Just before the Easter break, two teams from NUWPC made the long trek down to Bath to compete in big BUCS Wednesday, the most prestigious event in the university sporting calendar.
First up were the men’s firsts in the trophy final, a knockout competition open to teams that play in the ‘1A’ leagues nationwide below the premiership. Newcastle, captained by Andy Robinson, had already put in a strong performance to book their place in the final, beating top of the league Liverpool in a nail-bitingly close penalty shootout in front of a home crowd a fortnight earlier.
Standing in their way of a gold medal were the top of the South Eastern 1A, UCL. However, the 13-strong side, made up of national league and international players, as well as the self-appointed ‘best water polo player the club has ever had, and ever will have’, Adam Courtley, were confident about their chances.
From the off, the scoreline remained level, with both teams fighting bitterly to put points on the board. 2016/17 players’ player, Andy Robinson, scored some ‘absolute worldies’, with keeper, Owen Herman, pulling off some incredible saves to aid their campaign.
Under the instruction of men’s coach, Matt Little, the team stayed focussed enough to gradually pull away from UCL in the third quarter, maintaining this narrow lead to seal a convincing 12-9 victory to take home the coveted trophy title. A triumphant Toon side celebrated by pushing coach Little into the pool.
On their victory, keeper Herman said “everything came together for us in the final. We defended well like we had all season, but we also managed to create and finish our chances to get away in the third quarter and win the trophy”.
After witnessing such an impressive performance from the men, the pressure was on for Newcastle’s women to achieve similar results in the BUCS championship. Fuelled on a hearty and nutritious breakfast of scrambled eggs and porridge, Newcastle were ready to fight for their chance at a medal against the best university water polo teams in the country.
In the semi-finals, Newcastle prepared to take on their North-Eastern rivals, Durham, to whom they had suffered a punishing loss earlier in the season. On Big BUCS Wednesday it seemed as though the burly, mainly American side were in fine form once again, with Newcastle succumbing to a spectacular 20-4 loss in their opening game, sending them crashing out of contention for a gold or silver medal.
Picking themselves up, Newcastle prepared to face the newly-promoted St Andrews in the bronze medal playoffs, and put in a sterling performance. As soon as the match began, Newcastle opened an easy lead, with goals coming from all three of the team’s new freshers, none of whom had played water polo before arriving at Newcastle in September.
Rather than relying on individuals, Newcastle worked together as a team, and this showed as their lead gradually increased. Club president and goalkeeper, Jess Newman, kept a clean sheet for three quarters, while Welsh international and Courier ‘This Girl Did’ athlete, Harriet Robinson, marked St Andrews’ centre forward out of the game.
The resulting 14-2 victory provided a fitting end to the university water polo careers of SPOTY runner-up, Emma Little, Newman, and captain Beth Laidlaw, all of whom have contributed enormously to the success of the club.
“I am very proud to have captained a team who have worked immeasurably hard”
On their success, captain Laidlaw said “I am very proud to have captained a team who have worked immeasurably hard for each other throughout this season. We have achieved as a club, and I’m sure with this attitude the success will continue”.
President Newman, echoed such sentiments, saying that “the club’s results speak for themselves, and our community is so supportive. It will all be greatly missed.”
As the team went up to collect their bronze medal under the watchful eye of Newcastle’s Performance Sport Manager, Fraser Kennedy, they cemented their place in the top three performing female university water polo clubs in the country. Not bad for a team who have no scholarship athletes.
Next year, the club has a lot to do if they are to build on this success, but incoming President Megan Lord, the AU administrator of the year, has plenty of enthusiasm for the challenges that lie ahead.
She said “I’m so excited to be taking charge of one of the most successful clubs in the university! We’ve had a brilliant year and I’m looking forward to another successful one next season.”
When asked about the team’s aims for next season, she added “particularly, I’d love to see the men’s 1s repeat their success with another trophy win, but also get promoted to the premiership, something they’re very capable of doing, given that none of the team are graduating. The women’s firsts are losing some of their key players, but this will give our younger players the chance to blossom under the fantastic captaincy of Sarah Poyntz, so hopefully we’ll be able to make finals again.”
But it’s not all about performance. “I’m also looking forward to seeing our second teams grow in strength and confidence, and develop into fantastic water polo players”.
Under Lord’s leadership, we know they will do no wrong.