In a nerve-wracking final that lasted two hours and ten minutes, the Railway men defeated Kerala 19-25, 27-25, 25-20, 20-25, 16-14 to win its second successive Senior National Volleyball Championship – 15th overall – at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium on Sunday.
It was a grand double for the Railways for the second time in as many years as its women’s team had earlier beaten Kerala 19-25, 25-21, 25-20, 25-17. It was the eves’ eighth successive and 30th title overall.
In the men’s final, Kerala was off to a resounding start. Defending with aplomb, it was able to keep in check the Railway attackers. On the other hand, the railwaymen compounded their problems with a non-existent first pass. Sohan Kumar, an attacker, was the substituted for the third straight match and was never to be seen again. K. G. Ragesh and Vibin George impressed for Kerala and Railways duly lost the set 25-19.
Then in the second, from being 17-15 up, it lost five straight points. When Kerala earned itself a triple set point at 24-21, Railways was staring down the barrel. But on the last few points, Jerome Vinith’s two missed spikes cost Kerala dearly. S. Prabhagaran’s splendid block on 26-25 gave Railways the set. It was jailbreak that it didn’t mind. The grin on its players’ faces during the changeover said it all.
The third set went on even terms till 19-19 before Kerala erred. On K. J. Kapil Dev’s serve it gave away four points and lost the set 25-20. Railways, with the two-sets-to-one lead, had gained a foothold in the match that it had badly missed until then.
However Kerala’s penchant for playing five-setters served it well. It took the fourth 25-20 as P. Rohith came up with crucial blocks and Vinith even excelled with his defensive skills.
In the fifth set, with much at stake, neither team was in the mood to concede an inch. Even as Vinith kept his attacking zeal intact, the Railways’ resilience was fully on show. Kerala put its nose in front at 10-8, only for Railways to pull itself back.
At 13-13 though, a bad first pass by libero C. K. Rahteesh presented Railways with the first chance to claim the title. Vibin’s smash negated it. R. Piraisoodan’s fierce spike brought the second match point. It was not to be denied again as a net overreach by Rohith pulled the curtains down for Kerala.
Like the men, the Kerala women too had started enterprisingly only to lose later. Against its much-fancied opponents, it took the first set 25-19. Attacker Nirmal played a lone hand for Railways, but the rest of the team refused the turn up.
Its fortunes started changing after centre-blocker Anusri Ghosh improved. With Nirmal keeping her level up, Railways bagged the second and third sets. Attacker Anjali Babu’s dip, after having excelled in the first set, marred Kerala’s chances.
M. Sruthi (attacker) and Tiji Raju (blocker) did ensure that Kerala stayed with Railways in the initial exchanges of the fourth. But a string of errors put paid to any hope that the southern side had of going the distance.
Finals:Men: Railways bt Kerala 19-25, 27-25, 25-20, 20-25, 16-14
Women: Railways bt Kerala 19-25, 25-21, 25-20, 25-17.
Third-place playoff: Men: Tamil Nadu bt Punjab 25-15, 25-16, 25-27, 25-21
Women: Tamil Nadu bt West Bengal 25-16, 25-17, 25-19
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