Pool Match 1 - Blues vs Warwick
Pool Match 2 - Blues vs Gloucester
Pool Match 3 - Blues vs Gloucester
Pool Match 4 - Blues vs Warwick
Another crack-of-dawn visit to Leeds University started the Blues challenge for the EVA student cup 2002-3. Having finished a disappointing seventh the previous year, the squad was determined to qualify for this year's tournament. With three Cambridge Uni teams attempting to get through the preliminary rounds (the Men's Blues having pre-qualified by winning the competition last year), the Women's Blues were setting the standard, with both second teams travelling in convoy for the Sunday pools.
The news that two teams had pulled out at the last moment greeted the team's arrival. Thus Cambridge were set to play two opponents; Warwick and Cheltenham & Gloucester. The three team pool was asked to complete two matches against each opposition, the winner automatically qualifying whilst the runner-up would stand a chance of a "best-second" placing.
The Blues were strong with a 9 player squad for the day; Cyndee Carver, Jo Coulson and Fola Popoola hitting through the outside, Nadia von Maltzahn and Fiona Danks on centre, Veronica Kunze (capt) and Jomana Fikree setting, Maria Josefina Markaida hitting utility and Alison Loomis playing libero and utility.
Pool Match 1
Blues 2-0 Warwick University (29-27, 25-16)
The starting lineup to face the unseen Warwick opposition was; Veronica setting, Maria as utility, Cyndee and Fola on the outside, Nadia and Fiona in the middle and Alison as libero.
The Blues played their customary nightmare first set at the EVA qualifiers whilst still trying to shake off the long journey and early start. The team made numerous errors in transition and although Alison was passing well from the beginning of the match the Cambridge attack was not decisive. Service errors followed and with the Warwick team picking up well the Blues were forced into costly mistakes. Three times the Blues took the score away, each time the Warwick team being played back in by Cambridge errors. With the Warwick team saving two set points the Blues eventually made the set safe with Fola attacking cross-court.
Set two was a completely different story as the unchanged Blue side began to wake up. The first run of points came from Veronica's service with a deep float ball causing the opposition difficulties. Maria was being well supplied on the reverse and made two confident kills into cross-court spaces. The middles were still suffering though and both Nadia and Fiona were having trouble keeping up with the ball on the block. Cyndee was having better luck finding points by tooling the Warwick block and finished the set in style with a run of tough serves.
Pool Match 2
Blues 2-0 University of Gloucestershire (25-8, 25-11)
The Gloucester side looked, on average, smaller and less experienced than the previous opponents, but the Blues were taking no chances on a surprise result to spoil their day. The starting six for this match was the same as for the first Warwick match, the Cambridge side looking to dominate the match from the first serve.
After winning the ball it soon became obvious that the opponents did not have a very strong attack and were leaving the net undefended against the Cambridge attack, relying on deep free-ball tactics to try and gain points. With excellent passing from libero Alison, Veronica was able to set optimum attacks and start to bring some long-awaited Blues combinations into play. Nadia was starting to enjoy free reign on the net at the middle position, banging a brace of short attacks into the Gloucester deck.
Set two saw the replacement of Fola with Jo, who quickly settled into the outside position, taking a point from a cross-court attack. With Maria, Veronica and Cyndee putting pressure on the weak Gloucester serve-receive the second set was soon in the bag.
Pool Match 3
Blues 2-0 University of Gloucestershire (25-11, 25-9)
Having already reduced this team in 2 sets to -8 and -11, the Blues went out in a confident frame of mind for the second encounter. Alison started opposite Veronica, with Fiona and Nadia in the centre and Jo and Fola on the outside. Jomana replaced Veronica early in the first set to secure the 2-0 victory for the Blues in this match. Again large runs on deep service dominated the match and Nadia was forcing error after error from the Gloucester passing unit. Fiona built on her confidence throughout the match to notch up some tidy middle kills and Jo was also firing through the outside. The team were gaining important match experience from this meeting as they kept their level to take the match again.
Pool Match 4
Blues 2-0 Warwick University (25-20, 25-19)
By the last match of the day the Blues were looking 100% more confident and were really starting to work well together as a team. Having beaten the Warwick team already the team knew what to expect of the opposition and hence how to get immediately on top of the game. With Veronica setting, Alison as utility, Fola and Cyndee on the outside and Fiona and Nadia in the middle, the Blues opened the account by taking the ball from the first Warwick service. Running a number of points from each server through the set the Blues immediately dominated and were able to play their game with style. Fola was on fire throughout the set, picking up down-balls that were converted into kills by her team-mates and hitting a superb combination play with Nadia. Alison was stepping into the utility role and set a number of good middle balls for Fiona to convert also.
Set two also saw the Blues on top with both middles now regaining their timing; Fiona making a crushing solo block that dismayed the Warwick attack. Alison was determined at the baseline and took two consecutive aces serving deep into the Warwick corners. Maria rejoined the team on court as the only substitution change in the match and was amused to find herself playing through the middle as a slight ankle injury put Nadia out for the remainder of the set. Unperturbed by the new role she notched up a block and two attacks to finish the day.
With the Cambridge team not dropping a set at the qualification stage they again suggested a change of form for the season by gaining some useful match-play and bucket-loads of confidence. With qualification for February guaranteed the team returned to Cambridge happy...
Report by Jon Clarke
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