Opponents: Polonia Competition: National League Division 1 Date: Saturday 12th September 2009 Venue: St Benedicts, Ealing Result: W 3-2 (25-16, 19-25, 24-26, 25-23, 15-9)
London Docklands Volleyball began their National League season with a rare five set win against west London rivals Polonia. Docklands have to go back to the first match of last season for their last five set league win, losing four five setters in between. Docklands captain Alexis Blair summed it up afterwards, "We showed great fighting spirit today and in the end deserved our win. To come back from 2-1 down and win in five sets was a great achievement and something I hope we can build on for the rest of the season."
Of the previous eleven seasons Docklands have played in Division 1, they've started against Polonia four times, winning only one of those opening day encounters. Back in 1997 Docklands played their first ever Division 1 match against Polonia, on that occasion losing in five sets. That match featured the Docklands debut of French setter Chris Penne, a match in which Penne was expelled from the gym for kicking the ball in the direction of the second referee. This season's opener also saw the debut of Docklands' new French setter Alex Chevau, an equally fiery character as Penne. Thankfully for Docklands, although Chevau did receive his first yellow card he kept control of this emotions to lead his side onto victory. His linkage with Docklands' key hitters, especially Wayne Davies and Blair were critical and his control of his side's offence was a key part of Docklands' win.
Chevau replaced Alex Gaitan as Docklands' playmaker after Gaitan transferred across the city during the summer. However, Gaitan didn't start for his new club, with coach Krzys Hykiel opting for another new signing Jean-Philippe Le Sausse. With Docklands head coach Ian Legrand on international duty with the Great Britain Sitting Volleyball squad, Andy Hopper took charge and gave further debuts to Matteo Cottignoli and Slawomir Omylski. It was a service run by Omylski that broke the deadlock in set one, helping Docklands take a 17-13 lead. Docklands' block and defence was working well and varied attacking play by Raf Dürr and Blair kept Polonia guessing as an unusually subdued home side succumbed 25-16 to a dominant Docklands.
The second set followed a similar pattern with neither side able to gain an advantage until a couple of unforced errors from Docklands gave Polonia a 16-14 lead. Further sloppy play by Docklands and some strong hitting by Jakub Jablonski took Polonia to a 25-19 second set win.
Docklands were the first to make a break in set three with a Chevau service run applying pressure on the Polonia passing unit and some clinical blocking by Davies and Martin Blake taking Docklands 17-13 ahead. However, Polonia would not give up and slowly got themselves back into the set, tying the scores at 21-21. The sides traded points until 24-24 when a Docklands service error gifted Polonia their second set point. Then an ill-fated attempt to find Blake in the middle saw Polonia take a 2-1 lead.
Chevau let the tension at the end the third set get to him and earned himself his yellow card for violently bouncing the ball away. This meant Docklands started a point down in set four and for the first half of the set they were chasing a loud and confident home side. However, Docklands started to show some true fighting spirit and ensured Polonia's lead did not exceed two points. Service runs by another debutant Tsvetelin Yakov and Blake kept the pressure on Polonia and they started to make more mistakes. Two handling faults called against Gaitan gave Docklands a 24-22 lead and they took the set at the second attempt with the help of a service error by Le Sausse.
Docklands started the deciding fifth set aggressively, racing into a 3-0 lead and held their advantage until the switch of ends leading 8-5. Polonia charged back into contention with two quick points but a strong kill by Davies restored Docklands' cushion. Then a run of deceptive serves by Blake underpinned Docklands dominance as they stormed into an unassailable lead. Finally a thunderous serve by Dürr nearly knocked Polonia's libero off the court and the resulting free ball was fittingly dispatched by Davies who richly deserved his Docklands' man of the match award.
Docklands face another tough away fixture next weekend with a trip to Coventry and Warwick Riga. But on this form they will travel in confident mood to take on their long-term rivals.
Docklands: Dürr, Davies, Omylski, Senatore, Blake, Chevau, Sliti M, Blair, Yakov, Cottignoli (Libero). Subs not used: Apostolov, Christoforidis.
Polonia: Nunes, Saller M, Jablonski, Le Sausse, Gaitan, Maslach, Biczysko, Karstens, Selep, Offra (Libero). Subs not used: Hykiel, Niski.
Black Knight: Wayne Davies