This weekend sees one of the biggest sporting fixtures this year for a Whitby team – as North Riding Eagles star in the national ladies volleyball semi-final.
The Volleyball England Shield semi-final was always going to be tough but it was made harder for North Riding when Sunday’s opponents Chester were drawn at home.
The Eagles’ predominantly sixth form students are up against an array of international talent called the Amazons.
Coach Anthony Laffan said: “The key to any match if you want to play with style and flair is the playmaker – called the setter in volleyball – and on current form, if her team-mates can get the ball to her – then North Riding have the edge in this area with the talented Catherine Laffan.
“Elsewhere it looks extremely tough for North Riding because Amazons have some outstanding players and in attack, they look really threatening.
“With hard-hitting Kristina Podholicka in good form, this ex-star of Polish team White Eagles VC looks a real threat and has the international experience, such as playing in the 2009 All Nations Volleyball Tournament.
“Blocking is going to be tough for North Riding with Katie Lomas lacking match practice and adults Jitka Jizerova and Nicki McClure unavailable, so a lot depends upon the Eagles’ young blockers Eva Elias and Izzy Shackleton holding their nerve. The problem North Riding have is where to focus the block because Chester also have Belgium’s Josella Gist and the talk of the league with her match-winning performances, Jana De Brandt.”
Jana De Brandt is the top player in a team of stars that are aptly getting called “Amazonian Warriors” by opponents.
Chester’s attack also boasts the athletic Thelma Mafukidze and Estonian Maret Pukspuu. This means North Riding’s young defenders Rebecca Laffan and Abbie Lavender have to be on top form again if they are to repeat their heroics from last week against Durham when they both excelled in back court defence.
“If North Riding can get their talented quick attack players involved Eleanor James and Monica Eskridge then they might stand a chance,” said Mr Laffan.
However even if North Riding get their attack play going, they face Chester’s tough defence of Chinese star San Hang Tang, French supremo Nathalie Valette and the excellent Italian player Eleonra Cameroner, who is in such demand for her quality passing that she has played volleyball in Alaska.
“What North Riding’s travelling support have to hope for is the spirit of the cup on a day when the young talented underdogs from Whitby rise to this huge challenge and grab victory against what look to be overwhelming odds.”