Third time lucky

Thanks to the consistency of its captain and setter M. Ukkarapandian and superb blocking by Shelton Moses (in Picture: Centre) Tamil Nadu ended its long trophy drought.-PICS: S. SUBRAMANIUM Thanks to the consistency of its captain and setter M. Ukkarapandian and superb blocking by Shelton Moses (in Picture: Centre) Tamil Nadu ended its long trophy drought.

Trained by the Head Coach of the Indian team, G.E. Sridharan, Tamil Nadu looked determined as a unit from the very start and remained unbeaten to take home the title after a gap of 15 years, writes Y.B. Sarangi.

The 58th edition of the National volleyball championship held at the Laxmibai National University of Physical Education, Gwalior, witnessed some interesting turnarounds.

While Tamil Nadu became third time lucky to lift the men’s crown, Uttarakhand surprised many with its progress to the final after three defeats in a row during the group stage. Trained by the Head Coach of the Indian team, G.E. Sridharan, Tamil Nadu looked determined as a unit from the very start and remained unbeaten to take home the title after a gap of 15 years.

Tamil Nadu had lost to Haryana and Railways in the final in 2007 and 2008 respectively. This time around, it sailed smoothly, except for the four-setter league encounter against Kerala. The two sides met again in the semi-finals.

And many considered this semis as the virtual final since the side winning the tie would have met Uttarakhand, which had struggled its way to the summit clash.

Thanks to the consistency of its captain and setter M. Ukkarapandian and superb blocking by Shelton Moses and P. S. Srikanth, Tamil Nadu again got the better of the strong Kerala side in another four-setter.

On the other hand, Uttarakhand, troubled at the start due to the lack of coordination among its players, rode on a slice of luck to make the qualifying round for the quarterfinals. Slowly, things started to fall in place and it thwarted a strong challenge from a youthful Delhi team to reach the last eight.

In the quarters, Uttarakhand put up a stunning performance to upstage Punjab — having up and coming talents like Gurinder Singh, Navjeet Singh and Balwinder Singh in its ranks — which had exhibited a solid performance in the league stage. The five-setter, lasting 107 minutes, turned the crowd in favour of underdog Uttarakhand for the rest of the championship.

Considering the fact that Uttarakhand had lost to Haryana after leading by two sets in a league match, the semi-finals fixture between the two had to be an emotional affair. Full of vengeance, Uttarakhand unleashed its power-play to come out as the winner with the magical scoreline of 25-22, 25-22, 25-22.

“We had the hunger to beat Haryana, so we went for all-out attack. We badly wanted to win this match after the earlier loss,” said seasoned blocker Subba Rao.

Railway’s took the top honours in the women’s section.-

However, the match left some bad taste in the mouth with Haryana coach Om Prakash blaming his team’s loss on the poor standard of refereeing. “At least eight points went against us and at this level you cannot win a match in such a situation,” Om Prakash said. Later, Haryana edged past Kerala to retain its third place.

The final was an exciting affair too. Tamil Nadu rode on the good showing of the blocker duo of Moses and K. P. Shaheem and the setting of Ukkarapandian to win the match. The central attraction of the final was the highly-entertaining third set, which the Uttarakhand spikers won because of their spirited efforts.

“Winning the championship is what matters and we have done it,” said a triumphant Sridharan after his team’s much-awaited victory.

Among other top contenders, defending champion Railways failed to repeat its performance of the previous edition, while Kerala — studded with a few reputed players like Tom Joseph, T. Azeez and Vibin Mathew — could not display the consistency expected of it.

In the women’s section, Railways cruised to defend its crown, while last-edition’s runner-up West Bengal slipped to the third spot.

The easy final against Kerala offered a bit of surprise for Railways coach Meena Mahalingam. “We had expected at least a four-setter. We played well and broke their reception well,” Meena said.

The Jharkhand women’s surge to the quarters for the first time was one of the notable features of the championship.

* * * Volleyball’s big league

Kerala Volleyball League (KVL), a replica of the popular Indian Premier League (IPL), was the buzzword at the National championship in Gwalior.

Watching every match, taking notes and interacting with players from various teams, was Nalakath Basheer, the Secretary of the Kerala State Volleyball Association and the man behind the proposed KVL. The groundwork has already been done. Basheer was giving the finishing touches as he was spotting players outside Kerala who could enhance the competitiveness of KVL.

With Mamooty as its brand ambassador, the KVL has already made its mark in Kerala. The logo has been unveiled, a full-fledged website provides regular updates and the telecast rights have been given to Kairali TV. “We started it with the objective to popularise volleyball, to professionalise the game and provide the players more chances of training,” said Basheer. “Our motto is to enrich Indian volleyball,” he added.

Mumbai-based Sportz Consultant has been entrusted with identifying franchises. “The response of sponsors to own franchises has been good. Even a company from UAE has shown interest,” Basheer said.

However, KVL, scheduled to start from February 20, has been postponed for the time being. “We will time it well after looking at the schedule of the Indian team. We want all the players to be available,” said Basheer. From the next year, KVL is slated to move out of Calicut while a women’s league is also in the pipeline.

* * * THE RESULTS

Men: Quarterfinals: Uttarakhand bt Punjab 25-22, 18-25, 26-28, 25-17, 15-13; Haryana bt Services 25-16, 25-18, 25-18; Kerala bt Railways 25-19, 22-25, 25-18, 25-13; Tamil Nadu bt Karnataka 25-18, 25-20, 25-16.

Semi-finals: Uttarakhand bt Haryana 25-22, 25-22, 25-22; Tamil Nadu bt Kerala 25-22, 25-19, 19-25, 25-23.

Final: Tamil Nadu bt Uttarakhand 25-18, 25-20, 32-34, 25-16; Third place playoff: Haryana bt Kerala 25-22, 12-25, 29-27, 25-17.

Women: Quarterfinals: Railways bt Chandigarh 25-18, 25-13, 25-10; West Bengal bt Karnataka 25-23, 26-24, 17-25, 25-14; Andhra Pradesh bt Tamil Nadu 25-17, 25-19, 25-23; Kerala bt Jharkhand 25-10, 25-8, 25-10.

Semi-finals: Railways bt West Bengal 25-6, 25-20, 25-15; Kerala bt Andhra Pradesh 25-18, 25-14, 20-25, 25-21.

Final: Railways bt Kerala 25-22, 25-16, 25-15; Third place playoff: West Bengal bt Andhra Pradesh 25-7, 25-17, 25-11.