With memories of a close match at Birmingham after hours of travel through driving rain, the Blues went into the return fixture in a positive frame of mind. The team needed a good match after the previous week's disappointment and looked strong in warm-up, letting the Birmingham team know what was in store for them. Starting first were Janice Pedersen, making her setting debut alongside Steph Bee, Emily Longmore and Sofia Oikonomidou in the middle and Anne Mullin opposite Friederike von Teisenhausen as outside hitters. Louiza Loizou was also on court as libero for this match. A strong bench was headed by Pascale Garaud, recently returned from her travels, Veronica Kunze, Anna Woo, Pia Sondergeld and Jo Coulson.
With explicit instructions to win the first point of the match and establish a lead to defend, Steph set about testing the Birmingham defence from the outset. At the end of her service the Blues were up by 6 and looking confident. The passing early on in the set looked controlled and the team were working together and supporting each other in a return to the form that we saw at the end of last term. Short cover was good, with Friederike making a number of saves at the base of the net and both Janice and Steph picking up balls that would have scored points against the team a week ago. The work rate was good and both setters were finding their targets well, Janice setting up both Sofia and Emily for strong middle attacks. Towards the end of the set the Blues were dominating in their control of the game. Anne took the ball at 16-8 and didn't look like she wanted to give it back, serving up the first ace of the match and continuing to target the Birmingham court with strength and accuracy to the end of the set.
With an exchange of setting staff, Veronica for Steph and Pascale for Janice, the Blues went back out in the second looking hungry for the match. After an initial glitch at the start of the set, Anne retrieved the ball for service and again forged ahead with a 6 point run, including 2 aces. Good back-court defence in this rotation allowed the Blues to feed Friederike on the outside, who was totting up a fine tally of kills along the deep line. On the next rotation Emily took the serve and strung a good number of floaters together, resulting in a ace for herself and a number of easy retrieves for the team, allowing Veronica to connect well with Sofia in the middle, who had no trouble in locating the spaces in the Birmingham defence. Even though the points margin on this set seemed closer, the Blues never seemed to be worried about losing and eventually it came to Friederike to close the account with some punishing hard services that punched low over the net.
With Pia replacing Emily and Steph coming back on for Pascale in the third set, the Blues continued to find form and were busy in court. Steph was instrumental in calling a number of combination plays from good passes into the net and the team looked good executing some of the more difficult plays in it's repertoire. Friederike was unlucky not to score on a perfect tandem play, Pia giving her full access to the Birmingham court by taking the middle block away. Steph was also in control of the first tempo close attack and many times the Cambridge hitters had free reign as the bemused Birmingham front row could only look to their back-court colleagues for help. Again Anne was instrumental in the set, from the service line, the back-court cover and the intelligent changes in attack tempo.
The team performed well for this fixture and can be proud to have achieved and built on the cohesive play that was notably lacking in the last excursion. With a busy schedule over the next few weekends it will a challenge that the team looks forward to taking up.
Queen of the court: Anne Mullin for holding service for 27 of the team's points in this game!
Quote of the match: from the Birmingham coach after putting his team through some tough practice drills with the remaining 35 minutes left after the match, "How do you get your team to play so well together? They've just played together for years, yeah?"
Report by Jon Clarke
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