National Volleyball C’ship: TN, Railways start favourites

The traditional powerhouses in Tamil Nadu, Railways, Kerala and Services will look to rule the roost as the Senior National Volleyball Championship returns to the State capital exactly 30 years since it last hosted the event.

Even as the Railways men’s team, which won the title last year to end a five-year barren run, will attempt to build on its recent successes, its women’s team, a seven-time defending champion, will go all out to reinforce its hegemony.   -  M. Vedhan

The traditional powerhouses in Tamil Nadu, Railways, Kerala and Services will look to rule the roost as the Senior National Volleyball Championship returns to the State capital exactly 30 years since it last hosted the event.

Even as the Railways men’s team, which won the title last year to end a five-year barren run, will attempt to build on its recent successes, its women’s team, a seven-time defending champion, will go all out to reinforce its hegemony.

“We want to repeat the same performance like last time,” said coach Naresh Kumar. “Our aim is to emerge champions and we are sure we will do it.”

On the men’s side it has been bunched together with Kerala, Punjab and Andhra in group ‘A’. Group ‘B’ comprises Tamil Nadu – champions in 2014 and runner-up last year – Rajasthan, Services and hosts Karnataka.

Tamil Nadu coach P. Sundaram said that his team will aim for gold, the relative inexperience as compared to previous years notwithstanding.

“Silver won’t suffice,” he said. “For seven years we have played the same team. Now we have some youngsters coming in. If they play the way they do for their respective departments, we should be fine. It all depends on how they gel with the seniors.”

They are is still smarting from last year’s heartbreaking loss to Railways in the final after being two sets up and then letting three match points slip.

“We need to be more careful. Rajasthan and Karnataka have been playing well recently (Karnataka defeated TN in the final of the Federation Cup in Bargur in February 2015). Services are ever-present. But we have all positions covered.”

Elsewhere Uttarakhand, which has been in the semi-finals or higher in five of the last six years, is in group ‘F’. It’s a price that it has had to pay for fielding a weak side last year, following a squabble between a major club in the State and the Volleyball Federation of India, and not reaching the knock-out stages. The team though is now said to be back to its full strength.

The tournament will feature 27 men’s and 24 women’s teams. The men’s teams are divided into six groups, with Group A, B and C featuring four teams each and Groups D, E and F five.

Groups A and B in particular will have the eight teams which made the knockouts last year and top three from each will qualify for the quarterfinals. For the last two slots, six teams — A4, B4, and the top teams from Groups C, D, E and F — will battle it out in a second-round play-off.

On Saturday, at the Sree Kanteerava Indoor Stadium, Karnataka will open proceedings against Rajasthan in the men’s section and it will followed by Railways versus Andhra.

“We have got a tough group,” said Karnataka coach M. H. Kumara. “But we have a young and talented side. Our first goal is to reach the semifinals.”