Opponents: Wessex & Leeds Competition: Super8s Date: Saturday/Sunday 3rd/4th October 2015 Venue: LEAF Academy Bournemouth & Sobell Wessex Result: W 3-1 (25-17, 19-25, 26-24, 26-24) Leeds Result: W 3-0 (27-25, 25-22, 25-18) Headline: Perfect start for Docklands Author: Andy Hopper
London Docklands Volleyball made the perfect start to the new National Volleyball League season with two wins in the first weekend. The Volleyball England Super8s began for the first time in October with six of the eight teams playing fixtures. On Saturday, Docklands found themselves on the south coast for their first match of the season in a repeat of the opening fixture last year. This time last year Wessex took away the spoils with a 3-0 victory but they have lost three key players since then and Docklands started as slight favourites.
Docklands had been busy in the close season, signing five new players. Against Wessex, coach Ercüment Karakoç gave debuts to French duo Flavien Hias and Jean-Baptiste Arzounian, both had solid first matches and look like useful signings. Meanwhile, Wessex have switched captain Dan Hunter to setter and have promoted several players from their second team, to field a young but inexperienced side. This rawness was evident in the first set with six serving errors gifting momentum to Docklands who took full advantage to take the first set 25-17.
A mixture of Docklands taking their foot off the gas and Andrew Jones' Wessex upping their game and cutting down the unforced errors saw Wessex get a foothold in the match in set two. Docklands held a slender one-point lead at the second technical time-out but Matt Hunter applied pressure from the service box and a series of Docklands' errors and Wessex blocks saw the home side 20-16 up. They maintained the pressure and tied the match at 1-1 with a 25-19 second set win.
The final two sets followed similar patterns with neither side able to put together a consistent push to open up any sort of meaningful lead. In the end it was the experience of Docklands' thirty-somethings that was the telling factor mixed in with some brilliant blocking by 25-year-old Hias. Docklands' veterans Mark Baechli, Raul Sanchez Galan, Mathieu Ras and Andrew Pink showed the Wessex youngsters how to win the critical points. None more so than Pink who produced two stunning blocks to take the final two points and seal a 26-24 fourth set win.
After a late return to London on Saturday night, Docklands had to prepare for their first home match at Sobell against Leeds on Sunday. This is Leeds' first season back in the top flight since 2004-05 and they gained automatic promotion from Division 1 with an impressive 14-match unbeaten run, a sequence that stretched back to November last year. On Saturday they had a fantastic return to the top flight with a thrilling 3-2 victory over Malory Eagles.
Buoyed by their Saturday result, Leeds began the match confidently and led 8-7 at the first technical time-out. After the break in play Roland Herczeg produced a sequence of thunderous serves to help Leeds go 11-7 up. Herczeg was a key part of Leeds Carnegie's Super8s championship winning season in 2011-12 and he was demonstrating he still had all his power and skills. Docklands managed to sideout and then Hias applied some subtle service pressure of his own. A Leeds' rotation error added to the disruption on their side of the net as Docklands started to benefit from some inconsistent passing by Leeds' serve receiving unit. Docklands' attackers began to find different ways of winning points with Mathieu Ras leading the charge. But Leeds were sticking to their task as Adam Meszczynski and Herczeg continued to gain success at the net. The visitors held the upper hand at 23-22 up but a time-out by Karakoç helped Docklands settle and two quick points saw them gain the first set point at 24-23. Leeds stubbornly defended two set points before Docklands captain Baechli produced a service ace to seal a 27-25 first set win.
The second set remained tight until 10-10. Then Kieran O'Malley went back to serve and scored a clinical ace to spark Docklands into a run of points that seemed to break Leeds' resolve. Docklands maintained their advantage with Ras, Pink and Sanchez Galan providing the points on the wings whilst Hias remained a constant threat in the middle although at one point it was Leeds' bench who were in most danger. Docklands third debutant of the weekend, libero Will Roberts, was producing some great pick ups as Docklands sided out their way to a 25-22 second set win.
Docklands opened up an early three-point lead in the third set and never looked like relinquishing it. Leeds seemed to run out of steam at the end of a long away weekend as Docklands coasted to a 25-18 win.
Karakoç commented afterwards, "A very satisfying weekend, we couldn't have hoped for better. We've got two vital wins and we can still improve in a number of areas".
The two victories
see Docklands top the early Super8s table but Karakoç and his squad
will know there is a lot of work to do. They now have nearly three weeks
until their next Super8s match when they take on London rivals Malory
Eagles on 24th October.
Wessex Black Knight: Andrew Pink
Leeds Black Knight: Mathieu Ras
Docklands MVP v Wessex: Andrew Pink
Wessex MVP: William Van Wingerden
Docklands MVP v Leeds: Mathieu Ras
Leeds MVP: Roland Herczeg