Cambridge University Volleyball Club began their season in earnest with a friendly match against Cambridge Volleyball Club in a true 'Town vs Gown' clash at Kelsey Kerridge Sports Hall on Saturday 13th November. This year the Blues are looking to maintain the standards set during their best–ever season last year, when they won the Varsity Match by a record margin and finished 3rd in the country in the BUSA student championships.
The Blues' starting six bore an unfamiliar look, with only captain Richard White and Dan Escott remaining from the side that performed so well in the National championships last year, and star power hitter Roger Martinez absent due to work commitments. Playing the one–setter system introduced this year by new coach Patrick Howorth, CUVC lined up with Pierre Baillet setting, Andreas Malm as utility hitter, Dan Escott and Carsten Dirksen as middle blockers and Richard White and Jean–Rene Huynh as outside hitters. Cambridge Town played their strongest line–up, which included 6ft 10in Women's team coach Harald Boeddinghaus as middle blocker, an ex–Blues team coach in Raffi Blummenfield and the winner of this year's Tenby Beach Volleyball tournament hitting through outside.
Some probing float serves from Cambridge Town's Thierry Alboussiere immediately provided a stern examination for the Blues' two–man service reception, which initially struggled as the Blues dropped to 0–4. However CUVC thereafter settled into a good rhythm, with accurate passing providing a platform for Baillet to distribute to all areas of the court, whilst Dirksen impressed with some resolute middle blocking. The Blues opened up a six–point lead, generally a set–wining margin under the new rally–point system, but then contrived to give it away with a series of basic hitting errors. However a pivotal time–out called by coach Howorth settled the side, who eventually wrapped up the set by a 26–24 margin.
The same players started the second set, and after another slow start the Blues again established a solid lead, with the fast middle attacks of Escott and Dirksen being complemented by some consistent power hitting through the outside from Huynh and White. Baillet also made sensible use of back–row combinations, with Escott in particularly impressing. Coach Howorth then took the opportunity to bring on some of his bench players, at which point Cambridge town stepped up their offence. This, coupled with some poor blocking from the Blues, enabled Town to take the set 25–21.
The third set brought more of the same, with a well-drilled Town side recycling the ball well and consistently finding flaws in the CUVC block with intelligent combination attacks. Reserve setter Huw Vater distributed the ball superbly, and threw in a couple of nonchalant one–handed sets for good measure, whilst middle blockers Colin Feeney and Alessio Ruggieri made promising cameo appearances. Utility hitter Malm, who had spent most of the first two sets testing the integrity of the back wall, at last found his range and made a series of impressive kills, however these moments of individual flair were outweighed by a lack of cohesion in both blocking and defence, although this was understandable in the first match of a season. Cambridge Town eventually ran out 25–19 winners.
Howorth returned to his starting six for the fourth set, and the Blues matched Cambridge point–for–point until Escott was forced to retire with a foot injury sustained in an allegedly alcohol–unrelated bike accident the previous evening. CUVC looked down–and–out at 20–23, but a time–out enabled the side to regroup and rally to 24–23. Set point down, Cambridge Town then called a time–out of their own, after which White blotted his copybook severely by sending his float serve out. This, coupled with an uncharacteristic error from Dirksen, handed the initiative back to Cambridge, who were not so forgiving and sealed the set and match 27–25.
The Blues first six should have had the beating of a strong, more experienced Town side, who will be superior to the vast majority of University teams, and most of CUVC's errors were the result of a lack of match practice. MVP (Most Valuable Player) was captain Richard White with 13 points (10 kills, 3 blocks, kill ratio 0.435) – but he also made that serve… Dirksen scored 12 points (4 kills, 3 aces, 5 blocks), whilst Andreas Malm recorded 8 kills for the best overall ratio of 0.471.
Coach Patrick Howorth said after the match "Having led in all 4 sets, I was little bit disappointed that we couldn't convert these leads into a convincing win. I was impressed with our passing and with some individual performances, especially Huw [Vater] and Dan [Escott]. Our MVP generally excelled, however at times, he and the whole team showed moments of relaxation which afforded Cambridge the win. There is certainly plenty to work on and I'm convinced that during the forthcoming week, we can overcome a few areas of concern to enable us to qualify for the next round of BUSA/EVA."
The CUVC Blues team play University of Hertfordshire in another friendly on Tuesday 16th November before the BUSA Finals Qualifying competition next Saturday (20th November) at UEA, Norwich.
Report by Richard White
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