karole. His and Zac Guy’s all D1 match up had been fascinating to watch but with the green light Guy barrelled underneath Karole and dived cross crease to score Trent’s final goal. Durham would hold the ball for long periods and despite a number of turn overs by Tom Hallam, who had played excellently throughout and marshalled his defence like a field general, Durham always seemed to come up with the ball and scored at the pivotal moments to extend their lead while not risking loss of possession.
The game ended in chaos. After managing to force a turn over, one final Trent advance up field was halted by a big hit from a Durham player. The hit was borderline legal but an angry reaction from the Trent player saw a furious mêlée erupt where punches were thrown. The final act of the game was the expulsion of a player from each team. After this the head referee blew his whistle and Durham had secured their 8th straight BUCS Gold. After the game, the Trent team held their head’s high. With a sorely depleted team they had managed to lead for parts of the game and push Durham throughout. Far from every Trent or Durham coach and player has been mentioned in this article, which is a disservice as everybody played there part in a fantastic and absorbing game. Goalkeeper Stee Shaw was awarded man of the match for his heroics and many beers were surely drunk on the way home by both teams. For Durham, they can now boast about their 8th Men’s Lacrosse Championship Gold, 93rd consecutive win, and the fact that they won 3 out of 4 Lacrosse gold medals on the day; for Trent, they will be back….