Who needs Petra?
The Romanian/German outside hitter and court captain has already proved her worth this season racking up double digits of kills in her last two matches, attacking with over 50% efficiency. Along with her solid passing and a dangerous serve anyone would have thought that her absence for the top of the table clash between Loughborough and Cambridge might have dented the Blues’ chances of returning victorious from Maroonland. Not a bit of it, in the event they romped to their most convincing win thus far, humiliating the East Midlanders to a 9-25 first set drubbing and a straight sets defeat in less than an hour. As it happens Loughborough have donned black in place of their usual maroon or purple, mourning better days perhaps?
In Schwalie’s absence Alice Hsieh took her outside spot with fresher Ksenia Osmjana in the other swing hitting position. Another fresher making her starting debut, Katharina Bitzan, replaced this week’s other conspicuous absentee, the formidable middle blocker Debbie Deng (out with a back injury). the experienced Sarah Greasley took the other middle blocking position, she and Bitzan being replaced in the back row by libero Tina Schwamb. The right side of court was covered by the more familiar combination of Protasio setting and Doliskova opposite.
To describe the game in short, Loughborough could not handle the Cambridge serve. When they did manage to get the ball back over the net it was almost always picked up and hit back with more precision and pace. The first set was not much of a contest, Protasio’s ruthless service and the Bitzan/Doslikova double block immediately pushing Cambridge to a 0-8 lead. The Blues missed only one side-out attempt as they swept through the rest of the set.
In the second set it was Hsieh who kept up the serving onslaught, scoring four aces herself, and inspiring another four from her teammates. To their credit Loughborough stuck to the task and brought the score back from 2-8 to 13-14, mainly by cutting out their errors and catching Cambridge in cruise mode. But then a trademark kill through the block from Doslikova brought Protasio back to the service line and the home team crumbled.
Again Loughborough hung onto Cambridge coat tails early in the third, large due to the admirable efforts of their setter, Bethany Lowney. The lack of any real firepower must be very frustrating for such a talented play-maker but her work rate never dimmed. She even managed serve runs of her own but the rest of her team could not back her up. The Blue serve machine meanwhile, this time featuring squad captain Maddi Sowash, replacing Bitzan for the final set, started cranking out the aces once again. Whilst Osmjana continued her impressive display of line hitting the Loughborough wings could manage ineffective rolled ball attacks and their error count rocketed. The site of Protasio going to the service line for the second time that set spread panic in the Loughborough receive unit. Without much hope of siding out it was only a serve error that saved them from another potential 9-25 defeat. Some good serves from Lowney made the scoreline respectable but the game was only ever going one way.
The win puts Cambridge at the top of the Midlands conference table, the only unbeaten team and now clear favourites for the divisional title. However, it must be noted that the general standard is low in the Midlands conference this year and bigger challenges lie ahead. Cambridge’s latest win may have been in Schwalie’s and Deng’s absence but they will both be needed in squad training to maintain the team’s early progress.
MVP: Anna Protasio
Report by Jean Jacquet
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