On a day that started out as a beautiful sunny Portrush Saturday, Ballymoney Blaze hosted the last event on the NI Volleyball tour.
In what looked set to be a thrilling season finale Alan McKnight and Jonathan Workman were looking to seal the mens tour with a 100% record, while things were much closer in the ladies section with Grainne Le Favre looking to hold onto her slim lead at the top.
With nine teams in the Mens event it looked like there would be a distinct gap in class between the top 3 or 4 teams and the rest and this proved to be the case in the group stages as Workman/McKnight, Stewart/Goti, Stolarek/O’Reagan and Bertenshaw/Rodgers set themselves apart from the rest with some stellar performances to secure a place in the cup knockout rounds.
In the ladies section it looked like the same would happen with the top 6 teams making their way to the cup while the remaining 8 teams would playoff for the plate. Early favourites and top seeds Veridrame/Le Favre finished runner up in their group to the top irish pairing of Gormally/Sabogal, while in group 2 Roantree/Mihneva cruised through with a 100% record, narrowly pipping McCarroll/Traynor to top spot. Group 3 was not so cut and dry, Jankowitz/Madden easily topped the group, but after a 3 way tie for second place it was Montgomery/Tonello who got the nod on points difference to claim the last remaining spot in the cup.
In the mens cup Workman/McKnight looked in top form as they breezed past O’Regan/Stolarek to set up a semi final match with Goti/Stewart, who consigned Bertenshaw/Rodgers to the losers bracket and a playoff with O’Regan/Stolarek for a place in the other semi final. In the first semi-final McKnight/Workman looked in trouble as they last the first set in the best of three encounter, however a spirited fightback saw them claim the remaining sets to secure a place in the final.
In the second semi, O’Regan/Stolarek rushed into a massive first set lead against Goti/Stewart pair. This was just enough in the end to see them through as a number of faults toward the end of the set almost gave it away. The second set was a much closer affair as Goti served well to put his team in front. This was a lead they were able to maintain to claim the set and set up a final set decider for a place in the final. In the end, it all came down to consistency as some fantastic hitting and blocking by Stewart was enough to see his team through.
The final turned was a repeat of the first semi final due to the double elimination format. Again, McKnight and Workman proved too much for their opponents as they claimed a 2-0 victory to secure their fourth win on the tour this year claiming the overall prize with a 100% record.
The Men’s plate threw up some surprising results as Blaze locals Joshua Park and Ewan Rodgers, playing in their first ever beach event, were able to win their way through to the semi finals, where they met another Blaze pairing of Gavin McCaughern and Ciaran White. In the end it was the older pairing of McCaughern/White that were able to see off their young opponents and set up a place in the final against Woźniak/Jasiecki.
The final saw the local pair battle bravely, however it was all in vain as their more experienced opponents took the match 2-0 to claim the Plate.
The ladies cup delivered a number of shock early eliminations as tour leader Grainne Le Fevre was eliminated in the early stages, meaning Irena Mihneva could claim the overall title if she could claim victory in this event. Unfortunately for Irena though, Mel Traynor and Rhian McCarroll, who had just knocked Le Fevre out, continued on their winning ways, knocking Mihneva out in the quarter finals. This set up a semi final against Sabogal/Gormally for the right to play Madden/Jankowitz in the final. Unfortunately for the local girls it was the Irish pairing who progressed.
In the final, Sabogal/Gormally were looking to avenge their semi final defeat, with the double elimination format again coming into play. Madden/Jankowitz had looked untouchable all day winning their way to the final without dropping a set. In was not to be their day however as Sabogal and Gormally claimed the victory and with it the trophy.
The ladies plate showcased more local talent as the girls in the Ballymoney squads. Clare Scott & Teanna Mills battled their way into the final where they met Corrie Donaldson and Emma Johnston in an all Blaze final. It turned out to be a thrilling encounter with Donaldson/Johnston claiming victory by 21-19.
The club would like to thank all those that turned out to play in the event and all those that spectated during the day.