The English Volleyball national cup competition thrilled spectators on Sunday when St Albans Harriers blasted Whitby’s own North Riding Eagles off court early in the first set, taking a 14-7 lead.
The Hertfordshire side were loving the Whitby hospitality after an enjoyable night out in the harbour on Saturday - but found the Eagles in a charitable mood as the home team kept gifting them points.
The North Riding team had got off to a good start thanks to Caedmon College’s year 10 debutant Gabby Hayton who had held her nerve to start the match off with some strong serving.
What was letting the Eagles down was poor passing and the home side were unable to match St Albans’ firepower at the net.
Added to this, the blocking was woeful and The Harriers’ Czech outside hitter T Mateju was having a field day, spiking unchallenged as was their Belarus star J Paliakova.
The Eagles were forced to make some changes and Izzy Shackleton came on to bring some structure to the block and along with defensive specialist Abbie Lavender helped to get the home side back into the game at 18-22.
North Riding had finally settled but they had left it too late, losing the first set 25-20.
This was a huge boost for The Harriers after thrashing Loughborough University in the last round.
They sensed cup glory was to be theirs again in Whitby.
The North Riding coaching staff reacted clinically. Technical coach Nicki McClure focused on boosting the confidence of stand-in setter Rebecca Laffan who had been drafted in last minute to cover for her sister Catherine in the specialised position.
Assistant coach Paul Dixon worked on the block and Head Coach Anthony Laffan focused on the back court defence and passing.
Rejigged Eagles went out second set and fought fire with fire.
Now the pass was in place the sets for the attack were working and The Eagles hit back on attack.
Eva Elias, Eleanor James and Heather Reid were fast and effective in winning points for the home team in an exciting second set which stood at 17-14 for The Eagles when time out was called by The Harriers in an effort to stop The Eagles’ momentum.
The Eagles pulled off captain Heather Reid for a quick rest, knowing this set could be a long one and her quality attack and serve would prove vital in what was going to be a close set.
On for the Eagles captain went the second debutant of the day, 15-year-old Lauren Hall, also from Caedmon College. Tension was rising as the visitors battled to close the gap.
In such a tense and fast match, debut girl Lauren jumped to tip for a couple of important points before Heather Reid came back on to serve the match out for The Eagles 25-20, to make it 1-1 in sets.
The large vocal crowd took their seats for the third set expecting another close set, but The Eagles’ Caedmon College sixth formers Eva Elias and Rebecca Laffan both went on a serving spree and between them, won eight points on serves, giving the home side a huge boost.
Added to this, Monica Eskridge was now dominating play at the net and along with Izzy Shackleton, Heather Reid and Eleanor James, was blocking out the visitors’ attacks.
A third set win of 25-13 meant the Eagles just needed one more set to reach the quarter-finals.
The final set saw The Eagles in full flow quality passing, great setting and fast attacks throughout the set saw the home side power their way home with a 25-12 win.
It was also fitting that the games play ended with both the debut girls on court, epitomising what North Riding Eagles is about - that is developing local talent.
Eagles thank everyone who went to support and the leisure centre staff at Whitby for being so hospitable.
The clubinvites anyone who would like to get involved along to Whitby Leisure Centre on a Friday evening, with all ages and abilities catered for.
Eagles now travel to Bristol for the quarter-finals.
Coach Anthony Laffan said: “There are hundreds of volleyball clubs in the country and The Eagles have battled through to be in the last eight of this prestigious adult competition.
“The problem they face is not on court where they fear no-one; it is behind the scenes.
“To keep this national success going the club needs local sponsors.
“Everyone can see the benefits of having top quality national sport in the town but success comes at a cost.
“For the quarter final alone, it is questionable if the club can raise the money to go.”
If anyone is interested in supporting a local side in achieving national glory, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01287 660835.