National volleyball championships: Tamil Nadu tames Kerala to enter final

Tamil Nadu entered the final of the volleyball championships after a gap of four years and will now take on Karnataka in the summit clash.

Naveen Raja of Tamil Nadu gets one past the Kerala defenders during the semifinal match.   -  R. Ragu

Tamil Nadu’s defeat to Kerala in the group stage provided a misleading picture. The host came out all guns blazing, combining well as a unit to script a fantastic 25-27, 25-14, 25-18, 25-16 win over the two-time defending champion to reach the men’s final of the Senior National volleyball championships at the Nehru Indoor Stadium on Wednesday.

Tamil Nadu will take on first-timer Karnataka in the summit clash. This is the first final for Tamil Nadu in four years after it last appeared in the 2014-15 edition.

First, Tamil Nadu blunted attacker Ajith Lal quite early, then negotiated the attack of central blocker G.S. Akhin.

Both were done successfully, first by M. Ukrapandian and G.R. Vaishnav at some time and then by the combine of Ukrapandian and Shelton Moses at other.

Once that was sorted out, Kerala crumbled like nine-pins in the fourth set. Attacker Naveen Raja Jacob though erratic, unleashed his trademark smashes at crucial moments. The injury to Universal’s Jerome Vinith proved costly for Kerala in hindsight.

READ: Sr. National Volleyball: Karnataka men enter semifinals after 18 years

“It was a complete team effort. Our first pass was excellent and veterans Ukrapandian and Moses showed their experience,” said TN’s head coach S. Mangala Jayapal.

The Karnataka men's team continued its dream run with a ruthless 25-13, 25-22, 25-20 win over Punjab to enter its first-ever (men & women) final.

However, technically, it isn’t the first time. In the event’s inaugural edition held in 1952 in Madras, Mysore State won the men’s crown.

Once again, Ashwal Rai and A. Karthik shone through, with effective blocks and attack.

It was in the second set that Punjab fought with some sort of intent. However, the players appeared too tired for the battle.

K.R. Lakshmi Narayan, head coach of Karnataka, said his players are ready and confident of bagging the title. “This is our best chance,” he said.

Indian Railways marched ahead in grand style, drubbing Maharashtra 25-19, 25-18, 25-19 in the women’s semifinals.

To be fair to Maharashtra, it wasn't overawed at any time by the champion team, and attacked with gusto especially in the first set. Railways will take on Kerala, which scripted a comfortable straight sets victory over West Bengal.

It was a no-brainer as to who would win in the Railways-Maharashtra clash, it was the only the scoreline that mattered.

Maharashtra played without any inhibitions, especially in the first set. But as the match progressed, Railways stamped its authority.

Kerala would like to set the record straight as it has lost to Railways in previous nine consecutive women finals.

Kerala's chief coach C.S. Sadanandan said the team is focussed, and will turn things around this time.

“We have the players to do that,” he said. "They (Railways) have tall good blockers. We will try to overcome their defense."

The results (Semifinals):

Men: Karnataka bt Punjab 25-13, 25-22, 25-20; Tamil Nadu bt Kerala 25-27, 25-14, 25-18, 25-16

Women: Indian Railways bt Maharashtra 25-19, 25-18, 25-19; Kerala bt West Bengal 25-18, 25-9, 25-9