North Riding Eagles Volleyball Club brought good cheer to the area when they held their nerve in a nail-biting end of season run-in.
Runners-up Barnsley beat the Eagles to close the gap at the top, meaning the Whitby-based side could not afford to slip up in the final matches during April.
With a resurgent Barnsley closing in and having two home games to finish with, things were getting tighter for the young North Riding team.
First up for was one of the country’s top three universities for volleyball Sheffield who, having pooled the resources of both universities and the city club, were on a surge back to the top of English University volleyball.
North Riding had caught Sheffield cold at the start of the season, playing them in the first match when the students were still settling in – now the Steelers were out for revenge.
With Barnsley beating Hull and posting the result early, the pressure was mounting upon the youngsters. The big fear was that nerves would freeze the Eagles player.
Both Sheffield and North Riding made serving errors early on and, with the Eagles coaching staff urging caution and safety on the serves in an effort to try to settle the team, Catherine Laffan stepped up and did the opposite.
The Whitby Community College girl took the international mix of university students by surprise and fired a rocket of a serve at them.
Sheffield looked stunned and North Riding’s support and coaches were astounded at the ferocity of the serves, with eight aces.
Suddenly all the tension from the North Riding players lifted and they all wanted a piece of the action.
For the first two sets, the Eagles blasted the university off court as the other Whitby girls – Izzy Shackleton, Rebecca Laffan and Eva Elias – responded to their team-mate and all went on to give excellent runs of serves.
By the third set, Sheffield had enough, realising revenge was not on the cards and North Riding won 3-0.
With one match to go, Barnsley did all they could, winning their last game against Harrogate to go top and again, North Riding had to win to go back to the summit and become the Premiership title winners.
The problem was the match was against Leeds, who play national league volleyball two levels higher than North Riding. The midweek fixture meant Leeds would not have all their top national league players – but NRE knew those that were with them would be top quality.
When Leeds arrived, they had the makings of a strong team the Eagles coaches Anthony Laffan and T McClure knew that this was going to be a tactical battle, as well as relying on all players to be in form.
In the first set, Eagles guessed the Leeds rotation right and so Beth Hewitt and Nicki McClure took the majority of points as the Leeds blockers had not been matched up against North Riding’s big hitters.
Leeds adjusted tactically in the next set and now the pressure moved to the North Riding defence where libero Abbie Lavender was outstanding once again.
When captain Jess Arnison and hitter Eleanor James settled into working alongside the Eagles’ other blockers, the home team channelled the Leeds attacks for A Lavender and R Laffan to receive.
With these players, that also means a quality pass which meant Hewitt, Shackleton, McClure and Elias were set well to attack Leeds.
Two tense sets came down to North Riding shifting Leeds out of their best rotation as quickly as possible to get them away from their best attacks .
To do this, the team spirit and discipline come to the fore as North Riding Eagles stuck to their game plan and ground out the win that saw them become champions of Yorkshire for the first time in the club’s history.
Now is a good time for anybody interested in playing volleyball to get in touch as North Riding know they have build the squad up for next season.
Contact coach Anthony Laffan at anthonylaffan@hot mail.com