|Men's Blues Squad Match Reports
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Cambridge University Men's Volleyball Team travelled to Leeds early on Saturday 19th February for the EVA Student Cup Finals knowing that this would be their last competitive volleyball tournament of the season, following their elimination from BUSA by Sheffield Hallam. Cambridge could be forgiven for feeling that there was some conspiracy against them in the upper echelons of English volleyball, since the EVA draw pitted them in a 'group of death' against the all-conquering Hallam, along with London (who dominated student volleyball in the early 90s) and Nottingham. The Light Blues' main aim was to win two of their three group games, thus qualifying for the quarter finals, which would guarantee automatic qualification for the Finals tournament next year.
|Blues 2-0 Nottingham||Report|
|Blues 2-1 London||Report|
|Blues 0-2 Hallam||Report|
|Blues 0-2 Oxford||Report|
|Blues 0-2 Loughborough||Report|
|Blues 2-0 UEA Norwich||Report|
Cambridge began their EVA campaign against Nottingham. Coach Patrick Howorth possessed a squad severely depleted by injury and non-availability, with outside hitters Jean-Rene Huynh and Andreas Malm having pulled out only days before the tournament. However the starting six of Pierre Baillet setting, Roger Martinez as universal hitter, Dan Escott and Dave Gardiner as middle blockers and Steffen Krusch and Daniel Mesnard as outside hitters was still a reasonable side.
Cambridge were immediately into their stride, with an unexceptional Nottingham side being totally unable to cope with the power attacks of Escott and Martinez. Escott was also commanding at the net, and even a Nottingham time-out at 15-7 failed to disrupt the Light Blues as they romped home 25-13. However Cambridge then seemed to lose interest in the game, as they had done against Hallam the previous Wednesday, and allowed Nottingham to run them much closer in the second set. Some poor passing actually allowed the midlands side to take the lead 17-15, but a time-out reminded Cambridge of their superiority as they eventually sealed the match 25-22.
MVP was Dan Escott with 12 points (5 kills and an impressive 7 blocks), whilst Roger Martinez made 7 kills.
A much tougher test awaited Cambridge in their second match. Although London had been beaten by Hallam in the first group match, they had marked themselves out as a strong side. The Light Blues knew that victory would almost assure them of qualification for the last eight, whilst defeat would almost certainly see them eliminated. Howorth started with the same six as for the Nottingham game, but London were better initially as some poor passing from Krusch gave them the initiative. Setter Baillet also struggled to find the correct height with his quick sets, and Cambridge were forced into time-outs at 11-13 and 17-20. Crucial kills from Mesnard and Martinez swung the game their way, however, and in a tense finale the Blues edged the set 26-24.
The same six began the second set, but it was hard to tell this from their play as Cambridge's recent inability to perform well after taking a set lead reappeared once more. Some woeful volleyball ensued, as passing faults, mediocre serving and setting and wild hitting errors characterised a forgettable set. With the set already lost, coach Howorth and captain Richard White brought on Huw Vater and Alessio Ruggieri for Krusch and Escott simply to give them time to focus on the decider.
The tactic worked as the Light Blues showed much better form in the tiebreak, nevertheless a London side buoyed by their second set performance were always in the hunt. Cambridge would not be denied, however, and at last showed their superiority with some superb defensive and attacking volleyball, with Martinez, Mesnard and Gardiner registering unstoppable kills to take the Blues into the quarter finals with a 15-13 win.
MVP was Roger Martinez with 14 points (12 kills, 1 ace, 1 block). Dan Escott and Daniel Mesnard made 9 and 8 points respectively.
With Cambridge and Hallam having won two games apiece, both teams were assured of qualification for the quarter finals. The Blues took the opportunity to rest some of their key players, and fielded Pierre Baillet and Huw Vater as setters in a 6/2 system with Dave Gardiner and Alessio Ruggieri as middle blockers and Daniel Mesnard and Mathias Klaeui as outside attackers.
Hallam were always going to be clear favourites, but somewhat surprisingly fielded a full-strength side. Cambridge however, remained undaunted, and kept pace with their opponents early on before Hallam's greater power in attack and block showed through. Good passing by Baillet and a strong all-round display from Klaeui were the highlights as Hallam ran out 14-25 winners.
