Ashwin Raj leading the way at Khelo Youth India Games

The 21-year-old spiker is a Senior National Volleyball and Pro Volleyball Leaugue player.

Ashwin Raj (centre) with Tamil Nadu U-21 teammates at the Khelo India Youth Games.   -  Jignesh Mistry

M. Ashwin Raj stands taller than other U-21 youth from across the nation assembled at the Balewadi indoor stadium for Khelo India Youth Games volleyball event. Standing at 196-cms in his socks, the 20-year-old has competition from others in terms of height and few spikers may look down upon him from up above, but fall short when it comes to achievements on court. Ashwin is a Senior National Volleyball and Pro Volleyball League player.

The only KIYC player to feature in the forthcoming PVL, brushed shoulders with pros at Chennai Spartans squad in training. Ashwin, categorised as the ‘universal’ player in the PVL for multi-tasking abilities, also operates in the same position for Tamil Nadu U-21 boys at KIYG. The squad, after beating Gujarat 3-1, is making the most of a match-free day to prepare for a league tie against Kerala.

PVL’s Chennai franchise gave its U-21 talent special permission to take a break from camp to take part for his state side in Pune. “I will return to the PVL preparation as soon as the volleyball event in KIYG is over,” said the all-rounder, whose on-court responsibilities include smashing, blocking and wide attacking from backcourt. He is in the Rs 1 lakh bracket in the pro league, as one of the two U-21 teenagers in each squad (blocker A Bhagyaraj is also U-21).

Ashwin was taken as the ‘universal player’ in Chennai Spartans where teammates include India international and PVL marquee player G. S. Akhin and Canadian Rudy Vierheoff. “Training and watching them prepare is exciting for younger players,” he said, adding: “PVL is the opportunity every volleyball player is waiting for.”

Academics is a balancing act for Ashwin, BE (Instrumentation) final year student from Panimalar Engineering College, Chennai. Competitive volleyball started in ninth standard at Kaligi Ranganathan Montford Matric HSC. He continued playing for two years after matriculation in Don Bosco HS. PVL exposure in the inaugural year is happening at right time for this volleyball under-graduate at Chennai Spartans.

Each of six squads in the league (starting February 2 in Kochi and the later stages in Chennai) have 12 players, including two foreigners maximum, two U-21 Indians to gain exposure. “Live telecast of matches will popularise the sport and give players recognition in places where volleyball is followed,” said the Chennai Spartans player. “People buy tickets to watch live volleyball in Kerala, so I am looking forward to touring with the squad.”

Versatile young players like Ashwin will get more playing time with exposurre. Teammates in the TN U-21 team at KIYG look up to him for advice and hope one day they will be in the PVL.

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