Having already suffered at the hands of Nottingham earlier in the season, the Blues set off for the return fixture knowing that they had to get a result from this match to help them clear the bottom positions in the league. With fixtures at home against Birmingham and Loughborough 2 to finish the season, the away Nottingham leg was to be crucial in the bid for a place in the Finals.
The Blues fielded a strong squad for the match; captain Veronica Kunze and Jomana Fikree as setters, Nadia von Maltzahn, Anne Mullin and Fiona Danks in centre, Alison Loomis as utility and Jill Aitken, Fola Popoola and debutant Kelly Klima swinging outside. The Nottingham team looked slightly understaffed but still fielded a strong setter and outside attacker, both of whom had been present for the humiliation of the Blues at home.
Set one opened with a perfect serve-receive being punished by Fola to win the Blues the ball and an impressive service run by Fola, which included an early ace, and forced the Notts coach to call his first time-out at 5-0. The deflation of the Nottingham side was evident and although the set didn't contain many sizzling plays, it was won with solid Blues defence (both starting middles Anne and Nadia notching up point blocks) and tough serve. Alison beamed in several deep services which had the Nottingham serve-receive flummoxed and Jill was able to clean up the set with 4 strong serves of her own.
The opposition seemed to rally after the break and the second set went point for point through the first rotation, although many points were lost on error. Anne and Alison were setting up some strong passing and the Nottingham team didn't look dangerous on serve. Asked to up the tempo, the Blues responded well and Jill and Alison found points with fine swings (although Alison was also finding scores with Californian beach tactics). Fola again dominated service, running two aces in a row and forcing the Notts coach to try to break with a desperate time-out and substitution. Veronica was also making second play attacks, finding herself unblocked the majority of the time.
Having substituted on during set 2, Fiona and Kelly started set 3. Fiona was immediately making an impact with her serve as the poorly passed receives were ultimately ending in Nottingham attack errors. The Blues receive was still holding strong and the benefits were paying as all the Cambridge attackers were being distributed quality sets by Veronica, and taking the opportunity to punish them. Fiona was working well in deep cover to pick up the Nottingham attack, which had been reduced to a freeball play, and Kelly was showing her potential with a system that was new to her.
After the match the Blues continued for some much needed game experience by giving the bench players a couple of sets. Although these games also went the Blues way, Nottingham substitute Anne Mullin played well, although hopefully these will be the only two losing sets for the rest of her 2002-3 season!
Player of the match: Alison Loomis
Report by Jon Clarke
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