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BUSA Qualification (20/11/99)

Cambridge University travelled to UEA, Norwich on Saturday 20th November for the South-East Regional Qualifying Rounds of the BUSA National Student Championships. A squad of 14 players made the trip, with a place in the last 32 of the competition at stake for two of the four competing teams.


Blues 2–0 Luton (25-18, 27-26)

The Blues were first on court against Luton, and for the first time this season coach Patrick Howorth was able to field a full-strength side. Setter Pierre Baillet lined up with Roger Martinez as utility hitter, Dan Escott and Carsten Dirksen as middle blockers and Steffen Krusch and captain Richard White as outside hitters. From the outset it became clear that Luton were no more than an average side, reliant on one strong hitter, and the Blues controlled the play without ever really looking convincing. A monstrous stuff block by Escott on Luton's power hitter and some consistent outside hitting from Krusch were the only genuine highlights of a first set which Cambridge won 25-18.

Cambridge were again the stronger side during the second set, and with captain White endangering the lives of the Luton defence with some big power hits down the line, and Escott dominating the net with some resolute blocking the Blues pulled ahead. Howorth took the opportunity to make several substitutions, with Andreas Malm coming on as utility hitter, Colin Feeney at middle blocker and Huw Vater setting. However Cambridge then started to play rather scrappily, so much so that Luton pulled the score back to 24-24. Amazingly, the match referee then decided that this was the appropriate time to inform the teams that the first to 27 points would win the set, a rule to be found nowhere in either FIVB or local guidelines. Escott, not in the best of moods after having just seen a heroic one-handed pick-up shanked by a team-mate, promptly went ballistic and had to be restrained. On resumption of play, the score crept agonisingly onwards to 26-26, however Luton then sent the crucial service out to give Cambridge the set.

Match MVP was easily Dan Escott with 11 points (5 kills, 6 stuff blocks, kill ratio 0.455). Captain Richard White scored 6 points (4 kills, 2 blocks, kill ratio 0.571), whilst setter Pierre Baillet made 2 kills, 1 ace and 2 stuff blocks in an impressive overall display.

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Stats vs. Luton

Name Sets Played In Attacks Kills Aces Stuff Blocks Points made Kill Fraction
Pierre Baillet 2 3 2 1 2 5 0.667
Carsten Dirksen 2 3 0 1 1 2 0.000
Dan Escott 2 11 5 0 6 11 0.455
Colin Feeney 1 2 0 0 0 0 0.000
Steffen Krusch 2 6 3 0 0 3 0.500
Andreas Malm 1 1 0 0 0 0 0.000
Roger Martinez 2 6 3 0 0 3 0.500
Daniel Mesnard 1 3 0 1 0 1 0.000
Huw Vater 1 0 0 0 0 0 0.000
Richard White 2 7 4 0 2 6 0.571
Team 16 42 17 3 11 31 0.405

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Blues 2–0 Cranfield (25-13, 27-14)

Having seen off Luton, the Blues continued their qualification programme against Cranfield University. Coach Howorth returned to the six that had started against Luton, and it again quickly became obvious that the Blues were superior in every department. Cranfield lacked penetration in their offence, and solid performances from all of the Cambridge hitters put the Blues into a commanding lead that they never relinquished. The closest a Cranfield player came to a genuine kill was when their middle blocker laid out his own setter for several minutes after a collision on court.

The Cambridge block was tested only occasionally as Cranfield began dumping the ball, but the Blues' defence was often slightly slack, presenting sub–standard passes to setter Pierre Baillet. However utility hitter Roger Martinez showed his value as a safety option in such situations, scoring several impressive kills from both front and back court. With Cranfield seemingly unable to handle the float serves of White, Escott and Dirksen, Cambridge had little trouble in securing the first set 25–13.

