All eyes were on Wishaw on Sunday as Scottish Volleyball closed out 2011 with a bang, with two simply epic finals in the Zoti Top Teams Cup. The trophies went East this year, but not without a mammoth fight from the beaten finalists.
Edinburgh Jets had a stunning come-from-behind victory over three-times winners Troon Prestwick & Ayr to capture their first silverware in ten years, while City of Edinburgh were stretched all the way for their third Top Teams Cup by a Stuart Edgar-inspired Kilmarnock Blaze.
Recent matches between Troon and Jets have gone the way of the Ayrshire side, and having posted an early 16-7 lead, and sealing out the first set 25-20, it looked like being Troon’s day again. Jets coach Martyn Johnstone took the bold step of benching his captain Agnes Michalowska for the second set, and this had the desired effect, as replacement off-setter Barbara Terlouw served Jets into a 16-7 riposte. Troon fought back in the latter stages of the set, but Jets held their cool to tie the match at one set all, with a 25-19 scoreline.
Troon came out in the third set on fire, and raced away with the set, triumphing 25-10. Just when it looked as though Jets had been overcome again, they found another gear. Outside spikers Kasprczk and Schaffner were scoring at will, while Troon were encountering difficulties dealing with Jets service game. Once again, the team chasing the game had a late rally of form, but Jets were strong enough to tie the match with a 25-20 win.
And so to the deciding set. Jets maintained their offensive dominance, leading 8-4 at the changeover, and finally crushed the Troon challenge, scoring six unanswered points with their strongest front row, to take the set 15-6 and the match 3-2.
The story of the mens final was all about middle blockers, both present and missing. City of Edinburgh were able to welcome back Ben Hunter from a knee injury, and he took his place on the bench. Kilmarnock Blaze meanwhile were deprived of the services of both starting middle blockers, Stewart Caldwell and Mark Lawson both failing to recover from ankle problems. This forced Killie player-coach Stuart Edgar to name himself in the centre net role. But you’ve never seen a middle blocker play like this. The middle blocker isn’t meant to pass service or defend the floor, they’re meant to block along the net and hit the occasional winner in the centre.
Tell that to Edgar!
He was everywhere at once. Left side, right side, in the middle, pipe and flare – the Killie offensive strategy was to get the ball to Edgar wherever he was, and let him take on the Edinburgh defence. Killie kept the game tight for the opening exchanges, but Edinburgh’s greater range of offensive outlets was the determining factor in their securing the first set 25-21.
The second set was an outstanding display of side-out volleyball, as the two teams went at each other without mercy, to 19-19. Then a sequence of howitzer serves from Jamie McHardy broke the deadlock for Edinburgh, and they claimed the second set 25-23.
Likewise, the third set was a continuation of the second, as the teams continued to show a fine array of attacking shots. Having hit all along the net, Edgar took the ball to the service line with the game tied at 22-22, and Kilmarnock looking down the barrel of a 0-3 reversal. Two jump serve aces and a kill from zone one, and Killie had the third set, 25-22.
By now, it was clear that Edgar and Killie had established their offensive pattern. While Edinburgh showed strong all along the net, Killie had Edgar. Emerging from the technical timeout 13-16 down, Kilmarnock made the sideout required, and then with Edgar at the service line once again, opened up an outstanding seven point gap. Edinburgh looked stunned, and Kilmarnock took the fourth set 25-19.
Edinburgh had their unbeaten ten game stretch at stake now, and dug in for all they were worth. Szlendek’s floating service, coupled with some aggressive blocking from McHardy and Hunter, finally exposed frailties in the Kilmarnock unit, and City of Edinburgh were able to regain their top form at just the right time for a decisive 15-6 win.