The return match with Loughborough was long-awaited and the Blues knew that they had a chance to topple the league champions at home. But with a last minute reduction of the main players the squad wasn't as strong as it could have been. Despite this Cambridge were determined to improve on the single set that was taken from Loughborough on the away fixture. The team lined up on court with Veronica Kunze (capt, S), Maria Marcaida (U), Cyndee Carver (O), Jill Aitken (O), Anne Mullin (M) and Fiona Danks (M). Present on the bench were Jo Coulson (O), Fola Popoola (O) and Jomana Fikree (S).
The Blues started the match looking slow and lethargic. The slow block cover at the net and slowly positioned back-court cover were providing plenty of holes for the main Loughborough attackers to aim for. Added to this the serve-receive was already struggling with the flat opponents serve and a run of bad passes led to the first Cambridge time-out at 12-16. However, the Loughborough team were now buoyant and made more and more play, leaving the Blues to give them back free-balls to be punished.
The tempo of the game picked up slightly in set 2 with a more confident Blues service, led by Fiona's example. Veronica was working hard at the net to bamboozle the block and left her attackers with single or even no block defence. Maria took advantage with a cross-court grounding and Anne belted a middle attack into the Loughborough three metre zone. Loughborough replied by feeding everything to their main attackers and the Blues didn't cope well with the back-court attack. Cyndee scored with a late serve run but the last points slipped away again.
On the rails, the Blues buckled down and went point for point at the start of set 3, the only change being Jo for Jill on the outside. A bad patch in serve-receive saw Fola replacing Maria on the reverse and the Blues started to bring their game up. Cyndee pounded two storming outside balls into the same undefended Loughborough space in subsequent attacks. On the next rotation Fola served a nice run of deep balls, making two aces in the process. The set was nail-bitingly close at the end, Veronica serving tough and forcing a late Loughborough time-out with an ace. Coming back onto court Veronica served a safe ball and Cyndee took the set by punishing the Loughborough overpass.
Cambridge were now energized by the prospect of coming back for a victory as they had done in so many previous games. Loughborough were making more and more errors during the fourth set as their main play-makers tired. Fiona's deep service was still paying dividends and Veronica was making amazing pick-ups in defence. The Blues looked like they were cruising at 18-12 but Loughborough retorted with a run of tips and second-ball attacks that found the Blues lacking or found some luck rolling off the top of the net. With the first set-point the travellers took the match from a strong middle attack. The Blues were left a little deflated, but safe in the knowledge that Loughborough do not look the invincible team that they used to be.
Player of the match: Veronica Kunze
Report by Jon Clarke
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