Sunday, March 20, 2011

Volleyball Update

We're currently in the middle of a 3 match home stretch here in Yaroslavl. So far we've played 2 of the matches and have one more to go on Tuesday which will signal the end of the regular season in the Russian Superleague.

Our first match was against the team from Kaliningrad Dinamo-Yantar. This is a very young team (I think one of their backup middles was about 16 years old) and they've been at the bottom of the standings for the majority of the year. But the thing about the Russian league is that anyone can beat each other on any night. So we weren't taking these guys lightly. The match started out really strong for us when we won the first set with ease 25-14. There were a couple of long serving runs by our team and the young guys from Kal. couldn't really handle it. 

In the second and third sets it was pretty much the same, but Kal. kept the match a little closer and we only won 25-21, 25-21 in both sets. All in all, it was a good and much needed victory for us. We'd lost our last two matches against very important opponents so putting together a quality victory over a lesser important helped our confidence a little bit. It also solidified our spot in the standings a little bit. We were now 3 points (a 3-0 or 3-1 victory) above the 8th place team from Surgut. 
Victory over Kaliningrad!
 Our next match was against a quality opponent in Dinamo-Moscow. The feel of this match was much different as soon as we walked in the gym to start warming up. When we played Kaliningrad, our small stadium was maybe 80% full and there really wasn't a very lively crowd. When we walked into the gym last night, our place was packed (standing room only) and Dinamo had brought a legion of fans with them to cheer them on. Already a huge difference in atmosphere, so you knew this was an important match. The mood in the locker room was still a little tense before the match though. We knew that if we were unable to secure any type of victory in this match, our playoff hopes would end up coming down to our last match of the season, so we really wanted and needed a win. But we knew that Dinamo was no push over. They're currently in the Final Four of Champions League this year. 

The first set was a very sloppy set from our side. Although we were siding out well and converting some important points, we were shooting ourselves in the foot with all the serves we were missing. By the end of the set we had missed 8 serves and that was the biggest difference when you only lose 21-25. We needed a change if we were going to make this a match. 

From what I've seen from this team this year is that we're not really the fighting type. We've played a couple of important matches and when we've been down, we've basically been out of the fight. I'm not sure if it's because it's Dinamo-Moscow or that we realized how important this match was, but we came back in the second set with a lot of commitment to winning. It was a back and forth type set and both teams were siding out at very good rates. If one team would score a point off their serve, the other would match that almost immediately. There were a couple of pretty shady calls from the refs (on our home court nonetheless) that handicapped us a bit, but we were able to overcome those obstacles and win a barn-burner 29-27.

Our momentum from that set carried us into the 3rd set. We took control of the game and we were able to win with ease 25-19. This set us up for the clincher in the fourth set which would mean 3 points and guarantee to be in the playoffs this year. At the start of the set, the mood was already different in the gym from the last two sets. Dinamo made a couple of substitutions that would end up proving extremely valuable. They subbed out their opposite (who wasn't doing anything) and one of their outside hitters. Both of these players were able to bring some energy to this team and it paid off big time for them in this set. For the most part the 4th set was another back and forth kind of dual where neither team was able to take control of the set until very late. At about 20 points a piece we had the opportunity to go up for the first time in the set, but after a bang-bang play, we were again foiled by the referees and went down by 2 points. This proved the clincher for that set because we ended up losing 25-22.

So this match ended up turning into a crowd pleaser by going the distance. It had been a battle and both teams would be getting some points in the standings no matter what, but no one was sure if we'd be getting more for the win or not. The 5th set didn't start so great for our team. We were down 7-4 early and it was a margin that is very hard to make up when you're only playing to 15 points. We were definitely fighting and had some good opportunities to take a few points away from Dinamo, but we ended up (much like the first set) shooting ourselves with our serving errors. Our best servers couldn't put any strings of quality serves on Dinamo and before I knew it, we'd lost the set 15-12 and the match. 

Right now we're still in 7th place in the league but there are two team tied for 8th place at only 3 points behind us.

The standings look like this:
7. Jaroslavich Yaroslavl  28pts
8. Dinamo-KP 25 points
8. Gasprom Surgut 25 points
10. Ural 23 points

Good thing for us...Ural plays Dinamo KP in the final match of the season and Surgut plays the second place team in the league. Our destiny is basically in our hands against Locomotive Belgorod (the 6th place team), but I'm thinking if we play like we did against Dinamo, we should pull out a win. 

on to the next one...

k + a

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