The University of York women’s firsts volleyball team really had nothing to lose at the England Volleyball Student Cup Finals on February 13th and 14th. Hosted at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, the finals comprised of the top 16 volleyball teams in the country who had established themselves through qualification rounds prior to the event. Currently still a second division team, playing amongst the Student Cup finalists is in itself an achievement of which the York ladies can be proud. Competition was very tough in the first round of matches on Saturday and York’s main aspiration concentrated on playing some high-level volleyball against capable and strong teams.
Facing three first division teams ranking exclusively amongst the top three in their conferences, the odds were certainly against York at the beginning of the first match against the University of Bristol women’s firsts. However, the first set proved York’s volleyball ladies were an equal opponent to Bristol. With the recently adapted two-setter system working surprisingly well and a high level of motivation present on court, York managed to not only match Bristol in capability but succeeded in securing a stunning 18-12 lead, with strong passing ensuring that setters Susana Pouso Lema and Lisa Breitschuh could make good use of the available attacks.
York’s fortune began to turn, however, when a particularly strong server on Bristol’s side managed to secure several consecutive points for her team, diminishing York’s lead considerably and resulting in a sense of insecurity which quickly began to show itself in an increased amount of direct mistakes by their players. This creeping insecurity was furthered by a particularly scrupulous referee who called York’s setter Lema on several rather contestable occasions for lifting while setting. By exploiting York’s weak moment, Bristol managed to overtake and pull away, demonstrating in the process a strong team morale which undoubtedly explains their high BUCS ranking. After losing the lead and faltering for a few further points the York ladies did manage to regain their footing and a dynamic catch up chase ensued, finally ending in a very close 25-23 victory for Bristol.
Enthralled by this surprisingly close final score the York ladies entered the next set in good spirits. However, this was quickly dampened by a continuously strong performance on Bristol’s part combined with an increase in direct mistakes by individual players, which may have derived from a slight drop in concentration on court. Again exploiting York’s weaknesses, Bristol secured themselves a strong lead and although York managed to unsettle their game convincingly on several occasions, most notably with some very strong serving on setter Lema’s behalf, the first division team lived up to their reputation by ending the set with a decisive 25-14 victory.
By the end of the day, York ladies had lost all three games but put up a good fight in the process. Whilst the match against the Loughborough University women’s firsts played along similar lines as that against Bristol the only real disappointment was the match against the Oxford University women’s firsts. Currently ranking first in the 1A Midlands Conference, it was clear from the start that Oxford would pose the greatest challenge to York’s team. However, Oxford succeeded in consolidating their strong position perhaps too clearly, with York not quite playing up to its full potential. Intelligent serving and an excellent libero that seemed capable of passing just about anything led to a decisive and deserved victory, with York struggling to set up properly and a rotation error leading to great confusion in the second set.
Apart from the slightly frustrating performance against Oxford, York entered the next round of matches on Sunday in high spirits and aware of the fact that they had exceeded expectations the day before by offering some genuine opposition to three extremely strong first division teams. Finishing bottom in the pool on Saturday meant that York would be playing for the positions 13-16 on Sunday, with their first match seeing them up against the University of Essex women’s firsts. Albeit on a much less challenging level than the matches had been the day before, York’s ladies won a sound 2-0 victory, playing well as a team and placing the ball strategically whilst hitting and serving.
Outside Selena Yeung performed in a particularly consistent manner, always in the right place at the right time for pick-ups and passes. Unfortunately, York’s luck did not prevail in the ensuing match against the University College London women’s firsts, with a very strong outside hitter rendering York’s defence helpless on several occasions and York not quite able to retaliate in the vital moments. Whilst Lema shone yet again with a sequence of brilliant serves it was not enough to stop the UCL ladies from leaving the court with a 2-0 victory.
Though the outcome of the match against UCL came as a disappointment, York’s spirit was unabashed and motivation high to end the weekend with a victory over the last opponent of the day, the Loughborough University women’s seconds. York succeeded in establishing themselves as the superior team early in the first set and although the Loughborough seconds put up a fight and engaged in several prolonged catch ups, they could do nothing to stop a 25-20 victory for York. Gaining renewed energy from this initial success, York pushed on strongly in the second set, the team again coming together in a consistent and structured performance that left Loughborough trailing far behind and eventually culminating in a deserved 25-12 victory.
By the end of the Student Cup finals, York had suffered four defeats and won two victories, securing the 14th place in the final rankings. Up one place from the 2008 finals, this is the best result York has had in the past five years. More importantly, however, the weekend helped the York ladies identify their team’s strengths and weaknesses and showed them capable of posing a real challenge to some very strong and experienced teams. In retrospect, every player on the team can be proud of the weekend’s performance.
York Squad: 6. Lisa Breitschuh, 10. Lucy Porter, 4. Maiko Uesaki, 8. Selena Yeung, 15. Susana Pouso Lema, 12. Alexa Mitterhuber, 13. Anastasia Harunova, 11. Annelies Vredeveldt, 9. Janette Chow.