Blues 3-0 Oxford University (25-21, 25-16, 25-18)
Kelsey Kerridge, 10/02/2001
A thunderous cross-court kill from Light Blues outside hitter Jean-Rene Huynh was a fitting way to end a dominant performance by Cambridge University Men's volleyball team, as they crushed Oxford 3-0 for the third time this season to seal their third successive Varsity Match victory. It is the first time that Cambridge have recorded a hat-trick of victories in this fixture, although they still have some way to go to match Oxford's record of seven successive wins from 1992-1998.
The whole Cambridge squad had been boosted on Friday night by the news that setter Denis Zuev, who had been ill for the past two weeks, had declared himself fit to play in the Varsity Match. This offset slightly the gloom felt by the whole team upon discovering that starting middle blocker Steffen Krusch was to be ruled out for the rest of the season with a fracture of the hand. The team were full of confidence before the match, and looked to secure an early victory in order to inspire their Women's team, who were to play immediately afterwards. The Light Blues thus lined up with Zuev setting, Andreas Malm at opposite, Dan Escott and Soren Koeppe as middle blockers, Richard Weinberg and Jean Jacquet as outside hitters and Huw Vater as libero.
Of the seven players who played in game one, only Dan Escott had previous experience of a Varsity match atmosphere. The sense of occasion and noise generated by a crowd of over a hundred appeared to affect the home side, and this combined with some slightly rusty setting from Zuev allowed Oxford to grasp the initiative. Working ex-Cambridge hitter Rudolph Glitz into the match early, the Dark Blues began aggressively and built up a 5-2 lead before Cambridge coach Dr Richard White called time-out. The desired effect was not immediate however; sub-standard passing and a few moments of confusion with the libero tactics allowed the visitors to pull further ahead, and White called time-out again with his side a distant 9-16 down. Under the rally points scoring system, comebacks from such deficits are rare, but Cambridge had fought back from behind in earlier matches against Nottingham and Warwick, and again responded to the pressure superbly. Acccurate serving destabilised the Oxford passers, and the Cambridge block, with Soren Koeppe to the fore, began to shut down the Dark Blue attackers. The Light Blues confidence now grew; Rich Weinberg found himself up against a three-man block on a combination play which went slightly awry, but simply hammered the ball off the hands for the kill, whilst Dan Escott pounded down all manner of short, shoot and reverse sets as the Oxford middle block struggled to track his approach. Errors and frustration now crept into the away side's play, and also to their coach, who received a caution for his troubles. Oxford substitutions, and a time-out at 22-20, did not halt the Cambridge surge, and a Glitz hitting error gave the home side the first game, 25-21.
The Dark Blues' body language suggested that they were bitterly disappointed to have squandered such a lead in dropping set one, and coach White impressed upon his Cambridge side the need to kick their opponents whilst they were down. Much to the delight of the home crowd, the same six went out again and did exactly as they were told. After an early side-out, probing serving from Jean Jacquet targetted Oxford's weaker receivers, giving the Cambridge block opportunities to smother the Dark Blue attack. Weinberg, by now fired-up almost to bursting point, performed a series of jumping jacks after he and Escott had stuff-blocked the Oxford opposite. Next play, the away setter went for his first tempo attack, only to see Escott solo block the ball back into the Oxford hitter's face. Time-out was called, and Cambridge went off with a 5-1 lead. Coming back onto court, they extended this to 12-4 as Oxford could find no answer to the Cambridge offense. And whilst the Light Blue defence frequently returned Oxford attacks, the away side struggled against the power of spikes from Weinberg and Malm. Whereas the Light Blues had been motivated by the pressure of being behind in set one, the Dark Blues crumbled, and Jean-Rene Huynh came off the bench to deliver the coup de grāce with three consecutive kills. Cambridge took the set 25-16.
Mindful of the Light Blues' own thrilling comeback victory from 2-0 down the year before, White sent out the same starters for the third game. His side now treated the crowd to a fine display of all-round volleyball as they overwhelmed Oxford. Zuev at last found the confidence to begin calling his hitters on combination plays, and Jacquet, Malm and Weinberg all made resounding kills against little opposition as the Dark Blue blockers struggled to cope. Jean-Rene Huynh was brought back, and continued his remarkable display by jump serving an ace immediately. Marko Jauhiainen and Quentin Ramasse were also brought onto court as the score ran up to 21-8 to Cambridge. Complacency now crept in with the finishing line in sight, allowing Oxford to claw back six consecutive points on Glitz's serve, but the deficit was always going to be too great. With the Cambridge supporters now filling the hall with chants of 'Allez les bleus', it was only a matter of time before Huynh's kill sealed the win. The Light Blues were jubilant at having secured Cambridge's first ever Varsity hat-trick, whilst Oxford were left to ponder their third 3-0 drubbing of the season at the hands of their old enemy.
Coach White was predictably delighted with the result. "This is an amazing feeling. We have a great bunch of guys in this squad, and to see them play so well on the big day was really a proud moment for me. The team started a little nervously, but with all but one of them being rookies to the Varsity Match atmosphere, this was to be expected. The first set was important - I think we still would have won even if Oxford had taken it, but once we had come back to win it, they seemed to lose heart and thereafter never looked like beating us. All of the starters were magnificent, but Rich Weinberg in particular lifted the whole team and the crowd at a time where the match looked tight. I think when Oxford saw us bring on players of the quality of Jean-Rene Huynh, Marko Jauhiainen and Quentin Ramasse from the bench, they knew they had been outclassed. If we can take this form and confidence into the National Finals we will be a threat to any team."
Dan Escott registered his fifth 20-point game of the season, but his traditional supremacy in the blocking stakes was again challenged by Soren Koeppe, who equalled his four blocks for the second match running. Rich Weinberg and Jean Jacquet were outstanding at outside, joining libero Huw Vater in passing at above 2.40, and claiming eight points apiece. Jean-Rene Huynh's stunning cameo performance saw him make a kill on every swing (including the winning point) in addition to his service ace.
Cambridge now have a week to let their hangovers die down before they travel to Leeds next weekend for the EVA Finals. The Light Blues have a tough pool, again drawing EVA and BUSA champions Sheffield Hallam, but should be good bets for a semi-final place if they can escape the group stages.
Report by Richard White
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