Federation Cup: Kerala too good for AIU in semis

Kerala combined like a well-oiled machine to subdue Association of Indian Universities (AIU) 25-16, 25-20, 25-22 in the first men’s semifinal of the Federation Cup volleyball tournament.

Ajithlal was adjudged the best player of the match between Kerala and AIU on Saturday.   -  S. Ramesh Kurup

Kerala combined like a well-oiled machine to subdue Association of Indian Universities (AIU) 25-16, 25-20, 25-22 in the first men’s semifinal of the Federation Cup volleyball tournament at the Cosmopolitan Club court here on Saturday evening.

The student squad, which had an outstanding run in the sport’s elite event, shocking reigning champion Services in its first outing, was for the first time defeated in straight sets. It had summoned exemplary resistance against far more experienced teams during its passage to the last four stage.

On Saturday, it was however found wanting with its first touch, which Kerala’s Akhin G.S. pounced upon with alacrity, pounding the opponent’s turf down the middle. The southern side’s libero Ratheesh C.K. was a formidable bastion in defence, on one occasion speeding to the arena’s periphery for a spectacular retrieve.

Kerala’s returns ran deep into AIU territory, reducing the latter’s potential to reply with the firepower required to make an impact. The young varsities squad, comprising three players from SRM University, Chennai and one from Sree Saraswathi Thyagaraja College in Pollachi, could have done better perhaps if they had played together for more time. They just had a fortnight long preparatory camp before the championship.

Across the net, Kerala was a seasoned side, its constituents familiar with each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Ajithlal C. was a one-man army in himself, his services treated with utmost respect by the opposition, his smashes hard to intercept and his reflexes at the net in the rapid-fire exchanges exceptional.

His serves were a sight to behold. Tossing the ball up high into the air with his right and serving hand, the wiry lad would leap to establish contact, keeping the opponents guessing till the last moment as to the trajectory the sphere would take. Often they could curl in flight making interception from close to the sidelines well and truly difficult. It came as no surprise that he was adjudged best player of the match.

In the second set, Akhin put his height to good use, his penetration across the plane of the net turning a routine block into a weapon of attack. On the few occasions he left the court, Rohith P. slipped into his captain’s shoes with effortless ease, continuing the line of fire from the centre.

Interestingly, AIU led well past the mid-way mark till Kerala equalised at 15. Kerala changed gears, upping its assault relentlessly to surge ahead, R. Ramanathan’s valiant efforts notwithstanding. The AIU libero leapt to and fro, time and again, propping up the ball to check its descent in near impossible situations.

Earlier in the evening, in the penultimate women’s league fixture, Indian Railways broke no sweat in getting the better of Tamil Nadu 25-18, 25-18, 25-9. For the winner, Nirmal was in unstoppable form, her serves as destructive as her spiking. The power-packed player was duly declared best player of the match.

The results:
Men: Semifinal: Kerala bt AIU 25-16, 25-20, 25-22 . Group B: Railways bt Haryana 25-18, 22-25, 25-15, 25-21.
Women: Railways bt Tamil Nadu 25-18, 25-18, 25-9.

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