Day 4 of competition and it is all business this end. The tounament now turns to testing the limits of individuals and team members alike. It really is amazing to watch the teams that are winning and the play that is succeeding. Even those at the top of the table are being stretched to fight for every point in every set and the team dynamics really play a part! The teams that seem to stick together with encouraging words and actions seem to be winning out.
Our first game was a repeat game from our 2nd day of competition – BGS Connections from Belgium. They had upset us in our first encounter where we had to regroup after a bruising loss and lost the first set only to come out with a draw of a set apiece. We weren’t going to give them that indulgence today.
Studs started strong and we held a good lead through most of the first set with stand out hitting from Warrick Chan who was finding good form and really hammering the outside hits into the floor and effectively off the block of the Belgians. Justin Granleese was also effective in front court play, covering blocks well and delivering penetrating spikes from the middle. Studs took the set reasonably well at 25/21.
Our second set was a lesson in lost momentum. The Belgian side took the level up a notch and the Studs were not playing at their own pace. James Sharp was finding form with some amazing cross court spiking from the outside position but the Belgians ran away with the set early and maintained a 6-4 point lead most of the way to win the set 25/18.
Far from disgraced the Studs settled and played to our strengths. With our hitters finding holes in the front court and James continuing to penetrate with great angles from the outside position, the Studs were able to take control and run away with the final set in a decisive 15/4 victory. Finally a solid finish with confidence!
Our next game, another repeat encounter, was always going to be a swell affair as we came up against what is fast becoming our sister club here at the games – the Houston Hussle. Both teams have been involved with cheering on the other and there has been the odd beer at the suburban beer garden near the venue to form some good connections. We knew it would be friendly – intense but friendly.
Houston started well with sensible play and an uncanny ability to get the ball up after each spike. This ability to keep the ball alive really helped them to keep their cool in tight moments and they seemed to unsettle the Studs play with good pushing of the ball to the corners and saw them run away with the first set 25/18.
The second set was a very tight and torrid affair. The Hussle had a string of serves that saw them away to a good lead in the middle of the set, but Darrin Penola steadied the Studs, reminding us to play ‘our’ game and play at ‘our’ speed. The Studs never lost touch with the points and were toing and froing with the serves after the initial splurge from the Houston team. The sweat was coming from all sides of the court and the line calls were tight, net calls were getting questioned and the stress was building. Wazza pulled the team in to settle and regroup and said what we were are all thinking – we don’t want this to be our last set of the tournament.
We scrambled and fought, clawed and bit our way into contention and it was again point for point. A string of middle serves was unsettling to the Hussle and you could feel the tension from the other side of the net. You knew that they wanted to finish this in two. The same way we knew that if we took it to 3 sets, we stood a good chance of outslasting them. Studs pulled it in for a 26/24 victory in the 2nd and it was down to another 3rd set decider.
The third set was hard for both teams. Lots of long rallies and good blocking from the Studs was shutting down the Hussle. Their long deep corner shots from the first set were turned against them as Jo King began to expose holes in their back line and find touch with smart and intelligent (not to mention quick) spiking! It was 11-10 and point for point with the serve changing each time. The Studs were finding more momentum as we lifted where they were sagging. In the end I think the superior fitness of the Studs was the decisive factor that saw a 16/14 victory over our friendly rivals and moved us onto the top 16! It was a great match and one that was fought in the best spirit of the games, friendly yet fierce, passionate yet honest and most of all, with great respect for each other.
Game three – one has to admit that a small sigh leaves the lips as you realise that you have to turn around and play yet another game when your body is aching, your feet are swollen and your shoulders feel as though they have been strung up on a crucifix! All religious implications aside, we step up against High Class (NYC) whom we met in our very first game of the tournament (where we drew 1-1) in what feels like a month as opposed to just under a week ago.
We started the game with a good vibrant energy from the previous game and had a good early lead in the opening set. We were ahead by a good margin and were playing well and defending against some good attacking and one particularly hard hitting black Costa Rican – Donnelly was certainly one to work the triple block against! High Class worked their way into the set and were in contention but the Studs held on to take the set 25/23.
With our cheer squad rallying behind us and pleading with us to take it in two straight sets so we could all go home, we started the set hard. It was point for point for a while and then a string of serves from the NYC team saw us behind the 8 ball again. Intelligent tipping from Jeffrey So into the middle court would have had Albert Khaicy leaping on the side lines for joy and saw the Studs stay in contention. Strong leadership from Jo King was a settling influence and the Studs were behind but keeping it together. High Class were the steadier of the two and took the set away from the Studs convincingly at 19/25.
We were far from being beaten in this game. The cheering revved and even the umpires were getting distracted from our support crew who were coming up with some most amazing chants and really getting behind the Studs. We could even hear the scorers behind us encouraging us with ‘good get’ and ‘nice run’ as we scrambled and lunged for every ball.
High Class got away to an early 4 point lead in the set but as Warrick kept reminding us – this is what we had been doing all day. Settling into our game, playing at our speed and taking control of the ball from our side of the net. The lead was pegged back from 7-11 and it was point for point at 11-11. The big hitting had been pulled back to intelligent and solid tipping from High Class (incl the large Donnelly) so we knew we had unsettled their power player.
It was another nail biting, nerve-wracking finish and to be honest, I cannot even remember how the last few points played out. But with the Studs up at 15/14 and serving, we knew High Class would play to the big Costa Rican. The Set went up, we had set up our defensive position in the time out previous to the point and were ready. When the big hitter slammed the ball into the back wall on the full the Studs were delirious with happiness and the now familiar feeling of jumping around in a circle and screaming the walls down was once again ours to enjoy.
STUDS INTO TOP 8!!!
So finals day is arriving. Aching bodies and tired players are being buoyed by team spirit, group confidence and our ever ardent support/cheer crew. We play new teams tomorrow with 2-3 games and the possibility of playing for a medal!
HERE WE GO STUDDIES HERE WE GO!
Studs def BGS Connections (BEL) 2-1
(25/21 18/25 15/4)
Studs def Houston Hussle (USA) 2-1
(19/25 26/24 15/13)
Studs def High Class (USA) 2-1