Blues 3-2 University of Cyprus (25-13, 25-21, 21-25, 22-25, 15-13)
Athens, Greece, 06/07/2002
Today was the final day of competition, and the final chance for the organisers to show their lack of common sense as they arranged the final round of matches all to start at the same time. This annoyed the team as they realised they would be unable to watch the final, and the organisers' hopes that everyone would finish their games in time to travel to the closing ceremony looked far-fetched.
Nevertheless the Cambridge squad arrived at the appointed venue in time to see Israel pip Greece 3-2 to take fifth place. The fact that the hosts finished 6th this year was a testimony to the strength of the field, since Greece had finished as runners-up in last year's tournament and still fielded a team entirely consisting of players from the Greek pro-leagues, and including one full international.
The duration of this match made it extremely unlikely that any of the teams would be able to get across Athens for the final, however Great Britain did their best as they raced to a two-set lead. Cyprus were yet another strong side, but played a very similar game to us and were therefore much less of a challenge than Israel had been the day before. Denis Zuev made some great plays in defence and in block cover, whilst Dan Escott produced a stunning reaction save as Britain dominated.
Cyprus responded very well, however, and began to bring their star player, a 6'5" middle, into the game more. He was unstoppable in the front row and hardly less so out of the back row, and started to take control as Cambridge's service pressure dropped and the Cyprus passing improved. Ken Kato and Anthony Reynolds were subbed in and John Lin also saw court time, but they could do little as the Cypriots pulled back one set and then levelled the match.
The tie-break was a thriller and brought a sizeable crowd to its feet on several occasions. Cambridge raised their game and the ensuing exchanges were of the highest quality as both teams traded big kills and bigger stuff blocks. Great Britain took a 7-3 lead behind two blocks from Dan Roy and another from Andy Lynn, but then fell apart to allow Cyprus five points in a row before siding-out. The match then went point-for-point before Dan Escott added a stuff of his own, and with the score 14-13 to Britain it was Escott who sealed it with another huge block. 7th place was thus secured, with the team celebrating as if they had won the tournament, whilst Andy Lynn broke the University record during the match with his total of 28 points.
Although the match finished far too late for Cambridge to attend even the closing ceremony, let alone the final, the Blues' own Soren Koeppe was there to report back. It turned out to be one of the most one-sided matches of the competition, with Ukraine thumping France 3-0 (Ukraine led 17-3 early on) to complete a double triumph, their women having won their European title earlier in the day. Cambridge were therefore the only team in the tournament to take a set off the champions, a considerable achievement.
Despite the trials and tribulations associated with organising the transport of a party of 16 to Athens for the championships, the tournament was a great success both on and off the court. The players had the chance to play at a level most would probably never have otherwise seen, and it was a testament to them that they raised their game accordingly. Special thanks should go to Dr Jon Clarke, Cambridge women's team coach and our head of delegation, for his diplomatic skills in negotiating with the organising committee, and to Liana, Isabel, Sofia, Neryssa and all the others who flew in to support us.
Report by Richard White
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