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A routine performance from Cambridge University Men's Volleyball team saw them complete a second consecutive sweep over arch rivals Oxford University at Iffley Road Sports Hall yesterday. The result represents the first time that the Light Blues have ever defeated Oxford twice in the same season, and consolidates their second place in the top tier of the BUSA Midlands Conference behind Loughborough.
Cambridge arrived at the venue in plenty of time to warm up thoroughly, and were met with the welcome news that three Oxford players, including their key hitter Rudolph Glitz, were unavailable due to illness. The Light Blues were also hit by similar problems, with Daniel Mesnard, Jean-Rene Huynh and Soren Koeppe not available for selection. However coach Dr Richard White was able to send out his usual starting six of Denis Zuev setting, Andreas Malm at opposite, Dan Escott and Steffen Krusch as middle blockers, Jean Jacquet and Richard Weinberg as outside hitters and Huw Vater as libero.
Cambridge started well behind a run of strong jump-serves from Dan Escott, forcing an Oxford time-out at 6-1. Although the Dark Blues settled into the game more thereafter, Escott and Krusch's quick attacks were all but unstoppable, whilst Andreas Malm found the floor regularly on the reverse option. Another time-out at 13-7 failed to disrupt Cambridge as they coasted to a 25-18 decision.
The same six began the second set, and more probing serving, this time from Jean Jacquet, gave Cambridge an early 5-2 advantage. However Oxford then fought back, blocking resolutely as the away side's passing deteriorated and thus reduced the options available to setter Zuev. Marko Jauhiainen entered the fray in place of Jacquet, but the disarray in the passing ranks continued, now accompanied by an increased number of service errors. Coach White called time-out at 11-15 in order to settle matters and, although Cambridge clawed their way back to parity, the home side were the first to have a set point at 23-24. It was at this point that an unfortunate injury was sustained by Oxford middle blocker Torsten Bistritschan, as he seemed to dislocate a finger whilst attempting to block a spike by Marko Jauhiainen. Clearly in agony, he had to be taken away for treatment. Confusion then reigned, as the Oxford coach had managed to convince the scorers that they had won the point, nevertheless the officials confirmed that an Escott block for Cambridge had in fact levelled the score at 24. After a five minute delay, an exceptional injury substitution was made, and play resumed. A solo stuff block by Dan Escott and a thumping cross-court spike from Rich Weinberg finally gave Cambridge the game 27-25.
The Cambridge team now became aware that, with only 30 minutes of court time remaining for the fixture, their opponents did not have enough time to mount a come-back. Perhaps with this in mind, the Light Blues again started more confidently, with a clean ace from Escott contrasting markedly with successive service errors from the home side. Again, however, Oxford fought back with great vigour, battling hard for every point and outmatching their opponents in terms of determination, if not ability. With Cambridge still passing relatively poorly, the Dark Blues drew level at 13, prompting a time-out from White. Thereafter some higher quality possession enabled Zuev to deploy the first tempo attacks of the Cambridge middle blockers to devastating effect, and it was Dan Escott who was to finish the match with a crushing spike onto the 3m line as the set was taken 25-22.
Coach Dr Richard White commented after the match: "I think it would be churlish to be unhappy with a 3-0 win, but in truth this was not a particularly impressive performance. Oxford were severely depleted by illness, but they always looked more motivated than us, which was disappointing. We made a few tactical and technical alterations that I feel will be necessary to compete with sides like Loughborough, and these worked reasonably. With second place in the group almost assured, we can now use our remaining games to develop these further in preparation for the return with Loughborough and the Finals tournaments."
The MVP award is now in danger of having to be renamed the Daniel Escott Trophy, as the Cambridge middle blocker again ran away and hid with 26 points, including 7 blocks and 5 aces. His seven blocks equalled his own University record, however his points tally was one short of the record held by Roger Martinez (although this was set in a five-set match). Huw Vater and Richard Weinberg were again the best passers in what overall was not an impressive display.
The Blues now take a rest over the Christmas break, returning for their next BUSA fixture, a home match with Warwick University on Saturday 27th January (2pm start).
On a final note, all of the Cambridge squad would like to wish Oxford's Torsten Bistritschan all the best for a speedy recovery from his unfortunate injury.
Report by Richard White
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