AFTER qualifying for the last eight of the under 16s National Cup last weekend, North Riding Eagles returned to cup action in the second round of the northern qualifiers for the under 18 National Cup.
Whitby Leisure Centre hosted this important northern battle between one of the tournaments favourites Tameside from Manchester, Barton Blockers from Humberside, Middlesbrough’s Acklam VC and North Riding.
The first match of the morning pitched Tameside VC against the North Riding Eagles. Tameside have won the U15 National Cup in 2010, 2009, 2007 and 2006 and the U16 National Cup in 2009, 2008 and 2007. Their current squad of U18s have won the national cup final at Crystal Palace and the U18 cup four times since 2006.
Heading their operation was the famous ex-England cadet coach and national junior coach of the year, Richard Jump.
Facing this was basically the same set of girls that North Riding had put out in the U16 cup - a mixture of years nine, 10 and 11 girls plus for this tournament, three sixth formers - Abi Millward, Rebecca Shepherd and Megan McKewan.
The Eagles coaches urged their players to start at pace to catch the Manchester team cold after their long drive and what unfolded caught everyone by surprise.
North Riding were faultless - every one of them did their job. Middle blockers Beth Hewitt and Izzie Shacketon not only blocked middle but got out wide to assist Abi Millward, Rebecca Chalk and Charlotte Allen who were the wide hitters.
The setters were getting to every second ball and setting up a variety of attacks and libero Rebecca Laffan was in her element, receiving and passing back court. NRE were 17-10 up within 10 minutes and coaches Lesley Shepherd and Anthony Laffan ran the bench and the home team won the first set 25-17. A full sports hall of spectators was discussing if there was going to be a cup upset - or a backlash.
The second set started with Tameside serving but it was the wall of noise from the large passionate following from Manchester that made the biggest impact early on. The young Eagles team suddenly lost their nerve.
Time out was called to try and get the players to focus on the game and not the support. Finally the home team broke the service but seven points down.
The North Riding coaches could see that Tameside had still not actually got into their stride and were making many errors but North Riding had stopped playing and were not winning points, just getting them from the visitors’ mistakes.
It was time to bring on fresh legs and an upbeat attitude. Substitutions were made and on came Flyn Middlemass, Sammy Gibson and Izzie Shackleton. Suddenly, North Riding started to move more freely and the volleyball began to flow.
With Tameside losing ground to North Riding, the visitors had to keep their most experienced players on court because the home team was closing the gap. North Riding had left it too late and while they finished strongly, it was not enough and it finished 25-17 to the visitors. Tameside won a short play-off game and so North Riding knew they had to win the next two games to grab the second place qualifying spot.
Next up was Barton Blockers who sit second in The Hull District Adult League and third in the Lincolnshire open league. The school most of the players came from had won the regional schools championships in 2009 and 2010 and were runners-up in last season’s northern schools’ competition.
This had registered in the Whitby girls’ minds as North Riding got off to a slow start and both teams matched each other for points.
Again, a time out was required to get the home players to realise they were matching Barton Blockers who looked like they were on top of their game while Whitby were half asleep.
Captain Rebecca Shepherd led her team back out, grabbed the ball for her service and blasted Barton away to win 25-16 but the second set showed the gulf between the teams with North Riding playing relaxed confident volleyball to win at a canter, 25-7.
After winning the local derby against Middlesbrough 2-0, North Riding secured their second place spot and give the Whitby area two teams in the English Volleyball last eights national cup weekend at Kettering.
Next up are the U15 teams playing for the Yorkshire Cup again at Whitby Leisure Centre on Sunday (29 Jan), 2pm-6pm.