The second set saw the Sheffield side apply pressure right from the outset, and despite some impressive hitting from Mesnard, Cambridge slipped to 10-20. After a time-out, however, they played better than at any other time in the match, as Alessio Ruggieri towered above the Hallam block to steer three successive kills into the floor. Colin Feeney made another kill, and the Blues could be relatively content despite the 16-25 reverse.
MVP was Alessio Ruggieri with 5 points (4 kills, 1 block), whilst Mathias Klaeui showed his versatility by making 4 points despite switching from outside hitter to middle blocker between sets.
Cambridge's opponents in the next morning's quarter final clash would be the Dark Blues, whom they had beaten in a thrilling Varsity match only a week before. The Cambridge squad celebrated their qualification for the last eight in traditional style on the Saturday night, with a crawl across Leeds taking in four pubs being followed by attendance at the Planet Earth club later in the evening. The Oxford team, however, were taking things far too seriously, and most were seen only to drink shandies and make derisory attempts at the dancefloor whilst the Light Blues drank and boogied like it was 1999. Oxford's Rudolph Glitz in particular completely missed the point of the club's famous revolving dancefloor, and stood stock still on it, rotating slowly whilst nursing a lone bottle of Hooch, for most of the evening.
A full English breakfast revived Cambridge the next morning, however their plans to leave in plenty of time were upset when it was found that Steffen Krusch was still having breakfast as the rest of the team were about to depart. The Light Blues thus arrived at the venue ten minutes later than planned and lost valuable warm-up time.
The standard first six took to the court, but Cambridge started poorly. Krusch was clearly not warmed-up, and was hardly in the game, whilst Baillet's distribution was not all that it could have been. Huw Vater replaced Krusch in the back row, and distinguished himself with a whole-hearted performance, whilst Mathias Klaeui briefly replaced Daniel Mesnard at outside hitter. Roger Martinez was outstanding once again in attack, and Dave Gardiner was impassable as middle blocker, but the overall team performance was sluggish as Cambridge lost 19-25.
Cambridge started much more brightly in the second set, and Oxford were forced to time-out at 2-5. Unfortunately Cambridge failed to pressure the Dark Blues' serve receive sufficiently, and Glitz was allowed to make a series of kills against a single block through the outside. Martinez was again superb in attack, but Mesnard struggled at outside and Escott was all but taken out of the game by some sub-standard passing and distribution. Despite leading 20-17, the Light Blues were guilty of some poor blocking and allowed Oxford to gain revenge for their Varsity Match defeat by sealing the match 23-25.
MVP was again Roger Martinez with 12 points (all kills), but this meant little as a crestfallen Cambridge squad contemplated defeat against a side they should have been able to beat.
Relegated to a sports hall with so little space at either end that players were allowed to place one foot on court during service, Cambridge faced Loughborough in the 5th-8th place semi-final. Loughborough were another strong side who would have been very disappointed not to have reached at least the semi-final stage, but Howorth decided to use the match to give some of next year's Cambridge team some experience. Huw Vater thus began as setter with Roger Martinez as universal hitter, Dan Escott and Alessio Ruggieri as middle blockers and Daniel Mesnard and Steffen Krusch as outside hitters.
Both teams were clearly short on motivation for this match, but it was Loughborough who played the better volleyball. Steffen Krusch, having at last fully regained consciousness, played well through the outside, but setter Vater had a disappointing game. Although he was perhaps unnerved by some very strict interpretation of handling rules by the EVA referees, his distribution to Escott was below par, meaning that one of Cambridge's two genuinely top class hitters was effectively out of the game. The Blues lost the set 17-25.
Dave Gardiner replaced Mesnard as outside hitter for the second set, which was much closer. Vater at last began to bring Escott into the game, whilst Martinez and Gardiner made impressive kills. Unfortunately three service errors and some rather na´ve blocking allowed Loughborough to close out the match 26-24.
Roger Martinez emerged as MVP as usual, with 9 points (8 kills, 1 block). Escott also made 6 points but the most effective attacker was Dave Gardiner with 3 kills from only 6 attempts.
