Ross Ryan discovers the delights of Volleyball, and how good UCL are at it
For this volleyball assignment, I had to travel to the furthest depths of East London, further than I had ever been before despite being a lifelong Londoner. What even is the DLR and who knew there was a station called Cyprus?! Regardless, my Tuesday evening trip to the University of East London’s fantastic facilities was thoroughly enjoyable. I owe the pleasure to the superb performances of both the UCL men’s and women’s volleyball teams who wiped the floor with KCL, in both cases winning comprehensively in two straight sets.
The men’s clash began (to my surprise) at 4:15. When I arrived at the scheduled time of 5:00, the two teams were locked at 21-21 in the first set. That first period finished with both sides trading successful spikes. KCL seemed to become more frantic in the dying moments while UCL upped their commitment with some courageous dives, successfully digging out what appeared to be lost causes. We eventually narrowly won the set 25-23.
The second set began in a similarly close fashion and eventually the teams found themselves level again, this time at 15-15. So far, KCL’s teamwork had stood out; they communicated well and were able to keep themselves in, what at this point, was a highly competitive set. However, UCL were clearly the equal of KCL in this department and crucially we had a clear advantage in terms of natural sporting ability, desire and athleticism. In particular, the dominating bearded Santiago Martinez-Sosa policed the net with great authority, landing spike after spike and block after block. The combined height of Martinez-Sosa, with the tall and equally talented Roman Zakrzewski outside him left KCL with no chance at all.
Unsurprisingly, we went on to win the set comprehensively. The second and ultimately final set finished 25-18, securing the match in straight sets. The UCL lads celebrated jubilantly before returning to witness their female counterparts take on a tricky KCL Women’s team.
From an outsider’s perspective, women’s volleyball is often seen as something to be admired (for the wrong reasons) and often not taken entirely seriously. Images conjured up are of tight shorts and attractive girls … It’s true, there is a fair amount of spandex on display. However, these condescending stereotypes don’t do justice to what is clearly a physically demanding and highly technical sport. While glancing over at their respective warm-ups, what struck me was not only the intensity and skill that the women on both sides possessed, but more importantly the seriousness with which they went about their preparations.
Unsurprisingly then, the match was of a high quality from the start. In fact, KCL opened up an early 4-0 lead. This lead proved to be short-lived after a superb run of serves from UCL’s Samantha Syrad, resulting in a swift turnaround to put UCL 7-4 to the good. From then on the set was played at a ferocious pace not seen in the men’s match. As the latter stages of the set approached, the teams were evenly matched at 19 apiece. There was even more tension to come as the set reached 22 all but when the pressure built, the UCL girls responded with a few well-placed spikes to equal the men’s first set score of 25-23.
The second set was decidedly less close than the first as the UCL team got into their stride. A notable performance came from Jana Trnovska, who was utterly relentless for the whole set. She won a number of points with her frightening dives, well-placed and powerful spikes and consistent serving. Diana Iovanel too was just as impressive; her left-handed serve proved too tricky for King’s and her astute play at the net earned many points for her team. KCL seemed to lose concentration and eventually capitulated, losing the set 25-19 and the match as a result.
The women’s coach was visibly pleased with the performance and commented afterwards that what pleased him the most was how ‘the match was played like an exhibition’ and that the girls played ‘without pressure’.
Overall, a massive well done to both the UCL men’s and women’s volleyball teams, you proved what we already knew. King’s may come close to UCL, but when it really counts we always come out on top.