Wednesday, 21 March 2012

High Five: York's College Conquerors

Welcome to post number two, folks! This time, I thought I would select a more upbeat topic – my top five college players from the Spring Term.

Many people have mentioned to me in the past that college sport, competition between the University of York’s eight colleges, is nowhere near the level of university sport. In fact, the next York Sport President, Charlotte Winter, has said one of her main policies is to raise its profile.

But from the games I’ve watched, college sport appears to be in good shape. OK, the quality is not quite as high, but it’s often more exciting to watch than BUCS; the players are less tense and the games are based more on who wants to score the most, rather than on who has the most tactical nous. Players simply embrace the occasion and enjoy themselves on a Sunday. But that’s not to say we often witness bursts of quality which would not actually seem out of place at university level.

So in this post, I will select the five best college players over the last term. These are people who have been invaluable to their team’s success. They have lead by example, contributed at vital moments when others might shy away and performed majestically on a consistent basis.

Don’t forget to comment if you have a different opinion, because this should only be the start of the debate! So here we go then, the countdown begins…


College football has been something of a disappointment this term, with the wintry weather forcing six cancelled weekends. Nevertheless, James finished top of the pile with an unbeaten run from three games, thanks in no small part to captain and central midfielder Richard Baxter.

Baxter holds off Vanbrugh's Rous-Ross
(Photo: Ruth Gibson)

He was the driving force behind James’ 5-0 demolition job of Vanbrugh, providing two assists for Freddy Ferrao and Ben Cooke, and then scoring the fifth goal to cap a fine performance. He was also the string-puller in the 4-2 victory over Alcuin. James Briars was able to complete a remarkable hat-trick mainly thanks to Baxter’s vision and quick thinking to pick out the pace on the wings.

His true leadership skills, however, were saved for the enthralling 3-3 draw against Halifax. Early in the second half James found themselves 3-1 down, but Baxter was incredibly vocal, urging his team to maintain their intensity and keep believing. It worked; Briars got it back to 3-2 before Baxter himself tapped in the equaliser to secure the title. Such performances are a good sign if you a James fan, with the College Cup coming up next term.


Butterworth in action against Halifax
(Photo: Vivan Jayant)

James have also enjoyed a fantastic term of hockey, winning the title from rivals Halifax on goal difference. It was a campaign characterised by fine margins; both sides are head and shoulders above everybody else in the league, and the title decider was effectively their clash back in January.

Halifax had won the previous meeting back in the autumn term, but this time Butterworth’s match-winning performance swung the momentum the other way.

He scored a sublime goal within the opening two minutes, showing both his pace and touch to give his side something to hang on to. Although Halifax dominated possession for the rest of the match, Butterworth time and again put his body on the line to make those vital tackles and interceptions which are so often overlooked.

His contributions in the remainder of James’ games were nothing short of exceptional, either, providing both goals and assists for his teammates. Without him, Halifax would surely have won the title.


Zainal during his match-winning display against Vanbrugh
(Photo: Ellen Rawlins)

The Malaysian dynamo has provided much of the energy to a sparkling Langwith side this term, helping his side win the 2012 college badminton title.

Although diminutive in stature, Zainal possesses remarkable racquet power, easily making him the crowd favourite every Sunday. He has an unerring ability to produce aggressive shots from almost anywhere on the court, which immediately strikes fear into his opponents.

Defensively, he can be a frustrating opponent to face. He can stretch like a slinky and make returns when you thought the point was over. In short, he never gives up; he is the Rafael Nadal of college badminton.
One of his proudest performances will be the tight victory against Vanbrugh in February when, paired with Sarah Howarth, he was instrumental in winning the deciding game and keeping Langwith’s title challenge on track.


Winter scores in a 22-9 win over Goodricke
(Photo: Vivan Jayant)

Off the netball court, Winter has attracted much publicity over the last few weeks, being elected the next York Sport President for 2012-13. But it’s important not to forget that on court, she can be an equally formidable opponent as her college rivals will testify.

As Alcuin’s GA, her success rate must be at least 80 per cent; you are usually left reeling if she misses. Her influence shone through in a remarkable 29-2 victory over Langwith in February, despite Alcuin missing several key players.

This momentum culminated in her crowning achievement on the final weekend of the season, when Alcuin secured the college netball title thanks to victories over nearest challengers James and Halifax.

It’s always good when your GS is a top performer as well; Amy Moye provides that element of competition in both training sessions and games, which makes you as a player want to match or better it. And their understanding of each other’s game is scarily impressive.
Finally, from a reporter’s point of view, her refreshingly honest and interesting responses to post-match interviews contrast with the boring, conventional dribble we so often hear from sportspeople.


Derwent rugby XV have been simply sensational this season, matching last year’s record by retaining their college rugby title with a stunning victory over Alcuin in last week’s final.

I could go on about several players in this remarkable side who are unbeaten since November 2010; Oliver Wessely, Alex Cochrane Dyet and captain Tolga Necar among others have all caught the eye. However, one stands out from the crowd for me – Jamie Criswell.
Criswell touches down one of his three tries in the final against Alcuin
(Photo: TK Rohit)

The winger finished top scorer with a total of ten tries this season, but this record is not surprising. His searing pace allows him to elude even the most alert defenders and sometimes you just have to hold your hands up and say, “This guy is unplayable.”

His ability shone through in the 64-0 final win over Alcuin, scoring a try after running almost the entire length of the pitch before securing a deserved hat-trick. The best players save their best performances for the biggest stage, and this was the perfect example.

Even when he doesn’t score, such as in Derwent’s narrow 25-24 victory over Halifax, his mere presence causes the opposition to back off in anticipation of something dangerous. This allows teammates such as Wessely time to pick a pass or win territory, and to give the likes of Alex Littlechild space to drive battering rams into the opposing ranks.
I’m sure the Derwent Duck will be very content this Easter after the team’s sterling work. It will undoubtedly expect more of the same from Criswell and co when it re-surfaces in the autumn.

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