A GB Olympian who played in the London 2012 games was one of several Sheffield players who thwarted Leeds men’s volleyball team 3-1 in the Gryphon Sports Centre on Wednesday evening.
The Gryphons were facing their Sheffield counterparts for the first time since being promoted to BUCS Division One and went into the match off the back of two away wins.
The opening exchanges of the first set were relatively even, with both teams struggling to produce clean serves. The first long rally saw Sheffield win a well-deserved point, but just as they looked as they were gaining momentum, captain Nigel Sibanda jumped high to fantastically block an attempted shot from Sheffield’s Olympian and with it edge in front.
The game continued in tight fashion, Mohammed Basha ending another long rally by grounding his volley which saw the Gryphons remain a point behind at 20-21, before the men in green won another two points which put them in the lead. Sheffield, however, kept their nerve to claim the first set 22-25.
Sheffield were on the front foot from the off throughout the second set, by which time both teams were serving much better and successfully capitalising on each other’s errors. A series of forced mistakes from Leeds saw Sheffield move into 11-15 lead. The Gryphons, however, were buoyed by a great pick-up from Savvas Anthus which forced Sheffield to volley into the net and a fine slam from Sibanda followed. It was then Mo Ahmed’s turn to produce a stunning pick-up from the backline in response to a Sheffield serve, which sparked another tense rally from which Leeds could stay in contention. An unfortunate misjudgement from Ahmed to keep the ball in play led Sheffield to win the rally that ensued and with it the set at 21-25.
A fine scoop from Basha at the start of the second half helped put Leeds in front at 4-3, before the number 15 proved why he is a Super Eight player by slamming his own volley into Sheffield’s half. The momentum had swayed once more and as a result Leeds were able to edge to three points in front.
Although Sheffield started to look unsettled when they served into the net for the first time in the set, they managed to keep their composure and were lucky when a serve toppled over the net to level at 14-14. They could not, however, respond to a fantastic serve from Jen Hsien Hsu. Despite all this, Sheffield kept pegging the Gryphons back and soon Sheffield’s Olympic player then delivered a thumping slam across the court to keep on Leeds’s toes at 21-20. The Gryphons were on the brink at 24-22 and played a tense, drawn-out rally, showing terrific composure and movement with Hsu finally setting up Anthus who thumped over to claim the set.
Sheffield seemed somewhat unfazed at being taken to a fourth set, and though they stormed into a 1-5 lead, Leeds clawed their way back at 5-7. The game had picked up pace and was much more physical, with longer rallies testing the Gryphons’ communication ability. But it was Sheffield who looked the more organised side, clinically finishing to win the set by nine points and the match 1-3.
After the game Sibanda said, “We fought hard and didn’t give in until the end. We’ve just come up from Division Two, so it was a different challenge. The players are better, the game was faster and we’re still trying to integrate as a team but we can take a lot of positives into our next game.”
The Gryphons will face Northumbria away next week.
Featured photo: Tori Clarkson