Pro Volleyball League: Kochi Blue Spikers makes the last four

Home side bounces back to best Chennai Spartans in its last league match

Down and virtually out after losing the first two sets, Kochi Blue Spikers authored a brilliant comeback, defeated Chennai Spartans 3-2 and entered the semifinals of the RuPay Pro Volleyball League at the Rajiv Gandhi indoor stadium here on Monday.

The Blue Spikers completed their league engagements with four wins in the six-team event and for the Spartans, it was their second loss from three encounters. They will now head home to Chennai for the rest of their league.

The Spartans’ star spiker, Canadian Rudy Verhoeff, was in awesome form but the Blue Spikers had a strong bench and this helped. Though Manu Joseph, one of the home team’s stars, appeared a bit jaded, K. Praveen Kumar rose to the occasion and was among the home team’s top scorers along with S. Prabagaran.

Change in strategy

“We were a bit slow in the first two sets but we recovered well. Many of the Chennai players know me well so I did not pull out my usual bag of tricks, I did not use the drop today,” said the home captain M. Ukkrapandian, who played the setter’s role with aplomb.

G.S. Akhin was the Spartans’ star in the opening set with his smashes upsetting the Blue Spikers’ rhythm. But he injured his leg in the next set and lost much of his sting as he walked gingerly around whenever he came in after that.

The Spartans’ Naveen Raja Jacob, who produced an inspiring show in the previous match, was good in the second set but he looked off-colour for a major part after that.

The two teams were level at four in the third set but the Blue Spikers broke away to an 8-4 lead. That appeared to be the turning point but Rudy, with his awesome crosscourt spiking, helped the Spartans draw level at nine. A little later, a smash by Praveen on a super point took the Blue Spikers to 13-10. That virtually broke the Spartans’ back.

Raising the game

Having got their big breakthrough, the Blue Spikers raised their game in the next two sets with each inspiring the other. Former Olympic gold medallist David Lee was the the chief motivator and that saw libero Hari Prasad bring out his best. A

ndrej Patuc did not figure much in the attack but he stood out in the block and the back court and was adjudged the man of the match.

The result: Kochi Blue Spikers bt Chennai Spartans 12-15, 10-15, 15-11, 15-13, 15-10.

Tuesday’s match: U Mumba Volley v Black Hawks Hyderabad, 7 p.m.

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