Karnataka, Haryana claim titles

IS the mini championships meant for under-12 boys and girls? If so then only teams that one could count on one's fingers would have qualified to play. Booming jump serves and steep power-packed smashes that one witnessed at the 12th Mini National volleyball championship that was held at Bangalore's Sree Kanteerava Stadium courts, sure could not have come from genuinely under-12 players.

The Karnataka boys with their trophy. — Pic.G.P. SAMPATH KUMAR-

After the fracas one witnessed at Huvina Hadagalli (Bellary District) in the last edition this May, there was hope that the overage-issue would be minimised. Sadly various associations/State units do not seem to learn and improve things.

Spare a thought for the under-12s. A Delhi boy shouted out in its league match against UP: "Uncle smash a little softly." UP, the champions in the last edition wherein six of its players (boys) were barred, found four boys over the permissible limit and could not progress beyond the quarters. Haryana too had six of its players `sidelined'.

In fact the age-screening committee set up by the Volleyball Federation of India (VFI) under P. Subba Rao of AP, has listed about 77 cases as overage (all in the boys) but the medical examiner (provided by the local organisers) permitted about 46 of them to participate thus pegging the final count of overage players to 31. Needless to say the northern States of Haryana, UP, Jammu & Kashmir, Chattisgarh and Manipur were the worst offenders. Tamil Nadu, the headquarters of the VFI, had three culprits.

Coming to the tournament proper, Karnataka which had four overaged boys, dished out a far more consistent display to win the title in a five set thriller over Tamil Nadu. Karnataka won 25-22, 18-25, 25-19, 22-25, 15-12 in 84 minutes.

Karnataka was well served by captain A. B. Ashok who led from the front with some impeccable displays at the net both as a spiker and blocker. Also J. Ajay and H. S. Pavan, who captained the side in the last edition, played with maturity and experience while setter S. Suresh and libero Shravan Kumar provided good support. In fact in the final, S. Mahindra who was the `bunny' in the earlier encounters turned up an impressive display which tilted the scales in the host's favour.

In all the sets it was Karnataka which enjoyed early lead and it was only in the second that John Christopher and Damodaran made light of a 7-12 deficit to pull TN through at 25-18. The duo however then lapsed into a patchy showing which did not help TN's cause.

TN, however, like Karnataka looked good till the final. Having dropped just a set to MP in the league phase to determine the league toppers, Tamil Nadu was on a roll. If Rajasthan and Goa in the group clashes were not much to contend with, both West Bengal in the quarters and Manipur, last year's runner-up in the semis were relatively tough opponents. But then with the fluency that John Christopher and Goutham and then Shiva Kumar and Damodaran displayed till the final, there was nothing much the rival could do to contain them. It was only the all round strength of Karnataka boys and the partisan crowd that probably unnerved the TN lads.

Madhya Pradesh did Karnataka a favour by ousting the former champions UP in the quarters. But the gruelling five set encounter seemed to have drained the MP boys in the evening. The team hardly looked like a champion and caved in rather tamely.

The Haryana team which won the girls' event. — Pic. G. P. SAMPATH KUMAR-

Haryana was the only other team in contention for the top honours but with the `axing of its starting six' players — the team hardly evoked interest. J & K and West Bengal looked adept but could not pull it off against the big names.

AP has a fine bunch and if it could stick together as a unit for another year probably it could emerge a strong contender. Kerala and Maharashtra, which did score over the former in the league, were far from impressive, which could be related to the age issue.

Haryana girls with water-tight defence and some splendid spiking by Priyanka and Seema, were streets ahead of the rest in the 14 team field. Tamil Nadu once again failed in the final hurdle to put it across Haryana.

Under coach Sher Singh Sher, Haryana has developed into a tight defensive team and it was this solidity that saw it wear down the rivals. TN girls too found that everything that was `spiked' was returned and in their anxiety committed mistakes. Haryana won 25-20, 25-16, 25-17.

Haryana had only Maharashtra to contend with in the league phase as Uttaranchal failed to turn up. And with little opposition in the quarters against UP and West Bengal, in the semis it was only TN girls who stood in their way of retaining the title. That TN girls despite the towering presence of M. Sajini and captain V. Varalakshmi could not dent the Haryana defence only showed them in poor light, on that day.

Kerala girls looked a class act but failed to put it across TN in the semis, with height factor being the stumbling block. K.K. Fousath and Anjana were particularly good and coach Balan Nambiar has great expectations from them.

Gujarat boys and Goa girls walked away with the `Most Disciplined' teams awards while the organisation was lauded by one and all. — Avinash Nair