Kerala confident of keeping National volleyball crown

K. Abdul Nazer, who had coached the team to victory in Chennai, said he expected stiff competition in the league phase itself, from Punjab.

Kerala's volleyball team practise at V. K. Krishna Menon Stadium in Kozhikode on Monday. Photo: S. Ramesh Kurup

There is enough pressure to start as the defending champion. To do it at home could be even tougher. But, K. Abdul Nazer is confident that his team, Kerala, is strong enough to overcome the pressure and retain the senior National volleyball title it won in Chennai a year ago.

“We will be facing some tough rivals but we have the team to go all the way to the title. It is virtually the same side that played in the last edition. Only E.K. Kishore Kumar and K.G. Ragesh are missing, but we have men like Anu James, Abdul Raheem and O. Ansab to replace them,” the coach told Sportstar on Monday.

Nazer, who had coached the team to victory in Chennai, said he expected stiff competition in the league phase itself, from Punjab. “They are a very good side. There are, in fact, several strong teams in the fray, such as Railways, whom we defeated in the final in the last edition, Services, Uttarakhand, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka,” he said.

He said the host's trump card would once again be C. Jerome Vineeth, the attacker of Tamil Nadu origin who will also be leading the team. “He has been a fantastic player for Kerala for the last few years. He is our best attacker since Tom Joseph,” said the coach.

He added he would be banking on the likes of G. Akhin, A. Muthusamy, Vibin M. George and P. Rohith. “Ours is a balanced team. And there is good bench strength too. All our players are fit and have no injury concerns at all,” he said.

He said the team was looking forward to playing in front of what should be big crowds. “Kozhikode has always supported volleyball like no other district. Both the indoor courts, at the V. K. Krishna Menon Indoor Stadium and the brand new Calicut Trade Centre look in fine shape,” he said. The championship begins on Wednesday.