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EVA Qualification (5/12/99)

Cambridge University travelled to RAF Digby, an airbase in the depths of Lincolnshire, for the qualifying rounds of the EVA Student Championships on Sunday 5th December. Coach Patrick Howorth was able to take a squad of 13 players to the tournament, an excellent turn-out which would prove to be crucial during the course of the day. However the timing of the tournament, outside of Term, meant that the Blues were deprived of the services of first-choice setter Pierre Baillet, as well as outside hitter Jean-Rene Huynh.

Although RAF Digby provided three courts, the organisation left much to be desired. Having arrived anticipating playing in one of three groups of four teams, the Blues were informed that the late or non-arrival of two teams meant that the tournament would consist of a group of five and a group of six, with Cambridge in the latter. This meant that the Blues would have to play five best-of-three set matches in a single day, rather than the expected three, with opposition being provided by Leeds Met., Staffordshire, Sheffield Hallam II, St Mary's and Liverpool.

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Blues 2-0 Leeds Met. (25-19, 25-19)

Cambridge began their EVA campaign against Leeds Met., and lined up with Huw Vater setting, Roger Martinez as utility hitter, Carsten Dirksen and Dan Escott as middle blockers, and captain Richard White and Steffen Krusch as outside hitters. At this early hour of the morning sunlight flooded in through windows high to one side of the court, making sighting of the ball difficult, which most of the team captains agreed was unsatisfactory in such a major tournament.

The Leeds Met. side boasted a setter from National League Division One, but only two reasonable hitters. Cambridge began sluggishly, however, and some woeful passing gave setter Vater very little option but to spread safe sets to White and Martinez for the ball simply to be kept in play. However the quality of the first ball improved as Escott and captain White rotated into back row, and Steffen Krusch in particular made light (!) of the difficulties in sighting the ball to weigh in with some excellent cross-court kills. Leeds Met. never looked likely to challenge for the set as Cambridge won 25-19.

For the second set coach Howorth brought on Daniel Mesnard for Krusch as outside hitter, and gave a debut to middle blocker Jon Clarke in place of Carsten Dirksen. The Blues maintained their superiority, and although they always made sufficient errors to keep Leeds Met. interested, closed the match out 25-19. Daniel Escott (3 kills, 5 blocks) and Roger Martinez (6 kills, 1 ace, 1 block) tied for MVP with 8 points, with Steffen Krusch making an impressive 5 kills at 0.625 in the one set he played.

Name Sets Played In Attacks Kills Aces Stuff Blocks Points made Kill Fraction
Jon Clarke 1 6 1 0 3 4 0.167
Pierre-Yves Couliard 1 0 0 0 0 0 0.000
Carsten Dirksen 1 8 5 2 0 7 0.625
Dan Escott 2 5 3 0 5 8 0.600
Steffen Krusch 1 8 5 0 0 5 0.625
Roger Martinez 2 11 6 1 1 8 0.545
Daniel Mesnard 1 5 2 0 0 2 0.400
Huw Vater 2 0 0 0 2 2 0.000
Richard White 2 12 3 3 0 6 0.250
Team 13 55 25 6 11 42 0.455

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Blues 2-0 Staffordshire (25-13, 25-14)

After defeating Leeds Met., Cambridge were back on court immediately to face Staffordshire. Coach Howorth began with the same starting six, and it quickly became obvious that Staffs. relied on only one genuine power hitter for the bulk of their attacks. This was simply not enough against the Cambridge block, however, and the weaker hitters made frequent errors under pressure to gift points to the Blues.

Some average passing from the Blues meant that middle blockers Escott and Dirksen were not used as often as they might have been, but they won possession whenever given the ball. Krusch was again on good form, and Cambridge had little trouble taking the first set 25-13.

Howorth replaced Escott with Alessio Ruggieri and Krusch with Mesnard for the second set, and this line-up was subjected to a renaissance from Staffs., who began to provide decent service to their top hitter and pulled out a 9-4 lead. A time-out allowed Patrick Howorth to settle his team, however, and a much stronger performance thereafter enabled Cambridge to pull away and win by 25-14.

