Defending champion Kerala was given a scare by Haryana, but ensured three full points with a 25-19, 22-25, 25-23, 25-17 victory in a Group A men’s league match of the 61st National volleyball championship at the Sawai Man Singh Indoor Stadium here on Tuesday.

Without the star of the last edition Manu Joseph, who has since moved to Railways, and with a clutch of new players being groomed for the National Games to be staged at home next year, Kerala did look vulnerable.

With Haryana strengthened by the inclusion of Navjeet Singh, who propped the defence with good blocks after having served Punjab, Kerala did expect a good fight. However, strong blocks and placements by P. Rohith, Tom Joseph and skipper Y. Manu helped Kerala tilt the balance, especially in the fourth set. Kerala’s spiking too was very good.

Haryana could have taken the third set as well, but was erratic with the serves and surrendered the initiative after fighting back a few times with misdirected salvos.

“Our combination worked well and the team’s strategy came good,” said Kerala coach S.T. Harilal. He observed that only two former internationals — Vibin M. George and Tom Joseph — provided the experience for the team, while most of the others were youngsters.

“Our opponents had the experience, but we played better. We hope to defend the title with this young team,” said the Kerala coach.

Leading by example

In the women’s section, defending champion Railways, virtually the National team with 10 international players in the squad, handled Karnataka’s challenge with competence. Skipper K. Reshma, who played a fluent all-round game, said the team was happy with the start.

The Railways team made it a point to sit and watch the Kerala girls in action against Uttar Pradesh, and exchanged pleasantries with the runner-up of the last edition after the match.

Kerala had a bit of a struggle at the start, but settled into a nice rhythm with S. Rekha, P.J. Jomol and N. Sruthimol standing out with their strong performances — be it good serves, attack or setting. Tiji Raju was also good with her sharp spikes and clever placements. Coach V. Anil Kumar said the team had not had practice at the indoor arena, and that was why the first set was a bit of a tussle as it was the team’s first match.

Otherwise, Kerala looked ready for another good run.

In another lively men’s encounter, Karnataka played increasingly well as the match progressed to beat last year’s runner-up Uttarakhand in four games. Karnataka handled the last few points nicely in the second and third sets after losing the first, and was too good in the fourth as it outclassed Uttarakhand, thanks to the sharp smashes of A.

Karthik and Anup D' Costa even as T. D. Ravikumar provided varietywith drops.

The electronic scoreboard on one of the indoor courts failed to function for the second day running, and the organisers were constantly announcing the scores, as the manual scoreboard, as small as a table-top calendar, was invisible to most of the spectators.

Ironically, the only functional scoreboard also developed a snag during the last match of the day.

The results (league):

Men: Group A: Kerala bt Haryana 25-19, 22-25, 25-23, 25-17. Group C: Chhattisgarh bt Jharkhand 22-25, 8-25, 25-21, 25-22, 15-12. Group-B: Karnataka bt Uttarakhand 18-25, 25-21, 25-22, 25-13.Group D: Uttar Pradesh bt Assam 25-14, 25-19, 25-20; Gujarat bt Chandigarh 18-25, 25-15, 25-17, 26-24. Group E: Odisha bt Mizoram 25-19, 25-13, 25-20. Group F: Delhi bt Maharashtra 25-19, 25-17, 25-23; West Bengal bt Madhya Pradesh 27-29, 25-11, 25-21, 25-15.

Women: Group A: Railways bt Karnataka 25-15, 25-11, 25-12. Group B: Kerala bt Uttar Pradesh 25-17, 25-9, 25-13. Group C: Haryana bt Gujarat 25-11, 25-16, 18-25, 25-17. Group D: Punjab bt Jammu and Kashmir 25-3, 25-6, 25-4. Group E: Madhya Pradesh bt Uttarakhand 25-19, 25-6, 25-14; Chandigarh bt Jharkhand 25-21, 25-13, 25-14.

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