Mark of success part I: BUCS Big Wednesday and other adventures

Sport doesn't stop for Easter, so neither do we. Sports Editor Mark Sleightholm brings you the latest results and all the things to look forward to in the world of Newcastle University sports.

Mark Sleightholm
21st March 2018
Megan Lord represents Newcastle against Durham at last year's Water Polo Championship. Image: BUCS

BUCS Big Wednesday is finally here. The highlight of the student sporting calendar, or so we're told.

This year the action takes place at Nottingham University, where a whole host of BUCS sports will see their cup competition finals take place on one very busy afternoon. The sole representatives from Newcastle, however, will be the women's firsts water polo side, who'll take on Durham in their Championship final.

This time last week the Newcastle presence promised to be much stronger, but after our volleyball, basketball, table tennis and rugby league fell in the semi finals it's left to the water polo girls, who've had an absolute corker of a season, to bear the flag for Newcastle.

[pullquote]Water polo has continued to be one of the University's standout sports, with a cup final and two promotions between the club's four teams[/pullquote]

The competition will be tough: Durham sit top of the premier division, making them the (joint) best women's water polo side in the country. At the conclusion of the league Newcastle sit three places and seven points below them, but beat Durham 15-12 in December, so the match is certainly no foregone conclusion. The two sides met at BUCS Big Wednesday last year, where a Durham victory in the semis left Newcastle to beat St Andrews to win the bronze medal. This year the format has changed and the semi-finals have already been and gone; there's just a winner and a loser.

A win in Nottingham would be a cause for celebration not just for the Water Polo club and its president Megan Lord, but also for the wider Team Newcastle, who've had another successful season in their various leagues and cups.

One club unable to prove their sporting prowess this week, however, was also one of the oldest: Newcastle University's Boat Club. Having wreaked havoc with fixtures earlier in March, snow's war against sports resumed this week, and the much-anticipated Boat Race of the North, Newcastle’s annual chance to row down the Tyne faster than Durham students can, had to be called off. A frozen pitch also prevented the University’s first team rugby taking on local side Medicals RFC in the Marcus Colville Memorial Rugby Match, organised to honour a Newcastle student and Medicals player who died in December 2017.

Newcastle's BUCS performance is somewhat sunnier, however. For some years now the University has aimed to be in the top ten institutions for overall BUCS points, and as things stand we look set to meet that target again this year. Northumbria, as ever, are one place ahead in ninth.

Water polo has continued to be one of the University's standout sports, and as well as the women's firsts' inspiring cup run this season has also seen both the men's and women's seconds gain promotion to the Northern 1A divisions of their respective BUCS leagues.

Also topping the table are the women's first team tennis. A win over Lancaster last weekend put them out of reach of their competitors and grants them a place in the North A playoffs for the second year running.

More success for Newcastle came in the squash. While the women's firsts lost their Trophy semi-final to Nottingham the men's seconds claimed a 4-1 win over Manchester Met in their cup. The cup win completes a season of success for the men's seconds, who also won their league and secured promotion.

The men's firsts managed to keep themselves in the hideously complex Premier league after reaching the quarter finals of the Men's Championship, although a defeat by Birmingham ended any hopes of progressing further.

The Newcastle Blades' second team got themselves promoted. Image: Newcastle Blades

Meanwhile, in the fencing, Newcastle's men's seconds took on Northumbria's first team to determine who would be crowned champions of the Northern 2B league on its final day of fixtures. Although Newcastle had amassed more points within their matches the overall scores were level, but Newcastle repeated the skilled swordsmanship they showed at Stan Calvert and beat Northumbria 135-121. As well as the league title, the Blades' seconds secured their return to the Northern 1A league for the first time since 2014.

Nine days after losing in their cup semi-final the men's seconds football team reasserted their league dominance with a 5-1 demolition of Teesside's finest. The seconds' only league defeat of the season came in their penultimate league match, ironically at the hands of bottom-placed Sheffield. Their otherwise solid league performance, however, has seen the second's win back-to-back promotions and from September they will find themselves in the Northern 2B league, where they'll come up against a Northumbria side for the first time in two years.

At that point futsal was only beginning to find its feet at Newcastle, but the club has developed quickly and the men's first team secured promotion to the Northern 1A league on Saturday. Luck was against the team last year when a reorganisation of the BUCS leagues left them unable to progress, but an almost-unbeaten performance this time around has seen them top the league.

It was Durham who hosted the soon-to-be-champions on Saturday, but their Maiden Castle venue was unable to protect them and they quickly slumped to a 6-2 defeat to give Newcastle the glory.

The Newcastle Knights pumping themselves up before a game. Image: Courtney Strait

Newcastle’s team in the National Basketball League wrapped up their first season in division one with a 68-72 loss to Leicester, but secured their safety in the league. The bigger picture is much brighter, with Newcastle continuing to develop a set of very strong basketball teams.

It was a better weekend for the Raiders, though, as Newcastle’s American Football team held off a late comeback from the Manchester Tyrants to win 8-6 and book themselves a place in the final. This weekend they’ll be heading down to Coventry to see who can win the North Conference Cup. This piece of silverware would be a nice addition to the Raiders’ season, which has seen them unbeaten in their BUCS league and storming their way straight back up to the first division after their relegation last year.

Also coming up this weekend is the NEUAL Indoor Championships in Birmingham for the Archery club and, closer to home, The Big One at St James’ Park. With footballing attention on the international game the stadium will host a Premiership rugby match between the Newcastle Falcons and the Northampton Saints.

In an interesting experiment, this will be preceded by what is effectively a rearranged Clash of the Titans, between the first men’s rugby teams from Newcastle and Northumbria Universities, with one ticket giving spectators the chance to watch both matches. The Big Two, if you will.

Northumbria are among the top rugby playing universities in the country, finishing their season in the BUCS Super Rugby League just one point behind the champions, Exeter. Newcastle, sitting comfortably in the league below, missed out on a chance of promotion after losing both legs of their playoff matches against Cardiff, who will take their place in the newly-expanded Super League next season.

Newcastle’s knocking at the door of the Super League suggests that the Big One might not be the walkover it was derided as when it was first announced. As ever the Courier Sport and NSR will endeavour to bring you live coverage.

In the mean time keep an eye on the Water Polo girls' progress in Nottingham. Their Championship final against Durham is set to start at 2pm at the David Ross Sports Village, named after the Carphone Warehouse founder and Nottingham alumnus.

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