The final day of the BUCS Championships in Sheffield brought gold for St Andrews, as the Volleyball Women’s 1st team won the national Trophy competition with a comprehensive victory in the final against Southampton.
The high point in a season largely disrupted by weather and travel problems has been the team’s run to the Trophy final, thanks to wins over Newcastle and Birmingham. Saints went into their match with Southampton at All Saints School, Sheffield, with a great deal of confidence.
That confidence proved to be well-grounded as Southampton, who had reached the final courtesy of victories over Sussex and Kent Universities, were no match for the Saints’ positive attacking approach and understanding as a team.
The beginning of the match was a cagey affair, but Saints looked to be gelling better than their opponents. Yet it remained close, and Southampton equalised at 8-all after a defensive mix-up by Saints. The English side then went 13-10 up, at which point Saints’ coach Alex Davidson called a time-out. That seemed to rally the team, Saints drawing level at 13-all, before a great block at the net put them ahead and a couple of great kills helped them to 17-13. Some dodgy serves allowed Southampton back in, but they then repaid the favour and Saints were 21-17 up. The set was sealed in Saints’ favour at 25-19 when their rivals netted at the end of a long rally.
In this best-of-five sets match, Saints had drawn first blood; if they could take the second, it would be a major step towards claiming gold. Both sides started that set with stubborn defences that forced errors; however Saints were looking good at 6-3 when the ball crept inside Southampton’s back by-line with the defence stranded. That defence was being hit hard, and the attacking intent shown by Saints got them to 11-4 up, and they came on top of some long rallies to take it to 15-6. Southampton, looking on the verge of collapse, did pull a few points back However, Saints kept the pressure on and, with a Southampton serve going long, they had the set 25-13: one more was needed for victory.
A couple of close calls at the start of that third set had Southampton, determined to start a fightback, 6-4 up, but some well-aimed serves had Saints in the lead. Their serves continued to be deadly, as they moved clear at 11-7 and 15-9. Great positioning and understanding across the court was evident, and everything seemed to be falling their way: Lorena Tussis’ elbow set put them on course for 19-11. Southampton showed they were still in it at 20-15, but several lethal kills, the last from Maria Christina Marchi, brought match point. Southampton survived that one, but their resultant serve went long to end the set at 25-16 and make Saints champions.
Their gold medals were just rewards for the hard graft put in this season, and it demonstrated that a mix of talent and team coordination brings results; Saints clearly have both.
In the day’s other matches, Saints’ friends and rivals Dundee made it to the final of the Women’s Championships, only to be beaten 25-14 25-10 by a ruthlessly-efficient Leeds Met Carnegie side, whose male counterparts also won the Men’s Championship with a 25-12 25-22 triumph over Sheffield Hallam. The Men’s Trophy was claimed by Manchester, who saw off Oxford in an exhausting but entertaining five-set (25-23 17-25 13-25 25-17 15-9) match.