One of the most eagerly anticipated battles of the season ended with Aztecs Eagles narrowly defeating Ballymoney Blaze 1 at Dalriada. Even during the warm-up both teams seemed evenly matched and the many spectators knew they would be in for a good game.
The first set started with complete domination by the Blaze girls. Encouraged by the brilliant support from Blaze and school players alike, the home team were clinical in their attack, taking every opportunity to score points. Aztecs were unable to put together a string of points, and thanks to strong serving from captain Caroline Goodliffe and inspired setting decisions from Hannah Witherow, Blaze gathered a solid lead. At this point, Claire Dowey MVP was put on to serve. A great tactical substitution, she served a considerable set of points as the Blaze passing unit were slow to adapt to her reliable and hard serve. However at 23-19 to Eagles, Blaze coach David Park called a timeout which proved essential. The home team, bolstered by the crowd dug in, due to some excellent defensive play by libero Teanna Mills and recovered the score to 23 all. Opposite Kerry Kirkpatrick served well, but unfortunately Aztecs clung on and closed out the set 27-25: what a nail biter!
Both teams traded points in the beginning of the second set, but setter Shannon Lyness’ excellent float serving and set placement allowed Aztecs to use all their attacking options, resulting in a number of kills from all around the court.
Blaze middles Caitlin de Jode and Ellen Monteith were very effective in blocking the Aztec attack and Ellen’s stuffing of a pipe ball from captain Chloe Walkingshaw in particular seemed to invigorate the home crowd! However Claire Dowey and Charlotte Wilson’s hits were just too strong and the set finished 25-20 to Aztecs.
The third set started well for both teams, with strong serving and hits from Blaze outside Nicola Cochrane, and it looked as if it would be another close set.
The home team used tipping tactically to good effect, but Aztec libero Rebecca Archer made many impressive pick ups to keep her team in the game. Blocking was again key, and defense from both teams was of an extremely high standard, but Aztecs consistent serving eventually won them the game, with the final set score 25-12.
The well-deserved MVPs were Claire Dowey from Aztecs and Blaze libero Teanna Mills, whose contributions were both vital to their team’s play. Thanks to Jeff Scott and Jonny Workman for refereeing and to the supporters whose cheering really helped the Blaze girls. Good luck to both teams for the rest of the season!