Blues 0-3 Loughborough University (20-25, 18-25, 22-25)
Perennial student volleyball powerhouse Loughborough inflicted a second defeat of the season upon Cambridge Men's volleyball team on Wednesday, winning in straight sets to maintain their 100% record at the top of the Midlands Conference. The Light Blues drop to 2-2 and their losing streak against Loughborough over recent years is extended to five matches.
A high-intensity hitting warm-up saw the home side showing their usual penchant for cross-court spikes into their opponents' player queues, but they did ease off noticeably when Cambridge's big guns responded in kind. With the preliminaries over, Blues coach Dr Richard White sent out Anthony Reynolds setting with Dan Roy opposite, Dan Escott and Jean Jacquet as middle blockers, Andy Lynn and Pierre Briguet-Lamarre at outside hitter and Denis Zuev as libero. Loughborough fielded a side containing all but one of the team which had come second in the National Finals the previous season.
Unfortunately a series of occasionally woeful unforced errors from Cambridge forced coach White into an early time-out with the score a distant 1-7. Thereafter, however, the visitors settled down into their side-out rhythm and chipped away at Loughborough's advantage, with Roy and Briguet-Lamarre particulary impressive in attack. The midlanders called time-out at 18-13, but Cambridge reduced the deficit to just three points before strong middle attacking enabled Loughborough to regain the initiative and take the set 25-20.
The same side began game two for the Blues, and their block alignment adjusted well as Escott and Roy made impressive stuffs to take Cambridge to a 4-2 advantage. With Lynn and Briguet-Lamarre unleashing a series of big hits through the outside, the Blues frequently outmatched Loughborough in terms of power. However the home team showed much better cohesion as a team; twice captain Lovell made outstanding reaction digs at point-blank range from full-power middle attacks from Escott, and although these only enabled his side to donate a freeball back to Cambridge, confusion on the part of the Blues conceded the point. Despite fighting hard behind excellent serving from Jacquet and defence from substitute Ken Kato to lead 14-12, the visitors struggled thereafter with Loughborough's probing float service and went two sets down.
Roger Konrad started in place of Reynolds for game three, and behind his service Cambridge opened up a 4-0 lead through blocks from Roy and Jacquet. With Konrad managing to get Roy and Briguet-Lamarre active and Dan Escott at last finding some blocking form in the middle, the Blues looked to be coasting as Loughborough were forced into a time-out at 10-16 down. However the midlanders showed more outstanding defence, and took advantage of some over-lenient interpretation of the handling rules from the referee, to win points on service in the next three rotations and force Cambridge into a time-out with their lead reduced to just two points. Nevertheless crucial kills from Briguet-Lamarre forced the home side to go back to the bench with Cambridge leading 22-18 and looking favourites for the set. Unfortunately the Blues ended the match as they had started it, with a series of reception, setting and hitting errors allowing Loughborough to sweep through to secure the match despite time-outs and delaying substitutions from coach White. The game ended on a sour note as a Loughborough dig of a power attack from Dan Roy which was sailing out of bounds, was literally thrown back into play by a home player, yet with no call from the referee who was seated only feet away.
Coach Richard White was reflective after the match. "This is a disappointing defeat for us, and I think the 3-0 scoreline was scant reward for a performance in which we outgunned Loughborough in attack for significant periods. We seemed able to win crowd-pleasing points with big spikes and stuff blocks - which is down to the outstanding individuals that we have - but Loughborough were a class above us in defence and recycling the ball - which is the mark of a strong team. But this aspect will come with match practice, and it's heartening that we know that if we can improve our cohesion to near Loughborough's level, we have the firepower to beat them."
In a balanced offence Pierre Briguet-Lamarre and Dan Roy shared the honours with 11 points apiece. Cambridge's next match is a home fixture against bottom of the table Cranfield at Kelsey Kerridge Sports Hall on Saturday November 17th.
Report by Richard White
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