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NVL Super 8 : London Docklands stay on top deck
Posted by Douglas Barr-Hamilton on 2017/5/14 9:40:00 (245 reads)

End of season playoffs (Men's Super8 - National Volleyball League.
Drop second set to Richmond
For a second successive season London's weakest men's Super8 side finished next to last in the league and had to play for survival in the autumn against the first division's runners up. Last year it was Malory Eagles; yesterday (13th May) London Docklands.

They had another London club as opponents so, whichever way the result went, the capital was assured of four sides again qualifying for next season. Richmond gave a good account of themselves, tying things at one set all by winning the second set sufficiently easily for the favourites to show some concern. But they showed determination too to win the next two sets despite a great display from Richmond in the fourth so London Docklands Volleyball survived the dreaded relegation play-off match This is the seventh year of the Volleyball England Super8s and therefore the seventh time this play-off match has taken place. The second team in Division 1 do battle with the seventh team in the Super8s for the right to play in the top flight. Only once has the Division 1 team been victorious (Solent in 2012) so history was on Docklands’ side. Coach Andy Hopper had been in charge on the one other occasion Docklands had been in this play-off but that time they were the Division 1 challengers. The only other survivor from that day in 2013 when Solent retained their Super8s status was Raul Sanchez Galan. He started alongside a resolute set of players who were determined not to be the team that saw Docklands relegated from the Super8s for the second time.

The first set started very evenly until a string of tough serves by Francois Leroy helped Docklands overturn a 7:8 deficit into a 16:8 lead. The set was affectively over and Hopper’s side closed out the set 25:17. But Richmond’s mixture of experienced veterans and promising youngsters were not going to give up the chance they had worked so hard for over the whole season. They took the game to Docklands and put pressure on their passing unit who, after seven weeks without a match, were struggling to find their own rhythm. Richmond took full advantage of some lacklustre Docklands’ play and easily tied the game 1:1 with a 16:25 second set win.

The second set loss was the jolt Docklands needed and led by Mathieu Ras, the Super8 side upped the aggression and started to dominate the game again. Some resolute blocking by Tomek Wysocki and Kieran O’Malley helped emphasize their control and an ace by Ras took the score to set point. It was left to Ras to despatch the winning point to seal a convincing 25:15 third set victory.

Docklands knew that the start of the fourth set was crucial and were keen not to let Richmond back into the match again. They managed to maintain their momentum from the previous set and quickly took an 8:4 lead. A couple of minutes later and Richmond’s fight was starting to wane as they succumbed to the inevitable. The Bello brothers Javier and Joaquin have a bright future in English volleyball and never gave up the fight for Richmond. But it was left to Ras to show them the way with his service ace giving Docklands the fourth set 25:20 and Ras the club's famous black knight award.

Docklands live to fight another day in the Super8s and will now take the summer to plan for their future. A number of rumours are bouncing around about all the London clubs and it should be an interesting off-season. Hopper commented afterwards, “It’s an obvious relief to win this game. The long break from our last match was hard to manage and you’re never sure how it will go in a one-off match like this. We coped well with the pressure and had enough to deserve the win today. We now need to have a long hard think about our future and make some tough decisions. It should be a fascinating summer”.

It had been a good, close game to end Richmond's excellent season. They had been promoted to the first division only this time last year after coming second in division two and winning the playoff to qualify for division one. The club's Anton Kornilov graciously conceded later that the better team had won. Let's hope Richmond will be providing a fifth London Super8 team in a year's time.

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London Docklands


Results
Saturday
Men
London Docklands beat Richmond, 25:17 16:25 25:15 25:20

National Volleyball Centre, Kettering, 13th May

Additional material from Andy Hopper and Anton Kornilov; photograph, Andy Hopper

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