They arrived at the Calicut Trade Indoor Court to the loud applause of the full house. And they hadn’t dropped a set yet at the 66th senior National volleyball championship.
But, if the Kerala men, the reigning champions, and their adoring fans thought they might not be stretched for the fourth time in a row, they were proved wrong right at the outset by a bunch of spirited, determined men from Haryana. In a thriller of an opening set, the underdog played superbly to scare the host and its screaming supporters.
Kerala, however, came strongly back after dropping that set to clinch a semifinal berth by winning 30-32, 25-21, 25-18, 25-22.
The Haryana men would be disappointed that they have to go out of the tournament at the quarterfinal stage, but can take heart from the fact that they fought bravely against a stronger side and entertained the biggest crowd of the tournament with a splendid performance. They also came up with some of the finest pieces of blocking here so far.
It was very much a team effort from them but Shubham Choudhary still stood out. He spiked winners from different angles with amazing regularity and impressed with his blocks as well. He was well supported by Sube Singh, Sohan Kumar, Rohit Kumar, Amit and Aman Kumar.
For Kerala, skipper C. Jerome Vineeth scored some crucial points with his powerful smashes. As did C. Ajith Lal, who was, however, also guilty of spiking too wide on a few occasions.
Vibin M. George, G. Akhin, A. Muthusamy, P. Rohith and A. Raheem also contributed to the champion’s hard-earned victory.
The Kerala women also played Haryana, but last year’s runner-up had it much easier, as they won 25-16, 25-13, 25-14. Defending champion Railway also scored a comfortable victory against Karnataka.
The men’s section saw more excitement with Tamil Nadu and Services beating Andhra and Punjab respectively in five sets.
The results (quarterfinals): Men: Kerala bt Haryana 30-32, 25-21, 25-18, 25-22; Tamil Nadu bt Andhra 29-27, 22-25, 25-20, 23-25, 19-17; Services bt Punjab 25-22, 25-21, 23-25, 22-2m5, 15-13.
Women: Railways bt Karnataka 25-13, 25-14, 25-16; Kerala by Haryana 25-16, 25-13, 25-14; Maharashtra by Bengal 22-25, 25-17, 25-15, 25-15.