Last Wednesday Newcastle women’s water polo first team faced a side with whom they have had a long standing rivalry. For as long as any of the team members can remember, including Beth Laidlaw who has been a member of NUWPC since before Albus Dumbledore was even born, BUCS women’s water polo championship race has been a battle fought (often annoyingly in the south-west) between the four North-East Giants: Newcastle, Edinburgh, Durham and St Andrews.
Why this north-east domination occurs isn’t clear, but some speculate that there’s something in the water. This year, Saint Andrews, the University which hosted Prince William’s successful water polo career appear to have run away with the league, winning all eight of their matches so far. Some have put this tremendous success down to the way they have been ‘swimming in it’. This leaves Saints’ lower (geographically) rivals scrapping it out for the silver and bronze medals.
In the last meeting between Newcastle and Edinburgh, in Newcastle, the home side secured their place at BUCS Big Wednesday finals with a roller-coaster ride that resulted in an 8-6 win. Wednesdays match took place on Edinburgh’s turf, but would the home advantage be enough for the tables to turn?
Following some confident words from coach Andy Little, the Newcastle girls commenced their warm-up routine. Megan Lord, winner of the Meg Lord award this year and every year, initiated the ‘small slow crab’ ritual which progressed to the ‘big crab’ and the ‘big fast crab’ before the girls took to the water.
The starting seven for Newcastle consisted of; Left wing: Holly short, Centre Left: Meg Lord, Centre Forward: Beth Laidlaw, Goalie: Tilly Weetch, Centre back: Giorgia Bosworth, Centre right: Ellie Sowerby, Right wing: Sophie Sowerby (Captain).
The Match begun and a tone was set, with Edinburgh winning the swim-off and taking no prisoners as they directed the ball into the goal within a few passes. Newcastle attempted to come back, holding off the Edinburgh defence and controlling the ball between players, however Bosworth’s textbook goal came a millisecond after the 30 second bell, and the ball was turned to Edinburgh who capitalised on the counter.
Edinburgh’s next two goals came from counter attacks. Newcastle were struggling to find match Edinburgh's pace; Katy Fisher swapped in for Holly Short. Newcastle managed to negate the threat of an Edinburgh corner before the quarter ended with the scoreboard showing 4-0 to Edinburgh.
Ciara Simms, Zara Roche, Helen Murray, Emily Budd and Anna Turnbull remaining on the Newcastle bench, Fisher swam for the ball and comfortably won it for Newcastle in the second quarter. But Newcastle couldn’t keep the ball and Edinburgh stole the attack. With key player Bosworth excluded for a major foul, Edinburgh called a time-out to plan their man-up. Thorough defending from Newcastle forced the Edinburgh centre back into taking a long and difficult shot which hit the crossbar, leaving the ball for Newcastle. Newcastle swiftly swung the ball back up the pool and Captain Sophie Sowerby produced a strong shot which was saved by a great effort from the Edinburgh keeper. Within a minute, Newcastle were back on the attack and a goal was found by Fisher, who neatly lobbed the ball from the far left side of goal.
A flurry of goals including a fantastic drive and close range pelt from Ellie Sowerby took the score from 4-1 to 9-2, and a couple of heartbreakingly near misses from the Sowerby sisters drew the quarter to a close.
The teams reassembled for the third quarter. Newcastle had to play smarter and use the clock to their advantage if they were to come back now.
After an Edinburgh exclusion, Newcastle timeout, Helen Murray subbing in for Laidlaw, and an incredible save from Tilly Weetch in her second ever match, the ball was placed into the hand of Ellie Sowerby, who despite having lost her hat, managed to find the back of the Edinburgh net. Another great save from Weetch was converted into a Newcastle attack, and Sophie Sowerby put away a goal from the top of the arc.
In Newcastle’s next offensive, the referees begun their Christmas wrapping, sending out Edinburgh’s no.3 for a brutality foul committed against Bosworth. This gave Newcastle the man up. Team top scorers Sophie Sowerby and Bosworth controlled the ball between themselves but couldn’t find a goal to end the quarter.
The fourth quarter swim-off was claimed by Edinburgh, but Newcastle’s pressure forced a weak shot which was saved by Weetch. Edinburgh’s next attempt to increase their score finished in a disallowed goal due to the striking player having a blatant handful of Newcastle as she took the shot. The pace of the game taking an unrecognisable level compared to that in the first half, with some quick back and forth possession. Exclusion of Ellie Sowerby gave Edinburgh the advantage, but this was neutralised as Fisher blocked a powerful shot and safely delivered the ball to Weetch. In the final minutes of the game, Bosworth scored a signature piece and Edinburgh managed to make their concluding attack count, bringing the score to 12-5.
Following the defeat, coach Andy Little put his teams loss down to “lack of energy in the 1st quarter.” He continued: “but I’m proud of them, they brought it back. Edinburgh only got one or two goals after that. They’re a great team and I couldn’t ask for more really.”
Younger of the Sowerby sisters, Ellie, had her mum and friend watching the match. She said “if we had played like we did in the second half in the first half it would have been a better competition, it just took us a bit too long to get into it.”
Captain Sophie Sowerby said: “we had a lot of missed opportunities in the match, me and Gi especially had loads of shots. I think it was a great opportunity for the new members of the team to get some match time. I’m impressed with them all, especially Tilly.”
Discussing the brutality that was committed against her Gi Bosworth explained: “I don’t really know what happened, I had a hand in the face and then a big kick that sent me flying. Definitely not on.”
When I asked the phenomenal Sowerby sisters “who won then?” they both insisted “were a team!”. It’s clear the duo’s ability to channel their highly competitive nature trickles through the team and is at the core of Newcastle University Waterpolo club’s success.