Kochi Refineries comes out unscathed

D. RAVI SHANKAR

The triumphant Kochi Refineries team which won the men's championship.-

VOLLEYBALL players deserve a standing applause. They have to rough it out in small towns, play during hot and humid conditions and more importantly have to show tremendous patience as organisers show scant respect to timings and schedules.

The Manipal leg of the National League Championship, Preliminary rounds showed up the deficiencies of the officials staging the tournament. The most to suffer was the Manipal Academy of Higher Education (MAHE) which agreed to stage the tournament as part of its Golden Jubilee celebrations. Probably expecting to attract a sizeable audience and recover some of its staging costs through the sale of gallery tickets, the institution made elaborate arrangements and constructed a makeshift stadium to seat about 10,000 people every day. The reality was that only about a 1000 people watched the matches and some days the crowd was as low as 300 people.

The tournament started on a wrong foot. Two men's teams, South Central Railway ( Secunderabad) and Titanium (Kerala) failed to show up despite committing to play. Excuses were offered and the Volleyball Federation of India assured stringent action which in all probablity will come to nothing. The absence of the two men's teams meant a re-scheduling of the matches and a tournament which could have concluded in four or five days was needlessly stretched to eight days.

Worse was the scheduling of the matches. Everyday matches began more than half an hour behind schedule and sometimes the delay was more than an hour. The handful of spectators and a couple of journalists were `entertained' with disco music while tardy officials snail paced their way in getting matches going. The teams meanwhile warmed up on the courts waiting for the introduction to the chief guests.

On the flip side, there was some good volleyball played during the tournament. An array of international and national players turned up and the likes of Tom Joseph, M. B. Jayaprakash, S. Selvarasu, Elamaran, Bairavan, Prabhakar, Nagaraj Hegde along with youngsters B. Anil, A. Ismail, Sakthivel, Dharanish Kumar,Wilfred Veigas and Ujwal Shetty displayed their skills in the men's section while, Hema Ursal, Vaishali Phadtare, P. Radhika and Supriya with talented players like Mamatha Shetty, Azra, Rency George, Rejani, Agisha and Sunaina impressed in the women's section.

Kochi Refineries Limited, runner up in last year's league tournament turned out to be the best men's side. Unbeaten in all its matches, Kochi Refineries dropped only two sets in the entire tournament both times against Integral Coach Factory. ICF grabbed one set in the league stage and once gained temporary supremacy in the final. Tom Joseph, A. Ismail, Jayaprakash and B.Anil played superbly throughout the tournament.

The jubilant Central Railway women's team poses with the trophy.-

Tom Joseph's sizzling smashes drew enthusiastic applause as the Kerala team romped home in all its matches. Runner-up Integral Coach Factory battled hard against Kochi Refineries but was clearly outplayed in the fast paced matches.

In the women's section, Central Railway (Mumbai) put up the best show remaining unbeaten in all its matches. Hema Ursal, Vaishal Phadtare, Kalindi Kumtekar and Radhika were the lynchpins, who set up the victories. While Karnataka State Police finished second in the league phase of the tournament, St. Joseph's College from Kerala beat Karnataka State Police in the knock-out phase to finish runner-up to Central Railways. The College girls from Kerala showed a lot of fighting spirit stretching the game to long rallies on almost every point. Rency George, Rejani and Agisha countered the smashes with superb blocks and kept the ball in play.

Despite the fine team work, St. Joseph's had to bow to the superior skills and the better match experience of the Railways girls.

The results:

Women's final: Central Railway (Mumbai) bt St. Joseph's College (Kerala) 25-17, 25-19, 25-21; Third and fourth place: Karnataka State Police bt GKM Foundation (Chennai) 20-25, 25-20, 25-17,25-9.

Men's final: Kochi Refineries Limited bt Integral Coach Factory 25-21, 23-25, 25-17, 25-20; Third and fourth place: Karnataka State Police bt Indian Telephone Industries 25-21, 25-16, 25-21.