UUC Volleyball back in winning form

This week, both Ulster University at Coleraine women’s volleyball teams took to the court to bring their 20 month competitive drought to a close.

UUC firsts celebrate an ace from Rachel Montgomery

When the 2019-20 season came to an abrupt end, with the country going into lockdown, the NI league was still open to all four of the top teams, with just a handful of matches left unplayed.

Coleraine Firsts were among the teams still in the running and so, with such an exciting season left unresolved, players were keen to dust down their knee pads and make a start to the 2021-22 season. 

On Wednesday, November 10, the UUC Seconds team travelled to Belfast for the local and sporting edition of ‘University Challenge’, as they took on Queen’s University in their opening league match of the season. It was a ‘no show’ from Jeremy Paxman, but the match saw debut performances for Sarah Preising and Alex Kincaid of UUC and a return to navy and white for both Emily Walsh, who transferred to Newcastle University during her studies, and Steph McCook who took a break from the sport, but was welcomed back on court with enthusiasm from her teammates. 

Despite a solid opening exchange from Coleraine, the first set saw the Queen’s side dominate, with strong serves across the board and hard-driven attacks in the middle from Siobhan Healy. Their consistency meant they were a difficult team to fluster and UUC 2 struggled to penetrate their defence, conceding the first two sets 25-8, 25-6. 

The final set was a display of mental strength, growing confidence and down right determination from Coleraine, fighting hard to win rallies. Lia Webb (MVP) cracked the seams of the Queen’s passing unit with her low flat serve, earning a run of seven points to bring UUC into a lead of 15-13. Coleraine placed the ball well on attack and had the Belfast team singing Kumbaya around the ‘campfire’. The ‘campfire’ is a small area in the centre of the court where often no-one makes it in time to defend and, after the ball bounces in it, players are left standing around as if warming their palms at a campfire.

Queen’s’ experience and ball control proved them deserving winners and they took the final set 25-22 and the match 3-0. It was a fantastic first match for UUC 2, showing performance progression and great potential moving into the season.

Two days later, on Friday 12, it was the turn of UUC firsts, who played Craigavon’s Aztecs Warriors, the seconds team of one of the largest volleyball clubs in Northern Ireland.

There was an exciting atmosphere in the hall as spectators eagerly anticipated the first home match in so long. UUC’s teamsheet was a blend of Coleraine stalwarts and debutants which made for a fun dynamic on court as players worked out their relationship and roles in play. 

Although a young team, the Aztecs side are very experienced, having played many matches in an Irish youth league over the last number of years. This training proved effective as they demonstrated great court awareness and team camaraderie, giving them all the necessary skills to keep the ball up, over and over again. They fought hard to stay with UUC throughout most of the first set, which ended 25-18 to the north coasters.

Coleraine’s passing trio - Hannah Holmes, Vanessa Ross and Teanna Mills - wouldn’t let a ball past them, feeding the ball to Walsh (the setter), allowing their attackers to seal the deal. They eased through the second set, winning 25-11 as Lucy McCartney’s serve went unreturned.

UUC Coach, Jonathan Workman, made some changes for the third set, in order to keep players comfortable in different scenarios. As play got underway it was obvious that the Warriors were not likely to go down without a fight.

Time after time, UUC believed they’d done enough to win the point, when out of nowhere Craigavon’s Hannah Topley (MVP) and Katie Milligan reached Coleraine’s spike, to keep the ball in play. It was edge-of-the-gym-bench stuff, with

the crowd applauding the efforts of both sides; the longest rally reaching 60 ball touches in total. With every touch grew the desire to win the point. UUC’s Hannah Boyd threw herself across the floor, diving for the ball, making spectacular rescues, to put the ball up for her team to play over the net. This point was indicative of the match, with maximum effort on both sides and eventually the home side took the point and later the set 25-19.

MVP, Teanna Mills, who was representing UUC for the first time and scored four consecutive aces mid-match, said: “It was great being back on the court and lovely playing with UUC. There were great plays from everyone.”

Coleraine volleyball would like to thank the officials and the supporters for creating such a buzz and a welcome back to competitive play.