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Cambridge University Men's Volleyball team suffered their first reverse of the season on Saturday, as they went down in straight sets to a powerful Loughborough University side at Kelsey Kerridge Sports Hall. In a high quality match, the Blues were found wanting at crucial times, and slip to second place in Tier 1 of the BUSA Midlands Conference.
Buoyed by the remarkable performance of the Cambridge Women's Team, who inflicted upon Loughborough their first defeat at University level for more than five years, the Blues took to the court confident of being able to match a Loughborough Men's side boasting several England Junior representatives, and which competes in Division Two of the National Volleyball League.Coach Dr Richard White sent out his usual starting six of Denis Zuev setting, Andreas Malm at opposite, Jean Jacquet and Richard Weinberg as outside hitters, and Dan Escott and Steffen Krusch as middle blockers. Club captain Huw Vater rounded off the side as libero.
The Blues received an early warning with the first play; an excellent pass from libero Vater saw Zuev set Jean Jacquet on the reverse option, but a well-set Loughborough block sent the ball back down on the Cambridge side. On the next two plays, however, more fine passes from the Cambridge serve receive unit saw Zuev deploy the fast attack of Dan Escott in the middle, with two hammer spikes onto the 3m line being the result. The Blues held their own early on, but a run of poor passes reduced Cambridge's attacking options, and Rich Weinberg struggled to find holes in a formidable Loughborough block. Coach White called a time-out at 6-10, and brought in Jean-Rene Huynh for Jacquet, but the Blues' passing waivered at critical moments. Although Cambridge rallied somewhat from 12-20, the deficit was too great and Loughborough sealed the first set 25-20.
Huynh started for Jacquet in set two, and the home side immediately grabbed the initiative behind some powerful jump serving from Denis Zuev. However poor positioning of players in the block and defence gifted Loughborough another lead, forcing White to call time-out at 5-8. Cambridge then seemed to lose the plot; twice Loughborough services were allowed to find the floor with passers simply staring at one another, causing setter Zuev to berate his team with such vigour that the EVA referee warned him that a repeat performance would earn him a yellow card. The midlanders ran away to 21-11 and, although the Blues rallied behind some excellent serving from Andreas Malm, they had given Loughborough too much of a head start and lost 25-21.
Cambridge reverted to their usual six for the third set, and again started brightly. At 2-3, however, they were unsettled by a controversial ruling by the referees, who called a Blues blocker for a block contact on the basis of the decision of a line judge stationed at the opposite corner of the court, reversing the original call by the second referee. This was the prelude to another bout of ill-discipline in the Cambridge block as Loughborough exploited its poor alignment and timing with ease. Coach White brought on Marko Jauhiainen for Weinberg and Huynh for Jacquet, as well as calling time-outs at 2-6 and 4-10 in order to try to disrupt Loughborough's early momentum, but all to little avail. Easy points gifted by some consistently poor blocking undid some excellent back court defensive work by the Blues, and libero Huw Vater in particular, as both teams slugged it out, exchanging and defending high power spikes in a series of thrilling rallies. The Blues again finished the set much more strongly than they had started it, going through a 6-3 run behind some unstoppable outside hitting from Jauhiainen, and pulled the score back to 19-23. Again, however, Cambridge erred at the worst possible moment, this time on service, allowing Loughborough to wrap the game up 25-21.
Coach Dr Richard White reflected after the match: "Losing is always tough, but we were up against one of the best teams in the country, and were certainly not disgraced. Although there were some unfortunate exceptions, our floor defence was generally disciplined - with Huw Vater having an exceptional game - and we were able to recycle plenty of Loughborough attacks into transition opportunities. For large periods of the game, the team held their own, but we were let down by moments of madness, particularly in the block. In contrast, Loughborough blocked well, and showed me that we need to adjust our offence a little to have a chance of beating them. The most important thing is that we learn from this match, and do not make the same mistakes again."
Dan Escott continued his monopoly of the MVP award, scoring 13 points. Huw Vater was the best player on the day, however, making a series of superb defensive plays and passing at 2.30 against the toughest serving side that Cambridge have faced so far.
The Blues will look to make running repairs to their egos as they travel to Oxford on Wednesday to complete their pre-Christmas fixture programme.
Report by Richard White
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