|Men's Blues Squad Match Reports
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Cambridge Men played only their second home match of the season on Saturday as they entertained the College of St Mark and St John (Marjons) in the last 32 of the BUSA championships. The non-availability of several key players, including captain Richard White, meant that coach Patrick Howorth was forced to select an unfamiliar line-up for this crucial fixture. Pierre Baillet started as setter with Roger Martinez as utility, Dan Escott and Steffen Krusch as middle blockers and Jean-Rene Huynh and Andreas Malm as outside hitters.
Insider information had suggested that Marjons would provide little opposition to Cambridge. However as the teams warmed up the Blues quickly realised that information is only as good as its source, and that Cambridge's source was clearly rubbish. Marjons fielded a well-drilled side of good hitters, with an excellent setter and no weak links, and it was immediately apparent that this would be the Blues' toughest test of the season so far.
Cambridge started shakily, with some poor passing of Marjons' probing float service, and excellent digging and transition play by the Plymouth side undermined the Blues' rather raw offensive line-up. However a run of five serves from Pierre Baillet, and two monstrous stuff blocks by Dan Escott gave Cambridge the initiative. Marjons were always in the hunt throughout the set, but the Blues were kept in front by some superbly co-ordinated play between Baillet and utility hitter Roger Martinez, who registered a series of impressive kills. Cambridge took the set 25-20.
Howorth kept the same side for the second set, but during the interval threatened changes and assorted other unsavoury deeds should the first pass not improve. His words did not, however, have immediate effect, and setter Baillet was forced to call back-court plays in order to keep Escott in the game, with the first pass generally being insufficient to mount telling fast attacks. In contrast, Cambridge's digging and transition play was strong, and whilst the new line-up of outside hitters struggled to make headway, Martinez was practically unstoppable on the reverse option from either front or back row. One particularly terrifying spike had such power that, although Marjons' line defender was in perfect position and managed to dig the ball, it rebounded up off the ceiling of the hall more than 10 metres above. With better all-round serving producing five aces in the set, the Blues took a grip on the game with a 25-16 victory.
The same Cambridge line-up fell to 5-8 in the third set as Marjons' consistent defence and strong hitting exposed some blocking weaknesses. However Cambridge's floor defence was much better and this, coupled with some improved passing, allowed Escott in particular to play a much more prominent role. This was of great importance with the outside hitters still failing to kill the ball and Martinez, who had been receiving twice as much possession as anyone else, beginning to tire. A seven-point service run from Martinez at last pulled Cambridge ahead, and this advantage was maintained to the end of the set which was won 25-18. Setter Huw Vater and middle blockers Alessio Ruggieri and Mathias Klaeui made cameo appearances near the end of the match.
MVP for the match was easily Roger Martinez with a season-high 27 points (19 kills, 4 aces, 4 blocks), and he also topped the kill ratios with 0.487. Dan Escott made 8 kills at 0.400 with 2 aces and 4 blocks. The strength of Marjons in defence and recycling can be gauged by the statistic that the Blues scored 77% of their points through direct winners and therefore could not rely on opposition mistakes.
Coach Patrick Howorth commented after the game: "Plymouth Marjons provided us with our strongest test to date. They were well organised and recycled the ball quickly. For most of the match, the players struggled to find their rhythm, only Dan and Roger found any sort of consistency, but this was below their par. Pierre (setter) played excellently, making the light work of poor passing to produce some excellent sets. It is encouraging to see that we can still win even when our performance was poor, if we can reproduce the standard shown in training, we'll be more than match for anyone."
Cambridge therefore extend their record run of victories to ten without dropping a set. This match begins a hectic period for the Blues, who travel to Oxford on Saturday 12th February for the annual Varsity Match. They then play either Birmingham or Sheffield Hallam, last year's champions, in the BUSA last 16 on Wednesday February 16th, before travelling to Leeds for the EVA Finals over the weekend of the 19th/20th.
Report by Richard White
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