If you have to choose one enduring image from the 66th senior National volleyball championships which concluded here on Wednesday, it has to be C. Ajith Lal leaping majestically into the air to hit a winning smash. 

He did that in match after match to play a key role in Kerala retaining the men’s title.

Watching him do that one’s mind went back a couple of years, to the State inter-club championship at Cheruvathur, a small town in Kasaragod district. It was his first major tournament; and you didn’t have to be a genius to figure out that you were watching the emergence of a special player, another star for the State that gave Indian volleyball several outstanding talents.

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Ajith turned this Nationals into a platform to showcase his talent to a much wider audience. He was superb in the final as he led the Kerala attack against a quality Railway side. Not surprisingly, he became the darling of the crowd, which ran into over 12,000 for the final. “This was the biggest crowd I have played ever before and it felt great to make a contribution in the final at home,” Ajith told  Sportstar . “I am also happy that we could give a fitting send-off to Vibin M. George, who was playing his last match for Kerala. I have always admired him.”

The 21-year-old from Thiruvananthapuram was part of the Kerala side that won the title at the last edition of the National championship held in Chennai. “I enjoy being part of this team,” he said. “This is virtually the BPCL (Kochi) side and I improved a lot after joining it a year ago.”

E. K. Kishore Kumar, assistant coach of the Kerala team, was instrumental in recruiting him in the BPCL. 

“I had watched him at selection trials at St. Xavier’s College, Pathanapuram, and was convinced that he was a rare talent,” he said. “He is a pure natural talent. If he works hard enough on his game, he could be India’s best attacker.”

To play for India is indeed Ajith’s dream. He would also like to play a major tournament at Kalady in Thiruvananthapuram, from where he learnt the game.

“I had begun a little late, only after I finished my +2, though my father was also a player,” he said. “The first turning point came when I joined St. Xavier’s, on the advice of coach Harilal, who had seen me at my club at Kalady. At college, I was lucky to train under Biju Mathew, who made me a better player.”