It’s the taking part that counts, so they say, and Newcastle’s decision to integrate several new players into their team proved the decisive factor in a double bill of korfball action at the Sports Centre.
Teammates became rivals as Newcastle’s fledgling korfball club played against the Tyneside Titans and Northumbria as part of the North East Korfball Association league.
With none of the clubs in the league older than five years, there’s a strong camaraderie between members, and the Titans were instrumental in helping to establish a club at Newcastle University last autumn. Even now the two teams train together and several players have made appearances for both sides.
The Newcastle-Titans match, then, was always going to be a special case. Both sides were without the talents of Dutchman Wilbert den Hoed, perhaps NEKA’s most experienced player, who plays for Newcastle in student matches but the Titans in NEKA, and who wisely sat this one out. Newcastle was also missing Lottie Rhodes, who had broken her finger just days earlier and was forced to cheer on her teammates from the sidelines.
The loss of these more experienced players was compounded by the introduction of several new members to the Newcastle team. Rosa Schamoti made her debut appearance for the Nighthawks against Tyneside while many of the players had only recently joined the club; indeed, not one of Newcastle’s starting lineup was even aware of korfball’s existence just six months earlier.
[pullquote]After an early deluge of korfs the game steadied out[/pullquote]
Newcastle began sluggishly against the Titans but were strong on the defensive side, generally managing to regain control of the ball quickly and efficiently.
After an early deluge of korfs the game steadied out, with both sides able to maintain possession for extended periods of time although ultimately unsuccessful in their shots on the korf, ramping up the pressure.
A moment of particularly high tension came towards the end of the first half, when Newcastle’s Chris Baker was stuck had the ball but no-one to pass to, being so closely marked by Tyneside players. For a good 15 seconds his teammates ran desperately around the court trying to find space, but when he was ultimately able to pass the ball to Rebekah Albiston her shot missed the korf and possession passed over to the Titans, creating a sense of anti-climax going into the second half.
The Newcastle attacking quartet of Baker, Albiston, Harry Waterman and newcomer Rosa Schamoti were persistent in their efforts on the korf. Unlike the more individual nature of most of the Tyneside shots the Nighthawk’s tirelessly passed the ball between all four players in the Titans’ half, but almost all of their shots were frustratingly short.
The Titans, and occasional-Newcastle player Miles Clement in particular, were far more vocal on the court, with “boy looking for feed” a common refrain throughout the match. Korfball is notable in being a mixed-gender team sport, with each team made up of four male and four female players, who can only defend a player of the same gender.
Newcastle made the most of having nine players to pick an eight-person team from and Waterman was subbed off midway through the second half, but a nasty twist to Baker’s ankle required him to come back on to finish the game. For the Northumbria match, however, Newcastle’s Hyun Gyu Ku was needed to referee the game, and so Baker had to play on through his injury.
With only a dozen minutes to recover from their defeat at the hands of the Titans Newcastle were back on the court to face Northumbria. Earlier in the season Northumbria had claimed a 10-2 victory but their non-NEKA Stan Calvert match-up had gone Newcastle’s way, so it was all to play for at the Sports Centre.
[pullquote]A series of energetic shots on the korf gave Newcastle some hope of a comeback[/pullquote]
Determined not to repeat the mistakes they had made in their opening match Newcastle started with energy and pace, but this focus on driving forwards let a series of Northumbria korfs through their defence.
Early Newcastle efforts such as captain Jess Meakin’s ambitious shot from close to the halfway line failed to find the korf, while Northumbria had luck on their side and ratched up a score from free passes and well-placed shots in open play. At half time the visitors were leading 11-2 and a demoralised and exhausted Newcastle side struggled to stay motivated during their team talk.
Things picked up for the Nighthawks in the second half, however, and they blocked an early shot from Northumbria and kept possession for longer periods. A fierce volley from Baker sent the ball flying down to the other end of the court and a series of energetic shots on the korf gave Newcastle some hope of a comeback.
A couple of disallowed korfs from Baker and some near-misses from his teammates stunted Newcastle’s progress, but they held Northumbria back better than they had in the first half, and the game ended with a respectable scoreline of 15-4 to Northumbria.
Baker was disappointed that they “got punished far too much for a very slow start” against the Titans and were running out of energy for the Northumbria match, but pointed out the inexperience of the side. “We’ve struggled in the league a bit this year,” he added, but away from NEKA the club has had better luck, taking home silver from the BUCS National Plate and cruising to an 8-7 victory over Northumbria in this year’s Stan Calvert.