Many posers for the top brass

The triumphant Tamil Nadu team.-R.V. MOORTHY

Notwithstanding the problems that had been plaguing volleyball for decades, the players plied their trade at the National Championship without any expectation. By Y.B. Sarangi.

The 62nd National volleyball championship at the Teerthanker Mahaveer University (TMU), Moradabad, was an occasion for the newly elected office-bearers of the Volleyball Federation of India (VFI) to ponder over the future of the sport in the country.

Reviving the Indian Volleyball League (IVL) to raise the profile of the sport in the country was one of the priorities for the VFI think-tank. However, the VFI top brass must realise that good international performances are essential for the sport’s growth.

Despite having several quality players, Indian volleyball has been suffering due to the lack of international exposure. “We are aiming for an Asian Games medal this year. But we need more international exposure. This will help the team raise its level,” said Arjuna and Dronacharya awards winner G. E. Sreedharan.

Sreedharan, who has been associated with Indian volleyball since the late 1970s, said: “Earlier individual performances would win the team a game. Today, the pressure is high because of rally points. Players spend a lot of energy in one match.

“The overall quality of our players is good. But we are not playing enough tournaments. The team needs solid planning to come good. In order to beat top Asian sides like Japan, China, Korea and Iran, we need to play 40-50 matches.”

Besides, the elevation of juniors to the senior level needs attention. In the last decade, India was a runner-up in 2003 and eighth last year in the under-19 World Championships. In 2009, the country had finished fourth in the under-21 World Championships.

However, the best finish for the senior team in an Asian Championship has been a fourth place in 2005. In the Asian Games the last time the country bagged a medal (bronze) was in 1986.

Railways... rolling along merrily.-

“I have to fight with you six times to know you. In 1986, we played against the top sides in the continent before winning the Asian Games bronze,” said Sreedharan.

Notwithstanding the problems that had been plaguing the sport for decades, the players plied their trade at the National Championship without any expectation.

In the men’s section, title holder Kerala, which was out to make it three in a row, struggled to get into rhythm. It played two five-setters against Railways in the Group stage and Punjab in the quarterfinals before losing to a spirited Uttarakhand in the semifinals.

The defending champion — despite the presence of experienced players such as Vibin M. George, M. T. Azees, K. S. Ratheesh and Tom Joseph in its ranks — survived a scare against Services in another five-setter to take the third place.

Backed by meticulous planning and sound preparation, Tamil Nadu turned up as a determined unit and returned as a deserving champion. Except for its hotly-contested group match against Uttarakhand, Tamil Nadu had no problems in getting past its opponents.

Tamil Nadu — studded with international players such as M. Ukkrapandian, Naveen Raja Jacob and G. R. Vaishnav — had learnt its lesson from the high-voltage affair in the group stage when it encountered Uttarakhand again in the final. Youngsters, including G. S. Akhin and C. Jerome Vinith, gelled well with the experienced campaigners to outsmart Uttarakhand which had some impact players in Mandeep Singh, Lalit Kumar, Navjit Singh and Sukhjinder Singh.

In the women’s section, Railways maintained its stranglehold over the National crown by overcoming Kerala in the final for the fourth successive time.

THE RESULTS

Men: Final: Tamil Nadu bt Uttarakhand 25-17, 25-15, 25-14; Third place: Kerala bt Services 23-25, 21-25, 25-19, 25-17, 15-10.

Women: Final: Railways bt Kerala 25-17, 25-10, 23-25, 25-21; Third place: Tamil Nadu bt Haryana 26-24, 25-16, 25-21.

Individual awards: Men: Best attacker: Naveen Raja Jacob (TN); Best blocker: Navjit Singh (Utk); Best setter: M. Ukkarapandian (TN); Best universal: Mandeep Singh (Utk).

Women: Best attacker: Soumya V. (Rlys); Best blocker: Tiji Raju (Ker); Best setter: Terin Antony (Rlys); Best universal: Minimol Abraham (Rlys).