Blues 3-0 Oxford University (25-22, 25-17, 25-19)
Cambridge Men's volleyball team made it four Varsity Match victories in a row on Saturday as they defeated Oxford in straight sets for the second time this season and the fifth time in their last six meetings. The performance was the second time this year that the Light Blues have beaten Oxford in under one hour's playing time and convincingly erased memories of their defeat against their arch-rivals in the opening match of the season.
Following their triumph at the EVA Student Cup the week before, Cambridge entered the match as newly-crowned English champions and were therefore hot favourites to claim another Varsity Match triumph. Although the squad were given cause for concern when setter Roger Konrad failed to arrive in time to catch the 10am coach, he was eventually located by Jean Jacquet and driven to the venue later in the day. The rest of the team were able to enjoy a relaxing afternoon taking in the sights of Oxford between hailstorms, before returning to the Iffley Road Gym to support the women's team in their match.
Despite taking the lead in each of the first three sets, the Cambridge ladies could only win one of them as the Dark Blues fought back each time, and when Oxford themselves established a huge advantage in game four, the Light Blues' own comeback fell just short. The Men's team took to the court determined for revenge, and the usual supercharged display of warm-up hitting from Dan Roy, Andy Lynn, Pierre Briguet-Lamarre and warm-up king Ken Kato left a large crowd in no doubt as to which team had the fastest guns.
With the formalities over, coach Dr Richard White started Roger Konrad setting with Dan Roy opposite, Andy Lynn and Ken Kato outside, Dan Escott and Jean Jacquet in the middle and Denis Zuev as libero. Cambridge began confidently as Kato earned the first side-out with a trademark hammer spike, but the Dark Blues responded immediately as Bottger crushed a back slide attack to level. Fine attacking from Kato and Escott for Cambridge was countered by Oxford's Bottger and Ball, with both teams thrilling their supporters with some outstanding defensive plays. The two sides were able to side-out with ease as both made errors in going after tough jump serves, and the scoreline remained tight until a run of three points for Oxford forced Cambridge coach White to blink first and call time-out down 14-15. Two more points followed as the Dark Blues supporters sensed an upset, but the visitors then stepped up the pace behind strong serving from Lynn. An Oxford overpass saw their setter risk life and limb by attempting to dig Kato at point-blank range, with the ensuing bullet in the chest probably the best he could have hoped for. Home team coach Joe Ballance called time-outs as Cambridge took the lead 18-17 and then stretched it to 20-18, but to no avail as a service error from Inglot gifted the Light Blues game one 25-22.
The same starters began game two, but alterations in their blocking tactics gave Cambridge a crucial edge. With Escott at the line, Oxford's passing stuttered and their hitters were unable to ground the ball as the Light Blues block took away the opportunities they had been given in set one. Cambridge either forced blocks or got the ball into transition, from which Lynn was untouchable, and the home side were forced to call time-out down 7-3. Oxford were never in the game, however, and with Lynn turning in an error-free display and Dan Roy finally warming up, Cambridge extended their lead. Jacquet had the bench on their feet as he bounced down a quick attack, and the Light Blues were able to laugh rather than cry as a fearsome hit from Lynn was dug back over the net and looped slowly over the Cambridge defence to ground for a kill on the baseline. An eventual 25-17 scoreline reflected a comfortable win.
Game three saw no changes to either line-up, and Oxford continued to make frequent service errors as they went for tough jump services. Although Cambridge's passing remained impressive, some lethargic hitting kept the scores tight until coach White brought on Briguet-Lamarre for Kato at 8-8. The Frenchman, rested in order to allow his injured ankle to recover, made an immediate impression with a kill in transition as the Light Blues ran off four points without reply, punctuated by Oxford using up both their time-outs as they tried in vain to stay in the match. The Light Blues steadily built an advantage as hitting errors crept into the home side's game, with Escott finally showing some form by slamming down a pair of quick sets from the impressive Konrad. Nevertheless the setter was substituted as Anthony Reynolds came onto court, and the Canadian produced a beautiful combination play for Dan Roy to finish the match with a flourish. Unfortunately the opposite hitter managed to find the hands of the lone Oxford blocker and was stuffed straight down, although he still ran off to the bench to collect high-fives from his team-mates regardless. The next play saw Reynolds set renowned Varsity Match finisher Escott on the 1-tempo and the middle blocker tooled the block for the winning point - the third time in four years he has secured a Cambridge victory. The Light Blues wrapped up the set 25-19. Coach White's view on the game. "Winning a Varsity Match is always a special feeling, and extending our run to four in a row is no mean feat. But in truth this was a rather poor performance from us; our serving was well below our usual standard, and in attack the guys looked like they were trying to please the crowd rather than make smart plays to win points. But most of the starters had not played at all since the Student Cup Final a week ago, so a slightly rusty performance was perhaps to be expected. We've now reached two of our three goals for the season, so all attention is focussed on the BUSA championship."
Andy Lynn was Varsity MVP with 14 points but was the only player in double figures. Cambridge's next match is a crucial BUSA last 16 knockout game against Southampton University on Wednesday, with the winner taking their place in the final eight tournament in Loughborough in March.
Report by Richard White
|Name||Position||Sets Played||Attacks||Kills||Kill Percent||Aces||Blocks||Total Points|