The weak opposition provided coach Howorth with the opportunity to give his bench players a run–out in the second set. Fabian Wagner replaced Baillet as setter, whilst middle blocker Alessio Ruggieri and outside hitters Sigve Gjerstad and Pierre–Yves Couliard also came on to give some of the first six a rest. Although the names had changed, the performance did not as what was essentially a second team were still far too strong for Cranfield. Ruggieri was particularly imposing at the net, whilst Wagner made effective use of Martinez with the reverse set. A scoreline of 25–14 was no more than Cambridge deserved after a dominant performance.

MVP for the match was Roger Martinez with 7 points (6 kills, 1 stuff block, kill ratio 0.429). Carsten Dirksen scored 6 points (4 kills, 1 ace, 1 block, kill ratio 0.444), whilst captain Richard White served 2 aces and made 3 kills from only 4 attempts.

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Stats vs. Cranfield

Name Sets Played In Attacks Kills Aces Stuff Blocks Points made Kill Fraction
Pierre Baillet 1 0 0 0 1 1 0.000
Pierre-Yves Couliard 1 0 0 0 0 0 0.000
Carsten Dirksen 2 9 4 1 1 6 0.444
Dan Escott 1 5 2 1 1 4 0.400
Sigve Gjerstad 1 2 0 0 0 0 0.000
Steffen Krusch 1 8 3 0 1 4 0.375
Roger Martinez 2 14 6 0 1 7 0.429
Alessio Ruggieri 1 5 2 0 1 3 0.400
Fabian Wagner 1 1 0 0 0 0.000
Richard White 2 4 3 2 0 5 0.750
Team 13 48 20 4 6 30 0.417

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Blues 2–0 UEA (25-14, 27-12)

With both Cambridge and UEA having secured qualification for the next phase by defeating Luton and Cranfield in straight sets, the final match of the day was little more than an exhibition match, with only pride at stake. As had been the case with Cambridge, UEA were much stronger than Luton and Cranfield, possessing three genuinely strong hitters and a very useful setter, and had looked highly impressive in winning both games. Whilst the first two matches had showcased Cambridge's ability to win with ease against average University sides, this match would be a useful test of how competitive they might be against genuinely strong sides such as Loughborough, Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam who will be encountered later on in the competition.

Coach Patrick Howorth selected his strongest six, with Pierre Baillet setting, Roger Martinez as utility hitter, Dan Escott and Carsten Dirksen as middle blockers and Steffen Krusch and captain Richard White as outside hitters. He was not to be disappointed, as Cambridge silenced a vociferous home crowd with easily their most complete display of the season so far.

After a slow start, Cambridge hit top gear and never let up. Their passing and recycling of the ball was outstanding, giving setter Baillet quality possession and allowing him to control the game. This allowed the Blues to give an exhibition of the strengths of the one–setter system, as UEA's defence were constantly faced with power hitters coming from the outside, middle and reverse from both front and back row, and the UEA blockers were thus frequently unable to commit to two–man cover for fear of being exposed by Cambridge's wide array of attacks.

This was demonstrated most graphically by Cambridge's fast middle attacks. Escott and Dirksen were simply far too good to be threatened by a single–man block, and combined for a remarkable 10 kills out of 11 attempts. Setter Baillet mixed up his plays superbly throughout, making several telling second–ball attacks and also making sensible use of the back–court option, with both Martinez and White making kills from back row.

In marked contrast to UEA, the Blues' blocking was outstanding. Strong serving from Cambridge largely took out UEA's middle option, and thus most of the home side's offence was directed through their strongest hitters on the outside. However Baillet and Dirksen combined superbly for seven stuff blocks, with the UEA hitters visibly losing heart as their strongest spikes were returned straight back at their own feet. Urged on by Roger Martinez to "enjoy it", Cambridge were unchanged throughout the match, and were even able to laugh rather than cry when White, with the court at his mercy after a superb combination play from Baillet, Escott and Martinez, blew his spike into the net. The final margin of 25–14, 25–12 no more than reflected the overwhelming superiority of the Cambridge performance.

