IOB, S. Railway corner glory

THIS year the Volleyball Federation of India's National League preliminary rounds' schedule went haywire for various reasons, including the delayed conduct of the National Games at Hyderabad.


Indian Overseas Bank, the winner of the men's trophy.-

THIS year the Volleyball Federation of India's National League preliminary rounds' schedule went haywire for various reasons, including the delayed conduct of the National Games at Hyderabad. Some of the organisers also backed out at the last minute. But the VFI managed to find the hosts in Karnataka which conducted two legs. The Dehradun part came later and the Nagercoil leg in Tamil Nadu provided the finishing touches.

The Nagercoil phase of the prestigious League, brought into the calendar with the sole aim of helping players to get more prize money, was almost marred by rain. Luckily, it did not affect the schedule and the event was successfully completed. This major event has also been initiated to give clubs more chance to show their mettle. This time the women's clubs had ventured out and this will pave the way for promoting more women clubs. This is the positive aspect of the VFI's decision to allow women clubs to come in, though the quality is not very high.

The playing conditions were not modern at Nagercoil, but the place is emerging as one of the main centres for volleyball competitions in the country. They say Nagercoil burns its fingers when conducting major volleyball events due to lack of sponsors and poor crowd response. But still the love for the game forces Nagercoil to host tournaments again and again.

The most interesting thing about the Nagercoil phase was the presence of archrivals, Indian Overseas Bank, Chennai, and Punjab Police, who are capable of fighting for even the National League's Super League title. IOB is the defending champion of the men's league and Punjab Police is its main challenger. So the expectations were high.

Apart from IOB and Punjab Police, there were Kerala State Electricity Board, State Bank of Bikaner (Jaipur), Indian Air Force (Delhi) and Mayor's Club (Hyderabad). It was undoubtedly a tough field. Mayor's Club, a young and enterprising side, started well as the players showed their individual brilliance like jump serve, quick finish, short ball attack and strong block in the early part of the event. But when the team faced tougher opponents, its performance plummeted and Mayor's Club finished last in the round robin, losing all its five matches. It was a shocking failure of a good team. Srinivas jump-served well in the first match against Punjab Police. After that he failed miserably. So also the attackers, Ravinder Reddy, Krishna Prasad, Srinath and Bharath Goud.

Similarly, the IAF outfit and KSEB raised hopes of giving a tough fight to the favourites, IOB and Punjab Police. But IAF could not sustain its promising start in every match. KSEB was the most impressive outfit with two tall players in the competition, Jinsen Varghese and Jins Mathew. Setter Jayalal, younger brother of Indian setter Kapil Dev, and Sajeev also looked capable of lifting KSEB's game. But the team tended to be erratic and even lost to State Bank of Bikaner in the match for third place. It was a miserable display from another side that did not realise its potential.

The Jaipur team, coached by former Rajasthan veteran Ashok Jain, started on a shaky note by winning a five-setter against Mayor's Club but improved with every match to finish third behind IOB and Punjab Police. It was indeed a creditable performance. Unbeaten IOB and Punjab Police faced each other on a rainy day when the court was drenched. The stadium was full and there was a Sunday crowd of 3000 to watch the fireworks. The archrivals did not disappoint and they took their battle to the fifth set. In the second set Punjab Police virtually outplayed IOB with its strong block and quick finish at the net. Ratanlal played a great game. Jagbir Singh, Narinder Singh, Gurwinder Singh and even substitute Pritipal coimbined well to put IOB on the mat. The Punjab team's first pass was good in the beginning and setter Suraj Prakash controlled the attack well. But in the decider, under pressure, the Punjab team caved in. Its block was blunted and the IOB spikers took over to steer the team to No.1 spot.

The Southern Railway team which won the women's title.-

Nadarajan spiked brilliantly throughout the competition. Harun Khan too played his part. Blockers Rajesh and Manjunath were patchy at times. But in the crucial fifth set, they did an excellent job, crushing the hopes of Punjab Police. IOB's main reason for the struggle was its bad first pass. But setter Thulasi Reddy kept the attack going with his intelligent boosting. It was a big threat from the Punjab team which neutralised the 2-1 set lead and pushed its rival to a corner. IOB was a depleted side in the sense it did not have the services of its main spiker Sivabalan and experienced attacker Joby Joseph. Still the Chennai side did not fumble at the last hurdle.

In the women's section, it was a one-horse race. Southern Railway, Chennai, which was also depleted due to the retirement of stars, did not face any serious threat. Setter Sunitha, spikers Geeta Raju, Vini Thomas, Gayathri and blocker Shiji Kurian steered their team to victory. NSS College of Women, Trivandrum, was the next best side. It had the height advantage. Though it faded against the Railway side, it did well subsequently to finish runner-up. SAS Club, Nagercoil, which stepped in in the absence of Bangalore Club, came third and Jesus and Mary Club, Delhi, which lacked mobility and match experience, secured the fourth position without any win.

The results:

Men : IOB beat KSEB 25-21, 25-14, 25-22; beat SBBJ 25-21, 25-14, 25-16; beat IAF 25-22, 19-25, 25-9, 25-12; beat Mayor's Club 25-12, 25-16, 25-15.

Punjab Police beat Mayor's Club 21-25, 25-14, 25-16, 25-12; beat IAF 25-20, 25-17, 25-13; beat SBBJ 25-22, 25-23, 25-22; beat KSEB 31-29, 25-22, 25-21.

SBBJ beat Mayor's Club 25-21, 19-25, 22-25, 25-23, 15-10; beat IAF 25-22, 26-24, 25-20; beat KSEB 25-22, 27-25, 26-24.

KSEB beat IAF 25-22, 25-23, 25-22; beat Mayor's Club 25-18, 25-19, 25-16.

IAF beat Mayor's Club 25-20, 21-25, 25-17, 20-25, 15-7.

Women : Southern Railway beat NSS College 25-13, 25-12, 25-7; beat Jesus & Mary Club 25-4, 25-12, 25-6; beat SAS Club 25-14, 25-9, 25-11.

NSS Club beat SAS Club 25-23, 25-19, 25-11; beat J & M 25-20, 25-14, 25-19.

SAS Club beat J & M Club 25-17, 23-25, 25-11, 25-9.