MVP was utility hitter Roger Martinez with 9 points (5 kills, 4 blocks, kill ratio 0.714), although he owed much to intelligent distribution by setter Huw Vater. Carsten Dirksen also scored 5 points (2 kills, 3 aces) and made more with some outstanding float serving.

Name Sets Played In Attacks Kills Aces Stuff Blocks Points made Kill Fraction
Carsten Dirksen 2 2 2 3 0 5 1.000
Dan Escott 1 1 1 0 1 2 1.000
Steffen Krusch 1 5 3 0 0 3 0.600
Roger Martinez 2 7 5 0 4 9 0.714
Daniel Mesnard 1 2 1 0 1 2 0.5000
Alessio Ruggieri 1 0 0 1 1 2 0.000
Huw Vater 2 0 0 0 1 1 0.000
Fabian Wagner 1 0 0 0 0 0 0.000
Richard White 2 7 3 1 0 4 0.429
Team 13 24 15 5 8 28 0.625

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Blues 2-0 Sheffield Hallam II (26-24, 25-16)

After two relatively straightforward matches, the Blues faced a greater test when called to face Hallam's second team. Sheffield Hallam's first team, at the University principally due to their volleyball ability and consisting almost of an England Juniors squad, beat Cambridge in the BUSA Finals last season, and veterans from that campaign looked forward to putting the mere mortals of the second team in their place.

All did not go to plan initially, however, as the standard starting six of Vater, Martinez, Escott, Dirksen, Krusch and White were put under pressure by some strong serving, and by Hallam's ability to recycle the ball into play and make few errors. Cambridge slipped to 2-6, and only took the lead briefly at 20-19 as Hallam II's consistency in defence forced the Blues into winning points through outright kills, rather than waiting for unforced errors for their opponents, as had been possible in the previous matches. The Sheffield side then took the lead at 24-23, at which point coach Howorth called a time-out, and chided his team that they were making Hallam look good and that "they shouldn't be anywhere near this close to you". These words had the desired effect, as Cambridge took the crucial next point, and then two more to close out the set 26-24.

The second set, by contrast, was hardly a contest as Cambridge simply stepped up a gear to show Hallam the door. Martinez was immense at either front or back court, and some good passing from Dirksen and White meant that setter Huw Vater was able to make good use of his middle attackers. The threat of Martinez on the reverse set meant that Hallam could only commit a one-man block to the middle, and Escott and Dirksen simply helped themselves to kills. These players were also outstanding in blocking out Hallam's own attacks as the Blues eventually won 25-16.

MVP again was Roger Martinez with a season-high 15 points (9 kills, 2 aces, 4 blocks). Carsten Dirksen (3 kills, 2 aces, 5 blocks) and Dan Escott (6 kills, 1 ace, 3 blocks) scored 10 points apiece, with Escott's 0.600 being the best kill ratio.

Name Sets Played In Attacks Kills Aces Stuff Blocks Points made Kill Fraction
Carsten Dirksen 2 6 3 2 5 10 0.500
Dan Escott 2 10 6 1 3 10 0.600
Steffen Krusch 1 7 3 0 0 3 0.429
Roger Martinez 2 16 9 2 4 15 0.563
Daniel Mesnard 1 2 1 0 0 1 0.500
Huw Vater 2 1 0 1 1 2 0.000
Richard White 2 5 3 1 1 5 0.600
Team 12 47 25 7 14 46 0.532

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Blues 2-0 St Mary's (25-10, 25-10)

Some scouting work by coach Patrick Howorth and inspection of the scoresheets from previous matches revealed that St Mary's were comfortably the weakest side in the group. Howorth therefore took the opportunity to rest most of his first six in anticipation of a much tougher final match against Liverpool, who had hitherto matched Cambridge in winning their first three games. The Blues lined up with Fabian Wagner setting, Roger Martinez as utility hitter, Jon Clarke and Alessio Ruggieri as middle blockers and Daniel Mesnard and Colin Feeney as outside hitters.

