Brilliant and outstanding. These words best describe Tamil Nadu's performance in the senior National volleyball championships held recently at Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh. While the men’s side was on top of the world after clinching the crown, the women's team finished a creditable third. No doubt, the spikers ushered in a Happy New Year, both for themselves as well as a legion of volleyball lovers across the state.
“It was a great victory. We were effective both in serve and reception. The team was confident right from the beginning and it showed in our performances. Naveen, Vaishnav and Ukkarapandian were in great form throughout the championship. We played two liberos, Kanakaraj and I, for the first time and it proved a master-stroke,” said Balasubramanyam, who represents IOB.Nerve and character
The players showed nerve and character to pass the Services test in the semi-finals. In a humdinger which went the distance, it was Tamil Nadu which had the last laugh. That match served as a tonic for in the summit clash thereafter, Tamil Nadu virtually decimated a strong Uttarakhand in straight sets. That win also undid the disappointment of the previous national when Tamil Nadu lost the plot against Kerala in the final.
The man who made the difference this time was P. Sundaram. The coach, who was on his maiden National assignment with the Tamil Nadu team, used his resources remarkably well. He also ensured that the players stuck to their natural games and did not worry too much about the situation of the match. This attitude helped the side, particularly in the gruelling last-four clash against Services.
During its victorious campaign, Tamil Nadu was well-served by the experience of attacker Naveen Raja Jacob and setter Ukkarapandian, both seasoned pros. While the latter played a key part in the team’s transformation, Naveen was all power and precision in spiking. Not surprisingly both of them took home the ‘best awards’ in their respective categories.
While the seniors were in full flow, youngsters Jerome Vinith and G.S. Akhin rose to the challenge whenever they got an opportunity. The fact that Tamil Nadu humbled a strong Uttarakhand twice, in five sets in the group stage and in straight sets in the final, reflects the amount of work that went into its planning and execution.
A. K. Chitrapandian, secretary of the State Volleyball Association, was naturally thrilled about the achievement. “It was an outstanding performance by the team. We played brilliantly in the semi-finals and took that form into the title clash. The final was made to look like a one-sided affair with our spikers completely outplaying the opposition. Ukkarapandian, Vineeth and Naveen excelled in their roles. Hats off to coach Sundaram,” he said.Confidence-booster
If the men's team's showing was spectacular, the women's bronze medal performance was no less praiseworthy. With no podium finish for eight years, the side was in dire need of a boost to its image as well as the confidence of the players.
After cruising past Haryana in straight sets in the contest for third place, the women celebrated as though they had won gold! The emotions showed how much a podium finish meant to them. It was Devika (setter), Elizabeth (centre-blocker) and Narmada (attacker) who turned the top-3 dream into reality for Tamil Nadu.
Syed Karimullah, who coached the women’s team, said, “We took it one match at a time. It was a solid and experienced team, and the players took part in different tournaments to stay in shape. Our form was so good that we won six matches, including three in the league. We are back among the top sides in the country after an eight-year lull.”