Tamil Nadu men rose from the ashes to script a classic come-from-behind victory, defeating Kerala in the final of the Velammal Silver Jubilee 59th senior National volleyball championship at the Nehru Indoor Stadium here on Sunday.
Down by two sets to nil, the host recovered, then momentarily lost direction and finally, only just, found its mooring in a thrilling summit clash that lasted nearly two hours. The win in five sets, 22-25, 23-25, 25-22, 25-13, 17-15, enabled Tamil Nadu to defend its title.
Earlier, Railways women clinched a hat-trick of titles, beating Kerala 23-25, 25-21, 25-12, 25-13. “After we lost the first set, our reception and defence got better. Our service, too, was superior,” said Meena Mahalingam, Railways chief coach.
Kerala couldn't have found a better occasion to put its best foot forward. It had the holiday crowd, which had come in large numbers, under its spell with its synchronised play.
In the zone
Spiker Tom Joseph and blocker Azeez were in a zone, so to say. Hardly did they make any unforced errors at the net. Azeez's short smashes and Tom's jump smashes coupled with wily deception at the net took the match away from the defending champion.
Libero Kiran Philip proved to be invaluable for his side.
Tamil Nadu's block, which proved to be crucial in its semifinal clash against Railways, was non-existent in the first two sets. G.E. Sridharan, Tamil Nadu's chief coach, tried numerous permutations and combinations to find an answer to Kerala's methodical mayhem, but couldn't.
Shelton Moses, who was inconsistent with his attack and blocks early on, found his touch at the right time. Naveen Raja Jacob, John Christopher and Pradeep contributed in no equal measure towards the end.
This win for Tamil Nadu, its eighth overall, will linger in the memory for long for the way its players fought at the ‘death'.
While most of the Tamil Nadu players had their off days, one player was consistent throughout, Universal Selvaprabhu. He was fabulous with his smashes. Almost every time, he was on target.
Like a pendulum
After the change of sides in the decider, the TN-Kerala contest proceeded like a pendulum. Azeez's finish and block saw Kerala get a matchpoint at 14-13, but Pradeep's block saw the ball land on the baseline and Tamil Nadu survived.
After missing its first matchpoint, Tamil Nadu converted its second when Shelton Moses and John Christopher successfully blocked the attack of Vibin George. Tamil Nadu erupted in jubilation.
“This is special for me,” said Sridharan. “In the 1994 Nationals when we won the title as a host I was the coach. I am extremely happy.”
On Selvaprabhu not playing in the last three sets despite playing exceptionally well, Sridharan said that he was inexperienced and couldn't have possibly handled the pressure-cooker situation.
The coach praised setter Ukkrapandian for his fantastic performance under pressure.
The results: Men: Final: Tamil Nadu bt Kerala 22-25, 23-25, 25-22, 25-13, 17-15. Third place: Railways bt Uttarakhand 25-22, 23-25, 18-25, 25-22, 15-8.
Women: Final: Railways bt Kerala 23-25, 25-21, 25-12, 25-13. Third place: Karnataka bt West Bengal 13-25, 25-22, 25-16, 25-15.
Keywords: Senior National volleyball championship