North Riding Eagles volleyball team went into 2014 with an injury list that brought tears to the eyes.
The Eagles had enjoyed a winning streak last year which saw the side climb to the top of The Ladies’ Yorkshire Premiership and sit in the play-off place in the National Volleyball League Division 3 North.
When January arrived, the club had to withdraw from two junior tournaments due to injuries and face tough matches in both the adult leagues with a depleted squad.
The first test was a tricky match away to Darlington with five first team players missing including captain Heather Reid, who is currently leading the Volleyball England MVP (Most Valuable Player) rankings for NVL Division 3.
Middle blocker Beth Hewitt was returning from illness, Amy Hamilton was having to just play in defence due to a shoulder injury and setter Catherine Laffan was doubtful due to a foot injury but all three were willing to fight for the cause. Darlington were sensing a victory but Eleanor James and the ever-dependable Rebecca Laffan were in top form and not in any mood to throw away the second place - play off position in the league.
These two young players who inspired the team to win the first set but it was going to be a tough day as Darlington fought back to take the second set to make it 1-1.
The next set saw Beth Hewitt, Catherine Laffan, Jessica Arnison, Abbie Lavendar and the excellent Amy Hamilton battle away to help The Eagles go 2-1 up. Darlington won the next set as the depleted North Riding squad tired, setting up a decider.
Hopes were high among the Darlington’s supporters but how disappointed they were to be, for new Eagles signing Nicki McClure had been quietly playing her way into the game.
Showing the odd flash of brilliance in previous sets she was about to burst into life in this final set.
Nicki and her husband Tyler McClure had come over visiting the Whitby area last summer and had gone into local schools helping out with sports as part of The Axiom Sports tour to the region.
They had been so impressed with local people and inspired by the outstanding beauty of our area, they vowed to return, and moved to England at Christmas with their two-year-old son Larkin.
North Riding moved early to sign Nicki even before she had arrived in the UK.
Nicki had a tough task,hardly having any time to train with her new team-mates before her debut in The NVL.
So in the first sets in the match against Darlington she was finding her rhythm and timing while also developing an understanding with her new team-mates.
When it came to the final set, Nicki exploded into action, creating a match-winning double block with Beth Hewitt that extinguished Darlington’s attack.
Her float serve also caused the opposition problems and her spikes had the away support up on their feet as North Riding won the last set 15-7 to stay second in the national league.