St Mary's were able to do little more than return freeballs to Cambridge and were not capable of mounting testing power attacks. However they still needed to be beaten, and Cambridge set about the task clinically. Martinez and Mesnard impressed right from the start, whilst Clarke and Ruggieri literally towered above their respective opponents in the middle positions. The Blues never looked in any danger, despite a few needless errors, and cruised to a 25-10 win in the first set.

The second set saw Pierre-Yves Couliard replace Feeney, whilst Mathias Klaui replaced Ruggieri. There was no let-up for St Mary's, however, as these replacements combined for a total of 6 kills from 7 attacks, with Klaui also serving 2 aces and making 2 blocks. Roger Martinez was as ever available from front or back row when the first pass was lacking, and his float serves delivered from well behind the baseline were too strong for St Mary's receivers. Cambridge overall made a season-high team kill ratio of 0.677 as they sealed the match by taking the second set 25-10.

The MVP award, which might as well have been given before the match, went to Roger Martinez with 10 points (5 kills, 4 aces, 1 block). Jon Clarke scored 8 points (2 kills, 3 aces, 3 blocks), whilst Mathias Klaui scored 6 points in only one set in an impressive display. Pierre-Yves Couliard and Alessio Ruggieri also deserve mentions for scoring from every attack made.

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Name Sets Played In Attacks Kills Aces Stuff Blocks Points made Kill Fraction
Jon Clarke 2 3 2 3 3 8 0.667
Pierre-Yves Couliard 1 4 4 0 0 4 1.000
Colin Feeney 1 4 1 0 1 2 0.250
Mathias Klaui 1 3 2 2 2 6 0.667
Roger Martinez 2 8 5 4 1 10 0.625
Daniel Mesnard 2 6 4 0 0 4 0.667
Alessio Ruggieri 1 3 3 1 0 4 1.000
Fabian Wagner 2 0 0 0 0 0 0.000
Team 12 31 21 10 7 38 0.677

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Blues 2-0 Liverpool (25-19, 25-20)

Whilst the Blues reserve players were disposing of St Mary's, Hallam II defeated Liverpool to leave both sides with a 3-1 record behind Cambridge's 4-0. However with only two teams qualifying for the finals from the group of six, it became clear that, should Cambridge lose to Liverpool and Hallam win their final match against Leeds Met., all three would be left on 4-1 and the qualifiers would be decided on sets won. The final match therefore needed winning for the Blues to ensure qualification.

With this in mind, coach Howorth returned to his now-refreshed first six of Vater, Martinez, Dirksen, Escott, Krusch and captain White. These players took to the court aware that Liverpool, despite their loss to Hallam II, were a strong side, with three genuinely dangerous power hitters and the ability to attack from front or back row. However Howorth reminded his side that UEA had looked similarly impressive in the BUSA qualification a fortnight previously before being thrashed by the Blues.

The parallel was a good one, as Cambridge proceeded to thump Liverpool in an overwhelming display. Good passing was again the platform for setter Vater to vary his attacks effectively, and all of the Blues hitters were on song. Top billing went to captain Richard White, who throughout the day had been consistent rather than devastating, but who after some advice on his angle of approach from Dan Escott hit top gear and made a series of big power hits down the line. Cambridge took the first set 25-19.

Daniel Mesnard had replaced Krusch at the end of the first set and retained his place for the second, which saw more of the same from a dominant Blues side. Some rock-solid blocking throughout the team sapped the confidence of Liverpool hitters who had looked untouchable against lesser opposition, and errors began to creep in as frustration grew. Cambridge sealed the set 25-20, but the margin would have been much greater had they not relaxed noticeably towards the end of the match. MVP Roger Martinez made 8 points (4 kills, 3 aces, 1 block). Carsten Dirksen scored 7 points (2 kills, 3 aces, 2 blocks), whilst captain Richard White also scored 7 points, making 2 blocks and 5 kills at 0.714.

