No stopping Kerala men, Railways women

The 12,000 odd spectators inside the Calicut Trade Centre on Wednesday were treated to some superb action in both the men's and women's finals of the 66 senior National volleyball championship.

Kerala retained the men's title, defeating Railways 24-26, 25-23, 25-19, 25-21.   -  S. Ramesh Kurup

The atmosphere was electric. So was the volleyball. There must have been well over 12,000 people inside the Calicut Trade Centre on Wednesday and they were treated to some superb action in both the men's and women's finals of the 66th senior National volleyball championship. Much to their delight, Kerala retained the men's title, defeating Railways 24-26, 25-23, 25-19, 25-21.

It could well have been a most memorable double for the host, but the women, a spirited fight notwithstanding, lost yet again to Railways, for the 10 time in a row, in fact.

The men's team of Railways too is a formidable one, and it began rather well in the final, with its skipper Manu Joseph smashing away winners consistently. The ever-dependable S. Prabagaran also found his touch before long, though he wasn't as unstoppable as he was in the semifinal a day ago.

Kerala's captain and main attacker C. Jerome Vinith too looked a little less menacing than he usually is. But, C. Ajith Lal, who proved unstoppable towards the end with his smashes from well away from the net and would later be named the best player of the tournament, Bibin M. George, G. Akhin, P. Rohith, N. Jibin, C.K. Ratheesh and A. Muthusamy more than made up for that. Fittingly, the winning smash came from Bibin, who had announced that the match would be his last for Kerala.

The women's final was as thrilling, with the host threatening to dethrone Railways, which came here having won the title in the last nine championships.

After dropping the opening set narrowly, Kerala won the second that lasted 28 minutes. It then staged a remarkable recovery, from 10-19 down, to win the third set. But, the defending champion showed its class as it came right back to wrap up the match 25-21, 26-28, 21-25, 25-18, 15-12.

Not surprisingly, it was the supremely talented Nirmal Tanwar who played the key role in Railways' triumph. To watch her spiking with power and precision and serving with vigour was a joy.

But it was the smashes of Priyanka Bora early on that gave Railways the hard start, and there were fine efforts from Minimol Abraham, captain Anushree Ghosh, Devika Devarajan, M.S. Poornima and Priyanka Khedkar.

For Kerala, setter K.S. Jini was brilliant, especially with her drops that fetched her team several crucial points. It was actually a valiant team effort by the host, with K.P. Anusree, Anju Balakrishnan, Anjali Babu, captain G. Anumol and S. Rekha all working hard right through.

That was all in vain, though, as Kerala ended up as the bridesmaid once more.

The results (finals):

Men: Kerala bt Railways 24-26, 25-23, 25-19, 25-21.

Women: Railways bt Kerala 25-21, 26-28, 21-25, 25-18, 15-12.

Third place play-off: Men: Services bt Tamil Nadu 26-24, 25-23, 20-25, 5-23.

Women: Maharashtra bt Tamil Nadu 18-25, 25-18, 25-20, 25-23, 15-10.