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

Karnataka men's team came from behind to beat Haryana in four sets.

Karnataka's Ganesh Gowda (left) in action against Haryana.   -  R. Ragu

The Karnataka men’s team has been a revelation in the Senior National Volleyball Championship here. Playing a tactically sound game at crunch situations and maintaining its composure have been some of its biggest strengths. Beating Tamil Nadu and Punjab in the group matches, it sounded a warning to other teams. Now, it went one step further with an impressive 23-25, 25-18, 25-21, 25-20 win over Haryana, to enter the semifinals after 18 years.

Later, in a women’s quarterfinal match, Maharashtra dispatched of Tamil Nadu 21-25, 25-15, 27-25, 25-20 to enter the last four.

Haryana was no pushover. With Universal Shubham Chaudhary and veteran central blocker Sube Singh, and a promising attacker in Amit Balwan Singh, it had in its ranks some of the best in the business. However, it was the wonderfully consistent performance of blockers Ashwal Rai and A. Karthik that enabled Karnataka to script victory.

After losing a close first set, Karnataka took a 15-7 lead with blocker Ashwal and Universal Ganesh Gowda taking the second set away from Haryana.

Read: Railways thrashes Delhi; Kerala women beat Haryana

Shubham’s spikes are, generally, difficult to negotiate, and he did try to put Haryana back into the match with his trademark smashes, but Karnataka maintained the lead with some wonderful double blocks by the Ashwal-Karthik combine.

Karthik and Ashwal dented Haryana's hopes further, nullifying Amit and Shubham’s smashes from the right and left respectively. And individually, their spikes evoked no response from the other side. From 15-13, Karnataka faced few problems in the fourth set.

"When we last reached the semifinals way back in 2001 [in Raipur], I was a player in the Universal position. This is a bright chance for us to win [the title] as the team is getting better and better. We have improved on our first pass, said K.R. Lakshmi Narayan, Karnataka’s chief coach. Today, our blockers Ashwal (Rai) and A. Karthik did a fantastic job in both blocking and attacking."

Tamil Nadu women fought hard for every point with its libero Saranya and setter Arya ensuring that the host stayed in the rallies as Maharashtra was far superior when it came to attack.

When it looked like Maharashtra would wallop TN in the fourth set after taking a 12-8 lead, TN put in a rearguard performance. Helped by Sangeetha and Aishwarya in large measure and some excellent blocking, TN, which had been trailing all along, leveled at 20-20. However, K. Aswami’s five successive smashes derailed TN.

In the last match of the day, Punjab men pulled off a sensational 25-27, 25-18, 25-23, 17-25, 15-12 win over Indian Railways, to set up a semifinal clash with Karnataka.

The results (Quarterfinals)

Men: Karnataka bt Haryana 23-25, 25-18, 25-21, 25-20

Women: West Bengal bt Karnataka 25-20, 25-17, 25-23; Maharashtra bt TN 21-25, 25-15, 27-25, 25-20

Semifinal line-up

Men: TN vs Kerala; Karnataka vs Punjab

Women: Railways vs Maharashtra; Kerala vs West Bengal