Railways men on track

Railways rode on S. Pragabaran's individual brilliance to sail into the finals of the 66th National volleyball championship.

S. Pragabaran scored a series of winners with his smartly controlled smashes to carry Railways into the finals.   -  S. Ramesh Kurup

When the going got tough for the Railways men in the marathon second set in the first semifinal of the 66th National volleyball championship, one man put his hand up, and delivered. And how.

S. Pragabaran scored a series of winners with his smartly controlled smashes, that had no answer to an otherwise effective blocking from Services, to take his team, runner-up last year, to yet another final. The second set lasted 35 minutes; but for Prabagaran's brilliance and some poor serves towards the close, the Services men could have won it.

They failed to come back and conceded the third set without much of a fight. Railways won 25-17, 34-32, 25-14.

Prabagaran was well supported by captain Manu Joseph, K. Ragul and R. Piraisoodan. For Services, there were fine performances from Pankaj Sharma, Naveen Kumar and T.R. Kiran Raj, but this night belonged to Prabagaran and Railways.

In Wednesday's final, Railways will meet the winner of the second semifinal between defending champion Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

Kerala thumps Tamil Nadu

Earlier, Kerala ensured another women's final, overpowering Tamil Nadu in straight sets. The host and last year's runner-up took just 55 minutes to win 25-14, 25-17, 25-21.

Tamil Nadu did try to make a match of it in the third set, and it was able to reduce Kerala's lead within a manageable distance and was still in the game till the end. It was also helped by some unforced errors by Kerala at some crucial junctures.

If there was one player who seemed almost incapable of making an error on court on Monday, it was Kerala setter K.S. Jini. Fittingly, it was a lovely drop from her that took Tamil Nadu totally by surprise. Earlier on in the game too, she had scored for Kerala with such deft drops.

Anjali Babu, one of the rising stars in Kerala women's volleybal, too was in top form. She produced some powerful smashes to entertain the goodly crowd. She made excellent use of the passes that came her way, besides doing a god job at the net.

Skipper G. Anumol, S. Rekha, M. Sruthi and Anju Balakrishnan also spiked with precision to frustrate their rival. It was not just the superior talent of Kerala that troubled Tamil Nadu; it made several unforced errors, too. 

Tamil Nadu's Stacy Fernandez, Utkarsha Sonawane and S. Sangeetha did try hard to put Kerala under some pressure, but they failed. In the final, Kerala will face the winner of the second semifinal, to be played on Tuesday between defending champion Railways and Maharashtra.

The results (semifinals): 

Men: Railways bt Services 25-17, 34-32, 25-14.

Women: Kerala bt Tamil Nadu 25-14, 25-17, 25-21.