Tamil Nadu men played like champions as they beat defending champion Kerala 25-19, 20-25, 26-24, 28-26 to top Group ‘A’ in the 61st National volleyball championship here on Friday.

After a robust start, when it played with considerable cohesion and fire power, it was to the credit of TN that it found a way back to post a win after Kerala looked to have wrested the initiative with an all-court game.

What distinguished eight-time champion Tamil Nadu this day was its ability to handle the climax in each set with cool competence.

It saved two game points in the third set from 22-24 to reel off four points to clinch the set. TN’s defence blocked with energy and precision to turn the tide in its favour.

Bouncing back

In the fourth set, Kerala had a set-point at 24-23 but TN won the next two points to get back into the driver’s seat and converted its third match-point as K.P. Shaheem made the final block much to the joy of his teammates.

G. Pradeep, G.R. Vaishnav, N. Shelton Moses and Naveen Raja Jacob stood out with their fine contribution, but more importantly the TN team pulled together as a strong unit.

Kerala was quite explosive in many spells as it dictated terms through Tom Joseph, K S. Ratheesh, P. Rohith, Vibin George and T.S. Ajesh. But the team fell marginally short at the crunch.

Skipper Y. Manu set it up beautifully for the sharp spikes, but TN was able to plug the gap when it mattered.

Railways third in group

Railways finished third in the group, behind TN and Kerala, while Haryana was left to negotiate a pre-quarterfinal against the teams emerging from the lower league, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Delhi.

In the women’s section, Railways and Kerala, the champion and runner-up of the last edition, topped their groups without dropping a set.

They will await their quarterfinal opponents which will be decided from the fourth placed teams from the two groups apart from the four toppers emerging from the lower league.

While Karnataka and West Bengal finished fourth in Group ‘A’ and ‘B’ respectively, Haryana, Punjab, Chandigarh and Delhi topped their groups in the lower league.

The four teams will first face each other and the two winners will meet the fourth-placed teams in the top groups in the pre-quarterfinals.

Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh finished No.2 in Group ‘A’ and ‘B’ respectively, and will play the third-placed teams from each other’s group, Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh respectively, in the quarterfinals on Sunday.

The results (league):

Men: Group ‘A’: TN bt Kerala 25-19, 20-25, 26-24, 28-26; Group ‘C’: AP bt J & K 25-8, 25-12, 25-12; Group ‘D’: Assam bt Chandigarh 25-19, 25-19, 25-13; Group ‘E’: Rajasthan bt Odisha 25-22, 25-16, 20-25, 25-16.

Women: Group ‘A’: Railways bt AP 25-14, 25-14, 25-15; Group ‘B’: Kerala bt WB 25-12, 25-17, 25-17.

Group ‘C’: Haryana bt Maharashtra 26-24, 23-25, 25-11, 25-13; Odisha bt Gujarat 25-17, 25-23, 25-27, 25-22. Group ‘D’: Punjab bt Rajasthan 25-23, 23-25, 25-18, 25-11. Group ‘E’: Jharkhand bt Madhya Pradesh 25-23, 25-21, 22-25, 26-24.

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