2nd November 2014
NEVZA 2014 got off to an entertaining start with 3 matches on the opening night. England boys and girls both faced Finland, while Iceland girls took on 2013 finalists Denmark.
England boys started a little better in their first set, staying in touch with Finland until the latter half. Like the girls, they also came close to the second set, only losing out following a run of points from the Finnish who then managed to pounce on any uncertainty in the England ranks as they stormed the third set 25-11.
England girls struggled to find their passing game, as Finland ran away with the first set 25-12. A solid second set followed, as England found themselves in a promising position at 20-19 after some big hitting from Yasmin Kaashoek. They were unable to capitalise though with Finland seeing out the set 25-19. The momentum had truly swung in the third, with Finland dominating all aspects of the game, closing out the match 25-11. In the closest match of the evening, Iceland girls narrowly lost to Denmark 3-0, but on another day the match could have gone the other way. A comeback from Iceland saw them just miss out on the first set 25-23. A lapse in concentration allowed the Danish to build a big lead in the second set, and they never looked back as they took a two set lead 25-16. A nail biting final set followed, with Iceland desperate to take the match into a third. They couldn’t quite find the points they needed though, as Denmark notched up their first win 25-23 in the third.
The teams were up bright and early for day two of NEVZA, with some taking advantage of the early free courts, squeezing in an extra training session before an important day’s play.
England vs Finland was the second match on the boy’s court, following Sweden’s 3-1 victory over Iceland. It was Finland who hit the ground running, taking the first set 25-16. England fared a little better in the second, but were unable to find the extra gear they needed towards the end of the set. Finland closed out the match 25-9 in the third, leaving England needing a win against Denmark to progress to the semi finals.
The crunch match couldn’t have started better as England won a tough opening set 25-20 and followed it up with the second 25-19. A place in the semi finals was beckoning and, as the third set drew to a close, it looked as though England would see the match out. It wasn’t to be though, as Denmark rallied and won the third set, and the fourth….and the fifth! A remarkable comeback that left the England boys distraught, but also gave them a glimpse of what they’re capable of when it all comes together- a fantastic effort which all the players can draw on when they play in the quarter final tomorrow. Denmark had another gruelling 5 set match against Finland, however this time they were on the losing side, meaning Finland earned a place in the semi finals by topping Group C. They were joined in the semis by Sweden who, like Denmark, had an epic five set match that finished just after 10pm. This time it was Norway who were the unfortunate team to miss out, with Iceland finishing Group D in 3rd.
The Faroe Islands were first on the show court against reigning Champions Norway. After losing one and winning 2 extremely close sets, the Faroes managed to secure 3 points with a nail biting 30-28 win in the fourth. England girl’s matched the boy’s start, winning an extremely close set 26-24. The second set was there for the taking, but the Danes pulled it back and stole it 25-23. Another close set followed and again the Danes took it 25-19. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be England’s day as Denmark won the decisive fourth set 25-15. England’s next opportunity for points was against Iceland. A cagey opening set ended with England finishing on the right side of the 25-23 scoreline. However, just as they had done in their previous match, the form began to stutter and Iceland capitalised, winning 3 sets in a row to consign England to another defeat. Finland topped the group and progressed straight to the semi finals, with Denmark 2nd and Iceland 3rd. In the other group, Sweden finished on top despite losing two players (sisters no less!) to ankle injuries in consecutive matches. Faroe Islands came 2nd, with Norway finishing 3rd.
After 2 days of group play, it was time for the knockout stage of the competition. Two semi final spots (per gender) were up for grabs, with the other two spots already filled by Finland and Sweden in both the boy’s and girl’s events.
Denmark despatched of Iceland in straight sets in the first of two quarter finals, which left England and Norway to battle it out for the last of the semi final berths. After gaining an advantage at 2-1 up, memories of yesterday’s 5 set defeat may have been lingering as Norway looked to be heading towards levelling the match. A nerve-jangling end to the set saw England clinch it 26-24, earning a semi final spot against Finland. Unfortunately the semi final went the same way as the group stage, with Finland coming out on top in straight sets (25-19, 25-17, 25-19). In the other semi final Denmark rolled over group winners Sweden in three somewhat surprisingly comfortable sets (14-25, 20-25, 13-25).
The first quarter final of the day saw Denmark play Norway in a match that went down to the wire. After sharing the first 4 sets, the 5th set looked to be heading in Norway’s direction as they held match point at 14-13 but a run of three straight points from Denmark stole it at the last, setting up a semi final against Sweden. The second quarter final was another five set affair, with the Faroe Islands holding their nerve at the end to seal a 15-11 victory in the fifth over Iceland.
England’s girls were third on court in the first of their two 5th-7th place triangular playoff matches. With nothing to lose, the girls started to play with a freedom that had sometimes eluded them during the first two days of competition, and it made all the difference as they ran out winners in 3 straight sets (21-25, 19-25, 14-25). Their next match was a replay against Iceland who had beaten them in the group stage. Despite clawing back a 16-12 deficit to 16-15 in the fourth set, it wasn’t enough to take the match to a fifth as they lost 25-18, 13-25, 25-18, 25-21.
A good start in the first semi final saw Denmark trade point for point with Sweden, who boasted one of the Super Six from last year’s event. Isabelle Haak once again made the difference as her hitting at times was unstoppable, helping Sweden into the Final with a 3-0 win. In the other semi final, Finland produced a dominant display against the Faroe Islands, winning 25-11, 25-10, 25-8.
Finals day was the one everyone was waiting for, and it didn’t disappoint. Big individual performances paired with some great teamwork made for a high quality and adrenaline filled day’s play.
Norway emerged victorious in the 5th/6th playoff match after a comfortable straight sets victory over Iceland (11-25, 16-25, 20-25). The bronze medal match between England and Sweden was the best supported match in the competition, with team mates, parents and friends making plenty of noise for both teams. After losing the first set, England produced one of their best displays of the competitions, winning the second with relative ease 25-9. A crucial third set followed which saw Sweden up their game, allowing them to take a 2-1 advantage. A quick start from Sweden gave them a small lead which England were unable to claw back, losing the fourth set 25-17.
The boy’s final was full of drama, with Finland eventually coming out on top after the momentum swung from one side to the other. The win looked to be in the bag in the fourth set until Denmark staged a comeback which seemed to knock the Finnish confidence. At 26-26 a let was called after a Finnish player was wrongly called for an illegal hit. This seemed to knock the Danish off their stride; the Fins didn’t need a second invitation and took the Championship 3-1 (24-26, 27-25, 19-25, 26-28).
The first match of the morning saw Iceland claim 5th place despite a 3-2 defeat by Norway. The 3 points gained over England the previous night meant they finished the 5th-7th pool in 5th place, ahead of England in 6th and Norway in 7th. In the bronze medal playoff, Denmark recorded a 3-1 victory over Faroe Islands although the latter made a vast improvement on their performance last year and on another day could have gone away with a medal.
The last match of the girl’s competition pitched Finland and Sweden against each other, with neither team dropping a set on the way to the Final. Finland’s hitters dominated the front court, with Sweden’s MVP Isabelle Haak unable to get into the match. Finland won gold in 3 straight sets 15-25, 18-25, 19-25, managing to go through the entire competition without dropping a set. A fantastic effort that is going to take something special to match in years to come.
A huge thank you must go to all the staff and volunteers who have worked on the event. The enjoyment of all the players was clear to see which is a testament to the effort put in by everyone involved.
A full list of results can be found here