PVL: Chennai Spartans reaches semis with dominant show

Chennai Spartans left it late, in fact to its last league match, but it fired on all cylinders against Ahmedabad Defenders to seal its place in the last-four with a 4-1 victory.

Rudy Verhoeff of Chennai Spartans puts one past the Ahmedabad blockers in a Rupay Pro volleyball league match.   -  M. Vedhan

Chennai Spartans left it late, in fact to its last league match, but it fired on all cylinders against Ahmedabad Defenders to seal its place in the last-four with a 4-1 victory. Ahmedabad drew itself level by winning the second set 15-13, but Chennai was a much better team in the first and, while it was a beneficiary of a line judge’s call at a crucial point in the third set, regained its rhythm in the decisive fourth set to drive home the advantage. It won the fifth set 15-12 to seal a 4-1 win (15-6, 13-15, 15-13, 15-11, 15-12).

It came into the Chennai leg of the season needing one win from its final two league matches to progress to the semifinals. With this win, Chennai has four points, which is as many as Black Hawks Hyderabad, and a positive set difference (+1), moving it up to third place in the standings. Fourth-placed Hyderabad's set difference is -3 and its place in the last-four is still not secure. U Mumba Volley, which is currently fifth and has a set difference of -4, can go through with a win in its final league match against Ahmedabad Defenders on Monday.

Chennai won the first set 15-6 and the scoreline didn’t flatter it. Naveen Raja and Rudy Verhoeff were exceptional with their blocks and spikes, scoring five and four points respectively. Naveen set the tone by winning four consecutive points with his serve, giving Chennai a 5-1 lead early in the set. The home team was so dominant that Ahmedabad called for a timeout just five points into the match (4-1), but the timeout didn’t alter the course of the set. Rudy fired a Super Serve at 7-3 and Naveen secured Chennai’s Super Point at 11-5. The Tamil Nadu-born setter, who had by far been the best player, sealed the set with a spike.

Ahmedabad responded strongly and tightened up at the net with its spikes and blocks, while Chennai lost its rhythm from the first set.

Ahmedabad took a 4-0 lead before Chennai got on board with a spike from Verhoeff. In fact, the home team won just two of the first nine points of the set, but an unforced error from Gagandeep Singh, an Ahmedabad attacker, altered the momentum. A spike and a block from Ruslans Sorokins with the score at 7-3 brought Chennai to within two points of Ahmedabad before Ruslans also won the Super Point to send Chennai into the technical timeout adrift by just one point (7-8). A couple of spikes from Novica Bjelica, a Serbian blocker, helped Ahmedabad pull away after the technical timeout and Chennai’s late resurgence didn’t affect it from going on to win the set 15-13.

The two teams matched each other shot for shot in the third set, which went all the way down to the wire. Chennai won the set but not without drama. With the teams locked at nine points apiece, Ahmedabad opted for Super Point and won it. Chennai responded by opting for Super Point right after and won its too, taking the score to 11 points apiece. From here, the set was anyone’s to win. With Chennai then leading 12-11, the line judge on Chennai’s side made a contentious ‘out’ call from a Mandeep Singh spike, giving the point to the home team. The two-point lead was critical, and a spike from Ruslans gave Chennai the set.

With the opposition staring at a must-win fourth set, Chennai raised its game a notch higher. Ahmedabad made only one unforced error in the entire fourth set, but the home team won it 15-11 to seal its place in the semifinals. With Verhoeff, the Canadian attacker, almost immaculate with his spikes and Akhin G. S. making a couple of crucial blocks, Chennai took control of the set early and consolidated its dominance by winning the Super Point when it was ahead 11-9.

The fifth set was nothing more than a formality and Chennai edged Ahmedabad again, winning it 15-12 to go through with an emphatic victory. Naveen was excellent with his spikes, connecting with three of his four spike attempts midway through the set. Ahmedabad wasn’t one to fall away, though, and it led Chennai 10-9 just after the technical timeout. But it lost the Super Point twice in succession and a spike and a block from Ruslans gave Chennai a 4-1 win.

Result: Chennai Spartans bt Ahmedabad Defenders 4-1 (15-6, 13-15, 15-13, 15-11, 15-12).