A rusty Kerala banked on the brilliance of experienced attacker Tom Joseph to overcome a strong challenge from Rajasthan and win 25-22, 25-14, 25-14 in a men’s Group A match in the 62nd National volleyball championship at the Teerthanker Mahaveer University indoor sports complex here on Sunday.

The star-studded defending champion took a while to find its rhythm.

In the opening set, Kerala struggled to contain Rajasthan which launched some well-planned attacks through seasoned setter Rajesh Kumar, attacker Dilip Khoiwal and blocker Lavmeet Kataria.

Joseph led Kerala’s fight. He caught the opponents off-guard through his swift and clever offensive moves capped with powerful hits and an occasional deft touch.

Boosted by international libero Kamlesh Khatik, Rajasthan displayed some spectacular saves and kept Kerala engaged in long rallies.

Rajasthan gave chase but the good work of Vibin M. George and Azees M.T. narrowly won Kerala the set.

Rajasthan continued to apply pressure, but committed too many unforced errors to lose the next two sets as well.

The comeback of Dubai-based Azees, who extended his leave to participate in the event, and K.G. Ragesh benefited Kerala.

Manu V., a good setter and a sound blocker, and Ratheesh K.S., a powerful attacker, contributed handsomely in the team’s victory.

“The first set was a humbling experience. This was the first match, I am sure the team will improve with time,” said Kerala coach S. Manoj.

Last year’s finalist Tamil Nadu rallied to a win over Punjab in a Group B encounter.

In a women’s Group A match, title holder Railways drubbed Haryana 25-18, 25-12, 25-13.

The results: Men: Group A: Kerala bt Rajasthan 25-22, 25-14, 25-14; Group B: Tamil Nadu bt Punjab 23-25, 25-12, 25-15, 25-14.

Group C: Chhattisgarh bt Goa 25-20, 25-2, 25-17; Group D: Puducherry bt Jammu and Kashmir 25-20, 25-18, 25-22; Delhi bt Jharkhand 25-20, 25-21, 25-17; Group E: Andhra Pradesh bt Madhya Pradesh 25-15, 25-12, 25-21; Group F: Karnataka bt Chandigarh 25-11, 25-18, 21-25, 25-16; Gujarat bt Himachal Pradesh 25-13, 25-16, 25-11.

Men: Group B: Uttarakhand bt Services 25-23, 24-26, 25-23, 25-10; Group F: Gujarat bt Assam 25-17, 25-12, 25-21; West Bengal bt Bihar 25-20, 25-22, 25-20.

Women: Group A: Railways bt Haryana 25-18, 25-12, 25-13; Group B: Kerala bt Uttar Pradesh 25-15, 25-11, 25-12; Group C: Chhattisgarh bt Bihar 25-10, 25-12, 25-7; Group D: Chandigarh bt Odisha 25-16, 25-16, 25-19; Group E: Jharkhand bt Madhya Pradesh 25-12, 26-24, 25-14.

Women: Group B: West Bengal bt Andhra Pradesh 22-25, 18-25, 25-13, 25-13, 15-12; Group C: Rajasthan bt Uttarakhand 20-25, 25-12, 25-16, 25-12.

Saturday’s results:

Men: Group A: Railways bt Haryana 25-14, 25-13, 5-23.

Group E: Maharashtra bt Madhya Pradesh 27-25, 26-24, 19-25, 18-25, 15-10.

Group F: Chandigarh bt Himachal Pradesh 25-13, 25-22, 25-17.

Women: Group D: Odisha bt Jammu and Kashmir 25-13, 25-11, 25-16.

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