The Friday Preview
31st March 2017
With the National Volleyball Centre in Kettering preparing to play host to the 2017 Cup Finals weekend, it’s time to have a closer look at this year’s knockout contenders in the senior finals scheduled for Saturday (April 1).
Men’s Shield: Black Country 1 v London Aces
The first ball of the weekend will be served at 10:00 when the Men’s Shield Final gets underway. Solent beat Newcastle Staffs in a five set thriller last year but 2017 will see a different name on the trophy as Black Country 1 take on London Aces.
Black Country exited the Cup competition at the hands of eventual finalists Sheffield Hallam but racked up consecutive 3-0 wins in the Shield, disposing of non-league Northampton and Oxford as well as Div 2N Darkstar Derbyshire. Having evidently run out of other Midlands teams to knock out, they then dispatched Div 2N league leaders Team Durham in dramatic style with a 16-14 final set win.
It’s been a struggle since then however. The team sit 5th in Div 1 but are winless in four since their semi-final win.
By contrast, London Aces are bang in form. Already crowned as Div 2S champions, the Aces will be playing Black Country next season and have tasted defeat only once in the league all season. In fact, they haven’t even dropped a set in Div 2 across five matches in February and March.
They did however drop one set when getting past Willesden in the Shield semi-final. The Aces were cruising at 2-0 up when the non-leaguers stunned them with a 25-23 reverse in the 3rd. Prior to the semi, their progress had been serene however, with three league sides – Guildford International, Coventry & Warwick Riga and New Forest – all seen off 3-0.
Women’s Shield: Ashcombe Dorking 1 v Birmingham 2
This year’s Women’s Shield will showcase the talent of Div 2S as 7th placed Ashcombe face up to 4th placed Birmingham. The two have already met once this season, with Birmingham triumphing 3-0 on the road.
Ashcombe’s Shield journey started with a walkover against Loughborough Students, followed by a 3-1 win over their venue tenants, Sussex Dolphins. The semi-final pitted them against non-league Cambridge University. The students gave Ashcombe a huge scare when they took the 1st set to just 16 but Ashcombe rallied to win 3-1. They appear to be another side whose league form has suffered as a result of their knockout exploits though - as they are winless in five in the league.
Birmingham’s Shield experience started in unusual fashion as they disposed of Ashfield Vipers 3-0, having already put them out of the Cup (before exiting themselves at the hands of Team Durham). Chester Amazons were beaten 3-1 in the quarter-final before Div 3N York Falcons pushed them all the way in the semi-final, twice coming back from a set down. They head for the final in better form than their opponents, having won three of their five league matches since the start of February.
Women’s Cup: Pulsepoint London Orcas v Team Northumbria
The Women’s Cup Final will be next on court. Team Northumbria have been unstoppable in the Women’s Super 8 this season, racking up 14 wins from 14 and dropping just seven sets all season, and will be out to avenge last season’s heart-breaking five set defeat to Polonia.
Standing in their way will be Pulsepoint London Orcas, who finished 4th in the Super 8 regular season. The two sides met in the league just last week. The Orcas took the 1st set to 21 but Northumbria came back to win the next three to 25, 22 and 22. The two could yet meet again in the Super 8 semi-finals, should Orcas get past Tendring in the play-off quarter-final.
Table-topping Northumbria have trampled over all-comers in the Cup this season. York Falcons, Sheffield Hallam and Darkstar Derbyshire were all dismissed 3-0. Even Team Durham, who finished 2nd in the Super 8, couldn’t land a blow and were also beaten 3-0.
The Orcas were similarly untroubled in the early rounds, disposing of Cambridge University, Birmingham 1 and Tendring with a minimum of fuss. Their semi-final against Polonia SideOut London was a far more fraught affair however. The Orcas were twice pegged back by their London rivals before winning the final set 15-9.
Men’s Cup: Sheffield Hallam v IBB Polonia London
The final match of the day sees the reigning Super 8 champions and Cup holders IBB Polonia London take on Sheffield Hallam.
It was Hallam who ensured that 2017 didn’t see a repeat of the 2016 final after they disposed of last year’s beaten finalists, Team Northumbria, at the semi-final stage. Having lost the 1st set to 18, Hallam clawed their way into the lead, courtesy of two epic set wins, 30-28 and 32-30. A 25-16 win in the 4th set seemed tame by comparison. Prior to that, the Yorkshire side had made short work of two Div 1 sides, Black Country and Newcastle Staffs, and fellow Super 8 side Malory Eagles without dropping a set.
Hallam finished the Super 8 regular league season in 4th, ten points behind 2nd placed IBB Polonia London. Nevertheless, they emerged with a 3-0 win the last time the two met in the league in February.
Polonia made it to last year’s Cup final without even dropping a set but couldn’t quite repeat the feat this year. After a routine win over Cheltenham & Gloucester in the opening round, the Cup holders were given a scare by Cardiff Celts who took the 2nd set 27-25 before eventually losing 3-1. London Lynx were dispatched 3-0 in the quarter-final, followed by Wessex (3-1) in the semi-final as Piotr Graban’s charges, fresh from playing in the CEV Challenge Cup this season, secured their place at the showpiece event.
Keep an eye on the Volleyball England website during the day for text and score updates as well as a live feed direct from the National Volleyball Centre in Kettering.