MVP for the game was Carsten Dirksen with 11 points (6 kills, 1 ace, 4 blocks). Dirksen's kill ratio was a stunning 0.857, however Escott topped it by making 4 kills from 4 attempts, whilst Martinez made 5 more kills at an impressive 0.625. Captain Richard White scored 7 points (5 kills, 2 aces), and setter Pierre Baillet added 5 more. A sign of their dominance was that the Blues scored 35 of their 50 points through kills, blocks or aces, and overall made 23 kills to UEA's 6.

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Stats vs. UEA

Name Sets Played In Attacks Kills Aces Stuff Blocks Points made Kill Fraction
Pierre Baillet 2 3 1 1 3 5 0.333
Carsten Dirksen 2 7 6 1 4 11 0.857
Dan Escott 2 4 4 2 0 6 1.000
Steffen Krusch 2 7 1 0 0 1 0.143
Roger Martinez 2 8 5 0 0 5 0.625
Richard White 2 16 5 2 0 7 0.313
Team 12 45 22 6 7 35 0.489

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Overall, the qualifying tournament was a resounding success for Cambridge. The first six showed that they were simply a class above the other University teams present, and should again make Cambridge one of the leading contenders in the University championships this year. However the bench players also played their parts to the full, performing admirably when called upon and showing that they were themselves more than good enough to triumph over the average University side. The importance of a strong squad of players will be telling later on in the season should injuries or non–availability of players take its toll.

Overall MVP for the tournament was Dan Escott with 21 points, closely followed by fellow middle blocker Carsten Dirksen (19). Escott's 7 stuff blocks and kill ratio of 0.550 were also top of the pile, again just pipping Dirksen (6 blocks, kill ratio 0.526). Utility hitter Roger Martinez was the top attacker with 14 kills (kill ratio 0.500), whilst captain Richard White made 12 kills at 0.444 and was the top server with 4 aces. Pierre Baillet, whose setting throughout was exceptional, also scored 11 points on his own to cap a sterling performance.

Analysis of the team stats shows that Cambridge made 96 out of the 152 points that they scored (ratio 0.632), with 59 kills, 24 blocks and 13 aces. The overall team kill ratio of 0.437 was a marked improvement on that achieved during the two previous friendly matches.

Coach Patrick Howorth said after the tournament: "I was very pleased to win all three matches. It was very important to send the correct message to other teams and I believe we have achieved this. Having impressed on the need to have a good start in all our matches, the first six responded well, which enable me to play substitutes against Luton and Cranfield and to experiment against UEA Norwich. UEA provided our strongest test to date and I was pleased to see both Carsten and Roger rise to the occasion. Good passing and distribution underpinned all our wins, which was pleasing. On a critical note, we need to hone our killer instinct, which is something I hope to develop in the next two weeks."

CUVC now have two weeks to recover before traveling to RAF Digby on Sunday 5th December for the EVA Qualifying tournament, where they will face Leeds Metropolitan, Liverpool and St. Mary's for a place in the Finals tournament in February.

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Stats for the Tournament

Name Sets Played In Attacks Kills Aces Stuff Blocks Points made Kill Fraction
Pierre Baillet 5 6 3 2 6 11 0.500
Pierre-Yves Couliard 1 0 0 0 0 0 0.000
Carsten Dirksen 6 19 10 3 6 19 0.526
Dan Escott 5 20 11 3 7 21 0.550
Colin Feeney 1 2 0 0 0 0 0.000
Sigve Gjerstad 1 2 0 0 0 0 0.000
Steffen Krusch 5 21 7 0 1 8 0.333
Andreas Malm 1 1 0 0 0 0 0.000
Roger Martinez 6 28 14 0 1 15 0.500
Daniel Mesnard 1 3 0 1 0 1 0.000
Alessio Ruggieri 1 5 2 0 1 3 0.400
Huw Vater 1 0 0 0 0 0 0.000
Fabian Wagner 1 1 0 0 0 0 0.000
Richard White 6 27 12 4 2 18 0.444
Team 41 135 59 13 24 96 0.437

Report by Richard White

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