Name Sets Played In Attacks Kills Aces Stuff Blocks Points made Kill Fraction
Carsten Dirksen 2 4 2 3 2 7 0.500
Dan Escott 2 7 4 0 1 5 0.571
Steffen Krusch 1 1 1 0 0 1 1.000
Roger Martinez 2 8 4 3 1 8 0.500
Daniel Mesnard 2 2 1 0 1 2 0.500
Huw Vater 2 0 0 0 0 0 0.000
Richard White 2 7 5 0 2 7 0.714
Team 13 29 17 6 7 30 0.586

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Overall, the tournament was an unmitigated success for Cambridge. To win all five qualifying matches without dropping a set was a sterling performance, and emphasised once more that this year's Blues side will be more than a match for even sports-orientated University sides such as Loughborough, Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam. As in the BUSA qualifying rounds two weeks previously, the importance of strength in depth was illustrated, with the bench players being good enough to allow the first six to be rested against lesser teams, something that has not been possible in previous years.

MVP for the tournament was easily Roger Martinez with a mighty 50 points, followed by middle blockers Dirksen (29) and Escott (25). Martinez also made most kills (29), well ahead of Richard White and Dan Escott who each made 14, and most blocks (11), pipping Escott (10) again. Best servers were (surprise, surprise) Martinez and Dirksen, each with 10 aces. However the benchmark of points scored omits the crucial contribution made by Huw Vater, who found the considerable responsibility of being first-choice setter thrust upon him in the absence of Pierre Baillet. Vater was outstanding throughout the tournament, with his intelligent distribution of the ball being pivotal in undermining opposing blocking formations, particularly against Hallam and Liverpool. Cambridge's overall kill ratio of 0.554 was higher than in the BUSA qualifiers and shows, ominously for their opponents next year, that the team is improving.

Coach Partick Howorth seemed happy with the day's work:
"Having arrived early, I became worried that it would not be our day because of the EVA demonstration of all their organisational skills (for which they are renowned). However, the players turned the fiasco to our advantage by winning every game quite comfortably, which is very pleasing and sends a very strong message to all teams left in both tournaments. Dan, Roger and Rich were comfortably the best players of the day. However, the most pleasing aspect of the performance was the way in which the substitutes played, which provided the base upon which our strike players could flourish. Huw and Fabian performed admirably in the absence of our main setter. It is most notable from our performance that all our players have improved tremendously. I hope that next year, this will translate into qualification for both tournaments and winning the Varsity match."

Cambridge University's next scheduled fixture is a BUSA last 32 qualifier on February 2nd, although this has yet to be confirmed. Already pencilled into your diaries should be the Varsity Match in Oxford on February 13th, whilst the EVA Finals tournament is on February 19th and 20th.

Tournament Totals
Name Sets Played In Attacks Kills Aces Stuff Blocks Points made Kill Fraction
Jon Clarke 3 9 3 3 6 12 0.333
Pierre-Yves Couliard 2 4 4 0 0 4 1.000
Carsten Dirksen 7 20 12 10 7 29 0.600
Dan Escott 7 23 14 1 10 25 0.609
Colin Feeney 1 4 1 0 1 2 0.250
Mathias Klaui 1 3 2 2 2 6 0.667
Steffen Krusch 4 21 12 0 0 12 0.571
Roger Martinez 10 50 29 10 11 50 0.580
Daniel Mesnard 7 17 9 0 2 11 0.529
Alessio Ruggieri 2 3 3 2 1 6 1.000
Huw Vater 8 1 0 1 4 5 0.000
Fabian Wagner 3 0 0 0 0 0 0.000
Richard White 8 31 14 5 3 22 0.452
Team 63 186 103 34 47 184 0.554

Report by Richard White

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