UNIVERSITY OF YORK 2
UNIVERSITY OF NEWCASTLE 3
BUCS League 2B – Wednesday 17th February
If only league championships were determined on such virtues as fighting spirit, gutsy determination and good old-fashioned perseverance rather than the blandness of damn statistics. If they were, our women’s volleyball team would be hoisting trophies year-in, year-out.
In a dazzling advertisement for sport at University level, York duelled with Newcastle, the self-assured and well-drilled leaders in BUCS League 2B, serve-for-serve, point-for-point and set-for-set until, after two-and-a-half hours of engrossing volleyball, they were finally conquered.
The players looked dead on their feet at the end of the decisive fifth set; struggling to comprehend the epic game they had just experienced and struggling to grasp that, despite their best performance of the season, they had still lost. However, when they reflect this morning, they will feel only pride and satisfaction about giving absolutely everything.
Newcastle matched their billing as unbeaten league leaders – they were accomplished, well-prepared and always seemed to come up with something inventive to steal the point – and, with four wins from four matches played, plus one walkover, are worthy champions. Although every one of their players won vital points, the star was undoubtedly Anna Karaoglou, who was lethal, combining thunderous shots with the most delicate of deceptive touches. York, who still have a couple of ‘dead’ league fixtures to fulfil, will now turn to the lottery of the Northern Conference Cup, where they await news of their semi-final opponents, for their hopes of silverware.
For York, Alexa Mitterhuber excelled, always able to offer something different to finish off the lengthy rallies that were the hallmark of this match. Her booming serves, dipping inches below the net, caused endless problems and garnered innumerable points. Lisa Breitschuh also stood out, completing a number of points either through power or finesse, and it was a stroke of genius to position her after Mitterhuber on the serve rotation, enabling York to build up momentum at crucial points in each set. Nobody looked more gutted than Breitschuh to have ended up on the losing side.
This tactic was never more significant that in the opening set, which York, at length, took 28-26. The hosts made a storming start, with the deadly serving of captain Lucy Porter delivered seven unanswered points to put Newcastle on the back foot. Yet, there will still glimpses of their undoubted class, with Karaoglou, whose shots were devastating, and Andrea Lei leading the resurgence which ultimately carried the set beyond the 25-point barrier. It seemed neither side wanted to take it, as unforced errors on the serve prolonged the agony until Mitterhuber slammed a decisive shot down the middle of the court.
York on the offensive during Wednesday’s game – despite taking two sets, they were ultimately undone by Newcastle, who are now mathematically assured of the League 2B championship. Photograph by Rachel Elgar.
The second was, if anything, more nip and tuck with Newcastle replicating York’s brilliant start in the first, Karaoglou, their number eleven, shining as she fired unstoppable shots into all corners of the court and showed consistency on the serve. One much-improved facet of York’s game coming repeatedly to the fore was the block at the net, with Annalies Vredeveldt, who flitted in and out of the action, excellent in this regard. However, despite a fine comeback when all looked lost, York were only able to look on as Newcastle held their nerve to win 26-24.
Suddenly, with the scores locked at 1-1, the third set became psychologically vital. And it was York who mustered the requisite courage. After some early setbacks – the serving of Lei provoking the most confusion – forced them into a time-out at 6-9 down, they returned reinvigorated, with Breitschuh twice diving full length to rescue points which seemed lost and Mitterhuber again delivering a hammer through the centre which skittled the Newcastle players. In the end, York owed their 25-22 set victory to the consistent serving of Susana Lema, who caused endless problems. It was yet another example of York players stepping up when it was required of them.
The fourth could, again, have gone either way, eventually being taken by Newcastle 25-22 to level this rollercoaster game for a second time. It was the same culprits again who made the decisive interventions, with Newcastle’s ubiquitous number eleven converting points at regular intervals, while Mitterhuber’s serve continued to torment – a particular highlight was when Newcastle could only meekly return and Breitschuh thundered a shot inches inside the line. Selena Yeung repeated this trick, but Newcastle kept their nerve to close out the set and keep their title ambitions on track.
The deciding set was a straight dash to 15 points. Inevitably it would be neck and neck, with the margins so tight that the first time-out, for York, came just four points in, after Newcastle’s Kate Bubly had sent a sweet shot down the line. York were level briefly, then trailing again, then back at parity, until the best point of the game – a rally of some 30 touches – settled it at 15-13 to Newcastle. Phew.
York Line-up: 10. Lucy Porter, 6. Lisa Breitschuh, 14. Alexa Mitterhuber, 9. Janette Chow, 8. Selena Yeung, 15. Susana Lema, 13. Anastasia Harunova, 11. Annalies Vredeveldt, 4. Maiko Uesaki
Newcastle Line-up: 8. Bi Hua Kua (c), 4. Sabina McGing, 10. Andrea Lei, 11. Anna Karaoglou, 1. Nina Lundgren, 3. Tiff Hung, 12. Kate Baubly, 5. Esther Chen
Newcastle celebrate the result and the league championship after the match. Courtesy Newcastle University Volleyball Club.