With everything to play for, and the knowledge that success in this tough fixture against Birmingham would allow the Blues a shot at the number 2 qualification slot, the team warmed up at Cherry Hinton looking forward to a good match. A strong Blues squad was present; Veronica Kunze (capt, S), Anne Mullin (M), Fiona Danks (M), Cyndee Carver (O), Fola Popoola (O) and Mariajose Marcaida (U) starting, with Jo Coulson (O), Jill Aitken (O), Kelly Klima (O), Nadia von Maltzahn (M) and Jomana Fikree (S) on the bench.
Birmingham immediately took control of the first set by way of their strongest attacker and middle block, defending a hard outside attack from Cyndee. The Blues were struggling at the opening of the match - serving pressure was low and back-court defence was lacking, especially around the unclosed block. At 8-12 the Blues called the first time-out of the match and were asked to improve the cover. Fola found inspiration with the service immediately after this and ran a number of tough serves, including the first ace of the match, and allowed Veronica to connect twice, from freeball play, with the Alabama Hammer, who was pounding the ball through the outside. Following the ensuing Birmingham timeout Cyndee served up her first jump-serve ace of the year before a perfect pass from Anne and set from Veronica allowed her to take the set with a powerful line drive.
Expecting a resounding Birmingham reply in set 2, the Blues started tough, with only a change of Fiona for Nadia in the centre. The opening play saw Anne placing the ball onto Veronica's head from serve, the resulting set being put away cross-court by Cyndee. With the main Birmingham attackers making hit errors and a run of tough jump-serves from Cyndee, the pressure was on the away team. Anne drove a couple of fast middle attacks into the floor to make the set 10-2, but the visitors crept back into the game to 18-18 where the defining point of the set was played; from Nadia's serve the Birmingham team defended two bombs from Cyndee, the Blues then defended two hard middle attacks from Birmingham, who in turned blocked out Cyndee, Nadia picking up the return and Anne hammering a back-court attack, which was defended by Birmingham and the resulting tip was picked up by the Blues and Fola's back-court response was also picked up by the opposition who fouled the net in doing so. After this excitement it came as no surprise that Cyndee converted the second set with another hard line attack.
In set 3 the Birmingham team were struggling against collapse and made clumsy rotation errors. The Blues were starting to open out, trying different combinations, and Jill (replacing Fola) was passing well. With serve veteran Anne running 10 deep pressure serves including 2 aces, the score was set at 10-2 and the Blues had the run of the match. Two time-outs and a substitution couldn't shake the serve, and once at an end, the reply was instant - a perfect pass from Jill and the thunder was unleashed by Cyndee through four. Maria's patience paid off in the embers of the set and she found her two kills through the reverse and Veronica's last serve run (with two aces) put the set safe. Two substitutions (Jo for Cyndee and Fiona for Nadia) looked for the match-winning serve, but the honour, in the end, was provided by Anne with a huge smother block.
Player(s) of the match: Cyndee Carver / Anne Mullin
Report by Jon Clarke
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