Birmingham Women’s Lacrosse fought to the final whistle, but eventually fell 10-9 to Cambridge in a dramatic and high-scoring BUCS Championship Final.
Despite a hellish five and a half hour journey to Sheffield due to road closures, Brum came very quickly out of the blocks and it took two good saves from Cambridge keeper Erin Walters to deny first Alice Bruynseels and then Emily Hughes. Unfortunately the latter collapsed with a howl of pain after her attempt and a long stoppage ensued; Hughes eventually departed in an ambulance with suspected ligament damage and barely two minutes on the clock.
Brum seemed shaken up by this and shipped two goals, the first from Laura Plant and the second from diminutive but dynamic forward Ellie Walshe. Brum hit back with a well-worked free shot from Bruynseels, but Cambridge were still dominating possession and creating many chances. The pressure was held for a while but after Philli May was given a yellow card for a check to the head, hulking Cambridge attacker Alana Livesey took advantage and scored twice in quick succession, making it 4-1. Coach David Abini called a timeout immediately and charged on to the pitch, trying to instil some confidence in his troops at the midway point of the half.
This move initially seemed to pay dividends: first a fizzing pass from Hollie Harrington found Birmingham co-captain Kirsten Lafferty charging in to slot home, before neat footwork from Bruynseels bought her the space to shoot low and score. Georgie Prichard replied for Cambridge, finishing after a bullish run through midfield, but the half ended with a beautifully worked goal from Birmingham. Molly Pike intercepted in her own third and outstripped her marker up the left before a measured pass found Hollie Harrington in the attacking third. Harrington laid it on for Verity Harrington-Green to make it 5-4 at the break.
Abini was quoted at half time telling the side to “calm down and try and win more of the 50-50s”, and Birmingham began the half with renewed vigour - a break from Lafferty was only kept out by another excellent save from Walters. The Cambridge defence became jittery, giving away two free-shots converted first by Nicole Patterson and then again by Bruynseels, earning her the hat-trick and giving Birmingham the lead for the first time in the match. Lafferty supported this with a well taken shot to make it 5-7.
The game entered something of a lull at this point, as Birmingham heeded Abini’s advice to calm down and kept possession. After 10 minutes Cambridge had the ball in the net, but this was ruled out for a crease violation. Rachel Foster’s ball out from this was intercepted by Walshe, who quickly returned the ball to Livesey to score. Livesey then found the equaliser a few minutes later when she towered over Foster to almost place the ball into the net. The two sides were neck and neck, but the slippery Walshe then scored after a weaving run to make it 8-7 followed directly from the kick off with a huge lofted pass from Harrington to Harrington-Green who equalised yet again.
With the teams neck and neck and just five minutes to go, it was a case of who would make the first mistake and it seemed Cambridge had when Rebecca Allard’s physical challenge was followed through with a raised elbow, giving her a deserved yellow card. Birmingham skipper Lafferty capitalised, rushing forward and wheeling into the box to put her team in front with five minutes on the clock.
However, Cambridge returned to their full complement with the score still attainable and it was Walshe who struck again. First she earned a free shot, which was repelled by Foster but followed up by Prichard to level with a minute and a half on the clock, and then appeared to be away up the left-side before a fierce bodycheck from Hollie Harrington who was sent to the sidelines for her offence. Even a woman down, Jess Adams had a late chance to win it for Brum but agonisingly hit the post with the keeper beaten, before Walshe ran clear yet again, playing it to Plant to emphatically score and break Birmingham hearts. Brum scrapped to the final whistle in an attempt to regain possession but this proved too difficult with a player short and the clock ran down with the score at 10-9 Cambridge, the new BUCS Championship trophy winners.
Abini was understandably dejected after the game, but full of praise for his players endeavour. “It was an exceptional performance. We worked hard through the game; it was 4-1 at one stage but we got it back, it was just a great game.” This sentiment was echoed by captain Kirsten Lafferty: “we had a great fight back and got 7-5 up... We just needed to take control”.