Kerala trounces Railways to lift Federation Cup

Despite dropping the second set 16-25, the last edition’s runner-up returned to register a resounding 25-18, 16-25, 25-23, 25-17 victory over Indian Railways.

Victorious Kerala men's team after lifting the Federation Cup.   -  Special Arrangement

Kerala men raised their game several notches when it mattered most to claim the Federation Cup volleyball tournament title at the Cosmopolitan Club court on Sunday night.

Despite dropping the second set 16-25, the last edition’s runner-up returned to register a resounding 25-18, 16-25, 25-23, 25-17 victory over Indian Railways. Firecrackers lit up the night sky to announce the new champion as did a full house cheer raucously to hail the winners.

Kerala claimed the first set without much ado. The second was a different cup of tea altogether, Railways’ first pass, setting and spiking synchronising splendidly. Manu Joseph led by example, in the block blunting even the tournament’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) C. Ajithlal’s searing smashes and from his pet front right position unleashing one hit after another.

If not he’d gingerly pat the ball over the upraised hands of the Kerala blockers. His float and jump serves made receiving tough for the opposition, the former wobbling in flight to throw the defence in disarray.

The southern side resorted more to placements when the boosting opportunities appeared juicy and ripe to bang down the middle. With Ajithlal’s hits intercepted, the wiry spiker reduced the angles but strayed in the process.

Even with a downturn in its fortunes, Kerala’s N. Jithiin showed tremendous presence of mind, on two occasions tipping the ball over for stunning placements in the Railway backyard. Across the net, S. Prabhagaran (best attacker) was as quick to find the vacant spaces on the Kerala turf.

If Railways clinched the second with relative ease at 25-16, Kerala had to toil for the honours in the third. The finish was fabulous though, a feather-touch flip over the net from Kerala’s strapping captain Akhin G.S. (best blocker) flummoxing the Railway ‘wall’ that was up and waiting. Kerala’s Muthuswamy was declared best setter, Manu, the best universal, Ratheesh C.K. the best libero and Gibin Sabestian of AIU the best upcoming player.

Indian Railways women spilt the first set, but came back strongly to subdue Kerala 15-25, 25-23, 25-14, 25-15 in the last round robin league fixture and emerged champion earlier in the evening.

Big gaps are difficult to bridge, the railway squad chugging away to early leads from games two to four. Its taller frontline quartet comprising Nirmal (MVP), Priyanka Bora, Anusri Ghosh, Minimol Abraham (best universal) let little past it in the block and fired winners at regular intervals, that served as a catalyst to the institution’s campaign.

Fed on fine boosting by Ruksana Khatun (best booster) and Poornima M.S., the foursome punched holes in the Kerala half frequently. Best libero of the tournament Priyanka Khedkar dug deep in defence, especially in the backline. Priyanka Bora not only smashed with precision but leaped sideways to bring the ball back into play. Her flat serves not only kept the Kerala blockers on their toes but squeezed out soft returns which captain Anusri capitalised by her well-spun and delightful drops towards the sidelines.

The results:

Men: Final: Kerala bt Indian Railways 25-18, 16-25, 25-23, 25-17.

Third place play-off: Punjab bt AIU 23-25, 25-20, 27-25, 27-25.

Women: Indian Railways bt Kerala 15-25, 25-23, 25-14, 25-15.