Cambridge had beaten UEA comfortably to ensure qualification from the BUSA preliminary rounds in November, and met them again for 7th place in this competition. Howorth started with Pierre Baillet setting, Roger Martinez as universal hitter, Dan Escott and Steffen Krusch as middle blockers and Dave Gardiner and Daniel Mesnard as outside hitters. UEA are currently building a new sports complex and aim to target volleyball as a key sport in the University's future recruitment programme. In this match , Cambridge demonstrated for the second time this season that UEA certainly have plenty of room for improvement, with a sound thrashing of the Norwich side. UEA never got out of the starting blocks, and were utterly helpless against the power of Martinez and Escott, with Pierre Baillet finding top setting form probably for the first time in the tournament. Martinez's service also wreaked havoc amongst the UEA receivers, and the match quickly developed into the most one-sided game of Cambridge's season. Colin Feeney and Alessio Ruggieri made substitute appearances near the end as the Light Blues claimed 7th place with a crushing 25-12, 25-9 victory. MVP was Roger Martinez with an astonishing 17 points (12 kills at 0.706, 4 aces, 1 block), however Dan Escott topped even this kill ratio with 6 kills at 0.750. It was a fitting way for Martinez to mark what will almost certainly be his final competitive match for Cambridge.
With the depleted squad available for the tournament, and the tough draw that had faced them in the group stages, Cambridge would happily have taken 7th place had it been offered to them prior to the Finals. However their performance against Oxford in the quarter-final was disappointing, and the Dark Blues were probably allowed to avenge their Varsity Match defeat a little too easily. Their main aim of qualification for the top eight, thus avoiding pre-qualification for next year's tournament, was nevertheless achieved, and the Light Blues can take heart from the fact that their performance is the best ever by a Cambridge side in the EVA Finals, following on from their best performance in the BUSA Finals last year, and that they were only knocked out by eventual finalists (Oxford).
MVP for the tournament was, as ever, Roger Martinez, with 59 points. He showed convincingly that the BUSA match against Hallam was merely a blip and was consistently awesome in attack. Dan Escott made 39 points and was easily the outstanding blocker, however some slightly disappointing displays from Cambridge's usually reliable setters meant he was not used as well as he might have been. The outside hitters performed reasonably, with Dave Gardiner playing particularly well in what were his first competitive matches for more than two years. Alessio Ruggieri, Mathias Klaeui and Colin Feeney were model bench players, providing raucous vocal support when off-court and turning in solid displays when called upon to provide cover on-court.
Coach Patrick Howorth reflected on the tournament a few days later. "I have mixed feelings from the weekend. On one hand, I am bitterly disappointed that we did not get through to the final; but on the other, some of the fringe players, who are likely to be key players next season (such as Huw [Vater] and Alessio [Ruggieri]), excelled themselves. Crucially, coming 7th should also qualify us for the finals next year.
The round-robin matches went according to plan. Having comfortably won the first 2 matches (although the London match did fray my nerves), I was able to rest key players and put an inexperienced team up against Hallam, with strict instructions to enjoy themselves and restore some pride to my damaged ego, after Wednesday's humilating defeat. Having already qualified for the quarter-finals it was good to relax and provide helpful comments to junior players. The social atmosphere in the evening was excellent and the team duly relaxed and enjoyed themselves.
The quarter-final match against Oxford, whom we had already beaten this season, should have posed no problem to us and we should have progressed through to the final. Unfortunately, an injury to a key player (Andreas Malm) and a prior committment for another (Jean-Rene Huyhh) meant that we already fielding a weakened squad, this coupled to the late pull out by Sigve Gjerstad (because he felt that he wouldn't have played...), depleted the team of outside options. Whilst I couldn't foresee the coming events, the lack of these 3 players wouldn't have posed a problem, if key players from this season's squad had behaved in a professional manner. Ultimately, this lack of professionalism cost us the game against Oxford. Whilst Dave and especially Huw tried to stem the tide of the match, the ill-prepared player sufficiently weakend our preparation. Despite losing, it was gratifying to see how Alessio, Huw and Dave [Gardiner] played well in the second match against Loughborough I. The final match, against UEA Norwich, showed that we were still at least a class above one of the 8 BUSA qualifiers. This utterly mocks the seeding process, which has enabled teams already beaten by us to qualify at our expense simply because we were drawn against the team who will almost certainly win that trophy (Sheffield Hallam)."
Report by Richard White
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