Blues 3-1 Loughborough University (22-25, 25-23, 25-19, 25-18)
Linton Village College, 13/02/2002
Cambridge Men's volleyball team at last found form when it really mattered yesterday, as they finally overcame their Loughborough jinx to defeat last season's BUSA runners-up in four sets. The win saw the Blues finish with a 7-3 record and assure themselves of second place in the Midlands conference. Loughborough were already assured of winning the group.
The Blues arrived at Linton Village College boosted by the early return to competitive play of Pierre Briguet-Lamarre, who had made a remarkable recovery from a nasty ankle injury sustained only one week before. However the full-strength Blues squad were somewhat deflated by the realisation that they had forgotten to bring any volleyballs with them. A somewhat unusual warm-up saw Cambridge mostly using the school's own children's volleyballs, which being pink and with the ballistic properties of a balloon were not ideal preparation for the match in hand.
Coach Dr Richard White started Roger Konrad as setter, Dan Roy opposite, Dan Escott and Soren Koeppe as middle blockers, Andy Lynn and Ken Kato on the outside and Denis Zuev as libero. Unfortunately as in their previous matches with Loughborough, the Blues started appallingly as they were first aced and then made three successive hitting errors to force coach White to call time-out. Matters improved little thereafter and another time-out followed at 6-10, and one point later Briguet-Lamarre had to come on for Lynn after the Canadian cut his hand diving for a dig. Nevertheless Cambridge then fought back strongly to level the score at 13-13 behind some probing serving from Briguet-Lamarre. Loughborough captain Lovell and middle Burt were too much for the Blues to handle, however, and took their side to a 25-22 win.
The stats sheet was produced in the interval to reveal to the players that they had made no fewer than eleven hitting errors and four service errors in game one, and this news seemed to have the desired effect as accurate serving from Konrad gave the Blues the first three points. The set settled down thereafter into a tough side-out battle, with only occasional points on service until a pair on Briguet-Lamarre's serve forced a Loughborough time-out at 13-9 to Cambridge. The midlanders then rallied strongly behind tenacious floor defence of some high-power spikes from the Blues, and Cambridge were forced into time-outs at 13-11 and 15-16 as coach White tried to retain the initiative. Dan Roy, whose form was again markedly improved by the presence of his parents, then stepped up as he won a crucial side-out by pummelling a back-row spike into the chest of a Loughborough defender (Anthony Reynolds from the bench: "That's a strap-on..."). A point on his service later gave the Blues a key break point, and needing only a side-out to take the set, it was Andy Lynn who took centre stage with a thunderous hit from the outside.
Game three started poorly for Cambridge as they slipped to 3-5, but a run of jump serves from Dan Roy, followed by similar excellent work from the line by Lynn and Jacquet (who had been brought on for Soren Koeppe), enabled the Blues to build a 15-8 lead. Loughborough's weaker receivers were targeted mercilessly and despite changing their setter, the visitors were unable to get their dangerous 1-tempo attacks running. Meanwhile the Cambridge trio of Lynn, Roy and Briguet-Lamarre were unstoppable in transition. A big stuff block by Escott on Loughborough captain Lovell was the beginning of the end, and the set was duly secured 25-19.
Set four opened with Briguet-Lamarre again torturing the visitors' passers with a run of three points on his serve. However Cambridge went through a moment of madness as a Loughborough side-out was followed up by three successive Blues hitting errors. Down 11-14, a tiebreak looked to be on the cards before Dan Escott at last found some reliability in his float serve to bring Cambridge back to parity. Nevertheless the match was finely poised at 17-17 as Jean Jacquet went to the line to serve. A series of superb floating services essentially won the match for the Blues as they registered seven points before Loughborough finally made a side-out. With poor passes pulling setter Rowlands into the middle of court, he had little option but to go to his main hitter Lovell. However the Cambridge block of Konrad and Escott was equal to the task, and two roofs and two hits into the back wall were the result. Although Loughborough finally took the ball, the Blues needed only a side-out to win, and the match was sealed in convincing fashion as the midlanders set Lovell in transition, only for Dan Escott to again stuff the ball down for game. Joyous celebration, plus the odd call of "Who's the Daddy?" ensued.
Coach White was predictably pleased with the result. "This was a key match for us in terms of whether the team really believe they can beat top sides this season, and the players came good when it mattered. Our service and blocking were a class apart from when we first played Loughborough, whilst our attacking was generally strong after a bad first game. Individually we know we have more talent than any side in the country, this match shows we can turn things around as a team as well."
In a game set superbly by Roger Konrad, a balanced Cambridge attack saw a three-way tie for MVP between Roy, Lynn and Briguet-Lamarre on 18 points, with Dan Escott also reaching double figures. Briguet-Lamarre's five aces mean he has now broken the record for aces in a season set by Roger Martinez in 1999-2000, whilst Dan Roy and Andy Lynn are fast approaching Dan Escott's records for kills and points in a season.
The Blues' next assignment is at the EVA Student Cup at the weekend. The usual tough draw sees them face defending champions London and Birmingham in the pool stages, and a quarter-final against Bristol, Leeds or Loughborough will follow.
Report by Richard White
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