Scotland’s Junior Men had to dig deep into their reserves to overcome San Marino in four sets in the 2012 CEV Small Countries Division European Championships, but found a hero in an unlikely place.
Ross McKelvie has spent the whole of his short career to date as a middle blocker. For this event however, due to the riches of talent at that position, he was asked to cover at power hitter. But at 8-10 down in set four, the big Ayrshireman was asked to do a job opposite the setter, shutting down San Marino’s dangerman captain Lorenzo Benvenuti who formed the mainstay of the Marinese offence single-handedly. Benvenuti found attack channels that had formerly been open suddenly denied to him, and McKelvie was able to contribute a less-than-shabby six kills off seven hits to swing a match that had looked like slipping away from the Scots firmly back in their favour.
San Marino had been the first to show their form in the match, leading 8-5 at the first Technical Timeout before Scotland staged a major comeback to dominate the first set, spearheaded by wing spiker Ross Kirkwood (whose 22 kills for the game took him to 40 for the tournament so far, six ahead of the second-closest challenger), leading 16-12 and 21-14 before coming through 25-18.
San Marino stepped up the pace in the second set, as Benvenuti and Antonelli came out firing, and put Scotland on the back foot from the outset. Scotland were able to match up point for point for the first two phases of the match, but were caught out after emerging from the second Technical Timeout and San Marino were able to level up with a 25-17 scoreline.
Scotland introduced Ben Wright for the third set, to stem a perceived imbalance in the blocking lineup, and having once again exchanged blows for much of the set without either team establishing dominance, were then able to bring back a rested-up Mark Lawson at the key phase of the set, expanding the offensive options to pinch it 25-23.
And then to the fourth, with San Marino holding the lead at key points, Scotland looked like they would have to go to five to secure the win, before the introduction of McKelvie raised the blocking profile, shut out San Marino’s most potent weapon, and opened up new avenues for the Scots to exploit. San Marino were able to save two match balls, but succumbed to a wicked line drive from Kirkwood which game Scotland a deserved 3-1 victory with a 27-25 card.
Scotland coach Thomas Dowens was full of praise for the efforts of his team in the post-match interview stating “We had a bunch of heroes out there tonight. The change of McKelvie won us the match, but we had seven guys working their socks off there. I thought Grant Gwynne was the best player out there, and his distribution and shot making gave us easy options to make points.”
Coach Dowens was more cagey at any mention of eventual success in the tournament, claiming that such talk was unnecessary, and that the ethos was always and would always be to take one match at a time. The small fact that the next match for the Scots joins them up with the other unbeaten team in the event, Cyprus, means that taking one game a time may bring added dividends if Scotland can bring their best form to the court tomorrow.