Unfortunately, no individual player played in both of these consecutive matches, but the club would certainly welcome back anyone from the last roster!
The recently nominated University of Ulster ‘Coach of the Year’, Jonathan Workman, does a fantastic job of including a very diverse group of players in tailored coaching sessions; men, women, teenagers, fathers, newly-weds, school pupils, beginners, capped internationals and of course - the heart of the club - university students from all over the world.
At Easter, the Northern Ireland Men’s Volleyball League split into two divisions (premier and first) and permitted new teams to enter mid-season, with the initial handicap of zero points. This was the perfect opportunity for UUC men to demonstrate their progression on court – had the two decades of training paid off?
Thursday’s match was an epic battle between last and second last in the First Division, as the two Northern Irish universities took to the court to prove their worth outside of the lecture theatres. Coleraine University Sports Centre was buzzing with over 30 spectators to welcome the Queen’s University seconds team and the UUC Mascots were out in force and on court during timeouts.
Whether overawed by the occasion or overpowered by Queen’s attack, the Coleraine men were not on form in the first set and lost 25-12, as Queen’s outside hitter, S Hanna, tooled the Coleraine block. To ‘tool a block’ is to hit into the blockers arms at such an angle that causes the ball to reflect back and bounce outside of the court, or alternatively be unplayable in its trajectory.
It was a disappointing beginning, and the north coast fans wondered if their boys could turn it around. UUC certainly played better in the second set, taking an early lead; Valentin Oriol, who is with the university on a three month Erasmus programme, served two aces, bringing the score to 6-3 in favour of the Ulster team, but Queen’s were much more consistent and earned a 24-13 lead.
It was vice captain, Kristian Hoy’s turn to tool the block, gaining Coleraine their 14th point, but alas, with a service error in the next point, the home side were now 2 sets to love down.
Volleyball matches are best of three sets, so things were looking bleak in the third set at 11-5 to the city folk, but the sea air breeds hardy fighters, and the Coleraine men were unlikely to lie down and take it. Portstewart man, and MVP (most valuable player), Harrison McCallam, took to the baseline at 8-13 and held his nerve to serve seven in a row, bringing Coleraine into the lead. This passage of play was by no means a one man show, with incredible ups from libero (defensive specialist), Harry Moore, as well as captain and UU lecturer, Dr JJ Wilson.
Queen’s player-coach called a timeout at 13-14 down and UUC mascots ran onto court, dancing to the Macarena, with lots to cheer about after such a comeback.
Credit to the Queen’s’ timeout team talk as they went on to take the sideout immediately, with their middle hitter, M McCloskey, blocking the Coleraine middle attack. The crowd were invested and from here on in, it was point for point until the scoreboard read 24-23 to UUC.
David Spence stepped up to serve, Queen’s passed, set and then hit the ball into the net!
The crowd jumped to their feet, pompoms in the air, as Ulster Coleraine men won their first set in twenty years. Decibel levels in the university sports hall would have rivalled any student party across campus.
The Coleraine men rode the wave of momentum from this victory and compounded it with a reasonably straightforward forth set win. Both teams played at a good level but UUC proved stronger and held a comfortable lead throughout.
Queen’s seconds had a mini fightback towards the end of the set, with a run of three points, but Coleraine then took the sideout and went on to win the set with a convincing 25 points to 17.
The score was now 2 sets all and, most importantly this secured Coleraine with their first league point.
All three league points go to a team who win 3-0 or 3-1, but when a team wins 3-2 they must share their points with the losing team, 2 to the winning team and 1 to the losing team. Could UUC take the final set
and claim another league point?
The fifth set is first to 15 and players see it as a race to 8, before the teams switch sides and continue on with no timeout. Unfortunately for Coleraine, the switch came at 8-3 to the Belfast side. A run of good serves from Hanna put the UUC serve-receive under pressure and their stress fractures showed on the scoreboard at 14-4. Queen’s middle hitter, P Alcorn, blocked the UUC attack and it was ‘point, set and match’ to Queen’s seconds.
The club would like to thank the match officials, Queen’s seconds who gave them a great match, with good spirit and, of course, their loyal supporters.
Next week, it will be the turn of the women’s teams with matches on Tuesday and Thursday at 7.30pm at Coleraine University Sports Centre. Free entry.