City of Edinburgh scored a remarkable double triumph in securing both girls and boys titles in the JNL Under 16 playoffs, but were made to fight all the way by some inspired opposition play.
Both City teams came into the playoff series with identical 11-1 records from the regular season, and were considered by many to be warm favourites to take home the silverware this year. The Edinburgh boys team were ruthless in their 2-0 demolition of Kilmarnock Blaze in the semi-final, triumphing 25-12; 25-10. However the girls semi-final didn’t go exactly to plan, at 7-5 South Ayrshire sensationally took the first set 27-25, after a furious Edinburgh comeback avoided an embarrassing scoreline. Edinburgh finally found their feet with a strong 25-7 second set, and sealed the game out 15-9 to take their place in the final.
The second girls semi-final appeared too close to call on paper, and this was replicated on the court. At 8-4, North Lanarkshire have been improving all year, and they looked great value for a first set 25-19 scoreline off 10-2 Marr College. Marr levelled with a 25-23 second set before an inspired final set from the Lanarkshire girls clinched their final berth, ironically costing Marr a place in the final for the first time since the JNL began its Under 16 league.
Similarly, in the second of the boys semi-finals, Team Lanarkshire came in as the higher ranked team on league form, but found strong opposition in Troon Prestwick & Ayr, and it was the Ayrshire side who emerged triumphant in straight sets (25-19; 25-17) to go to the final for a second straight year.
Both games for the bronze medal position were fiercely contested, as the young athletes put their disappointment behind them and served up a spectacular for the large crowd. In both cases, the lower ranked team were the first to show their prowess, but neither could hang onto their advantage, and Team Lanarkshire and Marr College were confirmed in 3rd place in the boys and girls events, respectively.
And so to the finals; the only blot on the perfect season for both City of Edinburgh teams had come at the hands of their final opponents, and the setup was intriguing pre-match. North Lanarkshire came out of the blocks in the girls final like they were on fire, and an expansive hitting game gave them the first set, 25-20.
A mix of strong words and encouragement at the changeover had the desired effect for City of Edinburgh as they looked like a new team in the second set, setters and hitters combining to level it up 25-13. Edinburgh won the toss for the deciding set, and were in clover as their first server put twelve on the board without reply. Despite a late North Lanarkshire rally, City of Edinburgh sealed out the set 15-5 to take the Under 16 JNL title for the first time in 12 years.
Meanwhile on the boys court, City of Edinburgh showed their true style with a 25-13 first set victory, to which Troon Prestwick & Ayr had few answers. Just as it looked like the capital boys would run away with the game, the Troon defence stepped up to the mark in the second set, filling gaps that had been wide open earlier and recycling the ball for the outside spikers to convert. Troon took the second set 25-23, and carried their form into the decider, changing over 8-6 ahead. Indeed, Troon held on to serve for the match at 14-13, before two kill blocks and an attack error swung the momentum back to City of Edinburgh with a 16-14 decision.
The Most Valuable Player awards were also secured by City of Edinburgh, in the way of Claudia Henry and Craig Brown.