Volleyball Nationals: Railways face TN in semis

Right from the start, Railways, bolstered by the return of attacker S. Prabhagaran, displayed its all-round skills. In him, the towering Sohan Kumar and the irrepressible Manu Joseph it had three of the best attackers. But its defensive game was equally top-notch.

Railways Manu Joseph in action against Karnataka.   -  K. Muarli Kumar

Defending champion Railways held off a spirited Karnataka side 25-16, 22-25, 25-17, 25-22 in the quarterfinal stage of the 64th Senior National volleyball championship at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium here on Friday.

In Saturday’s semi-final it will meet Tamil Nadu, which earlier in the day, had a cakewalk 25-20, 25-17, 25-17 victory over Uttar Pradesh.

Right from the start, Railways, bolstered by the return of attacker S. Prabhagaran, displayed its all-round skills. In him, the towering Sohan Kumar and the irrepressible Manu Joseph it had three of the best attackers. But its defensive game was equally top-notch.

Led by the two regular blockers in S. Bharanidharan and Sandeep Kumar it maintained a tight vigil at the net. Thus, it first established a 14-11 lead and then built on it impressively to bag the set by a rather comfortable 25-16 scoreline.

In the second set, Karnataka led by a decent margin at least three times — at 5-2, 12-9 and 19-15. On each of those occasions it let Railways back. A first pass gone awry, a serve dumped into the net or one sent out, all contributed. However, from 20-19 it held its nerve to clinch the set 25-22. K. Ganesh, who substituted T. D. Ravikumar, shone for a brief while with a few good smashes.

The Railways players seemed a wounded lot and in the third set they came out in full force. The result was first a 5-0 lead which was then stretched to 11-5. Karnataka threatened to rear its head as it closed the gap to a mere two points. But it was swiftly subdued as Joseph’s and R. Piraisoodan’s backcourt defence stood out.

Even from thereon, Karnataka refused to wither away. It clung on till the score read 17-17. At that point, Railways, yet again upped its game. A great serve by Joseph, a deft drop by Piraisoodan and two powerful spikes by Prabhagaran sealed the deal.

The other semi-final will see Kerala take on Punjab. The former played out its second five-setter on the bounce, but this time came out winning. It defeated Uttarakhand 25-21, 25-22, 23-25, 14-25, 15-12.

Punjab, on the other hand, owing in no small measure to India player Gurinder Singh’s rousing performance, demolished Services in straight sets.

Kerala, from being two sets up, lost a close third and imploded in the fourth. The fifth was tight till 6-6 before a three-point cushion to 9-6 gave it some breathing space. In the closing exchanges, a timely block by Rijas and two excellent smashes by Jerome Vinith brought Kerala the win.

As in the men’s section, even in the women’s Karnataka was shown the door by Railways. The latter will meet West Bengal in the semifinals while Kerala will take on either Maharashtra or Tamil Nadu.

The results: Quarterfinals: Men: Kerala bt Uttarakhand 25-21, 25-22, 23-25, 14-25, 15-12; Tamil Nadu bt Uttar Pradesh 25-20, 25-17, 25-17; Punjab bt Services 25-19, 25-23, 25-16; Railways bt Karnataka 25-16, 22-25, 25-17, 25-22.

Women: Railways bt Karnataka 25-17, 25-3, 25-8; Kerala bt Andhra Pradesh 25-13, 25-10, 25-11; West Bengal bt Telangana 25-22, 22-25, 11-25, 25-9, 15-11.