Eagles miss out on promotion

North Riding Eagles
North Riding Eagles

North Riding Eagles missed out on promotion from Division Two North of the National Volleyball League, despite a win over top of the table Birmingham.

In a thrilling climax, the Whitby-based side recorded a fine 3-0 success over the champions on the final day of the season, but a nervy 3-2 victory for Manchester against Sunderland saw them cling on to second place.

Despite the disappointment of falling agonisingly short of promotion, Eagles head coach Anthony Laffan spoke of his pride at how well his young team had performed this season.

“It always seems amazing to say that North Riding Eagles Volleyball Club are competing in the national league,” he said.

“Not only that but we are in the second division, and have finished in third place, just one point behind Manchester.

“When the 2016 season started, avoiding relegation was the one aim everybody at the club had in mind.

“To spend the whole season chasing promotion has been both fascinating and exciting and to just miss out on going to the national play-offs like we have is a remarkable story.”

Birmingham started Saturday’s game in their usual fashion, but their fast and hard-hitting attacks brought the best out of North Riding.

Eleanor James, Abbie Lavender, Monica Eskridge, Eva Elias and Rebecca and Catherine Laffan were on top form and in a nail-biting finish it was Rebecca Laffan who held her nerve to steer the home side to a 27-25 first-set victory.

It was obvious that Birmingham would come out all guns blazing in the second set, so all of the Eagles’ senior players were put on court to take the sting out of the anticipated blitz.

Heather Reid, Jitka Jizerova and Nicki McClure all impressed as they blocked out the visiting hitters.

With her side 23-13 in front, Elias wrapped the set up with some good serving and North Riding took an unexpected 2-0 lead.

In a pulsating third, the Eagles had to call a time out 15-11 down, but assistant coach Paul Dixon fine tuned the blocking and, first McClure and Reid, then Elias and Eskridge, closed down Birmingham’s middle attacks.

North Riding fought back, tying the game up at 17-17 and then 23-23.

The champions edged ahead but Rebecca Laffan struck home the next point to keep the Eagles in the game 24 - 24.

A triple block saw them go 25-24 up and in the next attack the whole team were involved before Jizerova killed the ball to win the set 26 -24, sparking wild celebrations.

“To beat the league champions 3-0 is a fantastic achievement,” a delighted coach Laffan added.

“It just shows that local teams can compete at a national level.

“If ever the town of Whitby was looking to back a local team to national success, then surely this season shows the potential in supporting the local volleyball team.”