The first “meet me at the net” session of 2011 was a highly charged and very exciting day’s play at Dundee University, which would almost certainly decide the outcome of both the men’s and women’s Tier 1A University Leagues as home team Dundee took on Edinburgh University, giving two featured matches to report on.
Right from the start of the day I knew I was in for something special, not only was there a warm welcome and a huge cake display to greet me, but a crowd of over 80 enthusiastic supporters had already gathered as the women warmed up for their top-of-the-table clash.
I was greeted by long-serving club member, supporter and coach, Paul McPate along with men’s captain Freddie Fairbairn and club President Cecilie Waersted, all of whom eagerly talked me through the club’s history and current impressive status. The club is well established, very cosmopolitan and one of the largest in the country, some 85 members representing 25 nationalities regularly gather to train and play together as 7 teams. With 9 qualified referees and 6 qualified coaches there is also a supportive infrastructure within the club with a highly engaged committee that meets formally every two weeks. These are not just impressive stats to quote, the club’s success has been acknowledged by Dundee City Council, DUVC has made the shortlist of 3 remaining contenders for the prestigious Dundee Sports Awards “Club of the Year”.
This level of organisation was patently obvious to everyone who visited on Sunday, this was a very impressive event with lots of vocal support, drums in the crowd and Piper, the highly animated Dundee mascot, all of which created a great spectacle. And the standard of play that was to follow on court lived up to the hype.
Play started with what appears to be a Scottish first. Under the guidance of international referee Grant MacIntyre, and with the flexibility available in the University league and approval of both teams, Dundee registered two liberos on the scoresheet, both of whom would play an active part in the match. This ruling is still to be rolled out in our national league and cup matches, guidance on this, along with new scoresheets to accommodate this change will issue as soon as is possible. As the players in question, Stephanie Varsakis and Giulia Capitani should always remember their role in the history of our sport.
The first set was a very closely fought one with neither team able to build more than a point or two gap, despite some impressive hitting from Dundee outside hitters Kalina Kasprzyk and Marina Petropoulou. Setter Jill Roche impressed also with a fine back-court performance as well as her agility around the court and overall control of the Dundee attack. With point scores of 13:13, 16:16, 18:18, 20:20 and 23:23 the game was very finely balanced before Dundee eventually managed to take a few consecutive points, just edging the set 25:23.
Those final points in the first set proved to be the turning point as Edinburgh failed to contest as closely for the remainder of the game, Dundee running out comfortable winners by 3 sets to nil (25:23, 25, 10, 25:20). My MVP award goes to Marina Petropoulou for a powerful and versatile hitting display and solid back-court defence. The result assured Dundee of the league title, a fitting reward for the team’s efforts throughout the season.
With one title in the bag the atmosphere cranked up a notch as the men took to the court for their league show-down. Some fancy dance moves and high-fives for the whole front row of the crowd from club mascot Piper brought an end to the preparations and it was down to the final business of the day. With Edinburgh already having secured a win over Dundee the home side knew they needed to win pretty emphatically to keep their title hopes alive. Both teams started strongly with powerful hitting from all corners as opposing setters Spowart (Dundee) and Puggioni (Edinburgh) consistently fed their hitters. A huge stuff block from Dundee’s Urh Klevze followed by a run of middle attacks from captain Freddy Fairbairn saw Dundee put their noses in front and then hold on to this slender lead to take the set 27:25. This Edinburgh side were determined to compete and pushed Dundee all the way in the second set, but with Klevze once again showing great presence at the net along with a huge hitting display from teammate Georgios Chrysostomou Dundee, again edged the set by the narrowest of margins at 25:23.
A brave tactical switch from Edinburgh then saw them take off their playmaker and captain Puggioni, who was replaced as setter by Petrakos. This seemed to lift the visitors who were well aware that their league aspirations hung in the balance, and Edinburgh took the set 20:25. Set difference now looked likely to be the decisive factor in settling the league title so both teams battled for every point in the fourth set. The commitment was palpable; at 10:10 and with the ball looking dead, Chrysostomou somehow managed to retrieve it from under the scorer’s table, cutting his spiking hand on a chair leg in the process. Despite the individual and collective effort and with Georgios patched up, Dundee couldn’t contain the Edinburgh outside attack in another tight set, going down 23:25.
The deciding set in the match was the fitting end to a great day’s play. It was close throughout with Dundee making good use of the middle and Chrysostomou again hitting some massive attacks (for which he earned my MVP award), the home side taking the set (16:14) along with the adulation of the home crowd for a hard-fought victory. Both sides had given it their all and both will go on to represent Scotland in the knock-out stages of the BUCS (British Universities and College Sport) championship. The last cheer of the day, however, was reserved for Edinburgh as they celebrated a league winning performance.
My congratulations go to both teams for a splendid display of top-class volleyball, in particular I would congratulate the Edinburgh men’s squad for an outstanding display of genuine talent, rugged determination and astute tactical decision making. My thanks go to Paul, Freddie and Cecilie for being ideal hosts for the day, to all the players for putting on such fine performances and to everyone in the hall for making the day memorable with an electric atmosphere. A final thanks goes to Sarah McMichael for providing the excellent photographs from the day, including impressive action shots of both MVPs. Thanks everyone, I hope to be back soon.