Blaze Firsts men see off Lynx

BALLYMONEY Blaze men’s firsts set off to play opponents Lisburn Lynx in what was their first encounter since the Christmas interval.

Despite only having one training session since December and being without four members of their starting line up, the Blaze men were still confident for their first victory of the New Year. Upon arrival, Blaze were apprehensive at seeing a determined Lynx side, with the experience of Fabrice Malherbe as their setter.

The first set began with Blaze taking an early 5-0 lead to which Lynx responded quickly by levelling the score at 5-5. Not to be outdone by the home team’s resolve, Blaze sided out putting them one point ahead allowing their new team member, experienced beach volleyball player, Alberto Jimenez, to step up to the service line.

His tricky serve proved problematic for the Lynx receiving unit, giving Blaze the upper hand and a chance to take a convincing lead. Despite the hard fight from the Lynx team, Ballymoney closed out the set with a daring but convincing jump serve from outside attacker Jonathan Workman.

Blaze’s consistency held true at the commencement of the second set as they claimed an early lead courtesy of Jason Smith’s commanding block which proved to be too much for their opponents attack.

However, a determined Lynx offence eventually found the answer with Kuba Kolos finding the gap and threading several attacks past the Blaze defence to narrow the score line to within just five points.

At this stage the set looked like it could go either way but a resolute Blaze side finally found form, improving their first touch allowing setter and team captain, David Park, to use all his attacking options and tear apart the Lynx block to the end of the set – score 25-17 to Blaze.

At the start of the third set the Blaze captain made some changes to the line-up with Stephen White moving back to his usual middle attacking position and Matthew Bertenshaw taking on the role of opposite, a new challenge for him.

The momentum from the end of the previous set carried Blaze to a comfortable lead of seven points. Thanks to some impressive back row attacks from Matthew Bertenshaw, who was obviously fitting in comfortably to his new position, and some well placed spikes from Stephen White, who was now back in his “comfort zone” as a middle attacker,

Blaze seemed unstoppable, storming ahead with ease to 20-12. Lynx, who had been a formidable opposition throughout the match refused to go down without a fight and at this point took full advantage of Blaze’s seeming complacency. Lynx narrowed the eight point gap to only two before Blaze managed to find an answer with a huge attack down the line from Jonathan Workman.

With the score line now reading 21-18, Blaze needed to find form again quickly if they were going to finish the match in three sets. Lynx once again stepped up to the mark refusing to let the ball go down in some very long rallies that seemed to go on forever. After trading several points the set was drawing to a close with Blaze finally managing to push ahead to 24-23 – match point! Blaze again found them relying on the experienced serve of Jonathan Workman in what they were hoping would the last serve of the match.

True to form, Jonathan hammered the ball into play to start off the rally. If not for the lightening reactions of Lynx’s libero, Matthew Rodgers, that would have been it for Lynx, however, the pass was perfect and kept the ball in for what was to be the final play of the match.

The ball came in to the Blaze setter who could see that all his attacking options were open. He managed to find Stephen White in the middle who connected well with the ball sending it hard, deep in the corner of Lynx’s court and winning Blaze the match 3-0.

A big thank you to all the match officials, first referee Paddy Elder, second referee Chris Grant and scorer Irena Mihneva for a job well done.

Blaze Seconds defeat Olympia

THIS eagerly anticipated match up of Olympia and blaze 2nds at fortress Dalriada saw tensions running high.

The match began with Blaze electing to serve which worked to good effect going 5-0 up. However the travel tiredness immediately left the Olympia team and responded with five points of their own.

This point for point routine endured until Olympia caught a break with poor Blaze serve receive unit which allowed for Olympia to close out the set 25-19.

The start of the second was much the same but it was Blaze who came out with more fire in the stomachs to see they come away with three league points. This caused Blaze to push on with winning runs of points and not letting any balls to hit the floor easily.

Setter John White, leading by example, once again spread the attack and kept the visiting blockers guessing on every play, the result being a set win for Blaze 25-18.

Of course this was no sign of Olympia about to roll over and give up. Again the point for point rallies and fast side outs brought around an exciting and nail biting presentation of volleyball.

In the end it was Blaze who held their nerve and finished 25-23 victors.

Going into the fourth set with very little court time left Blaze had to pull out all the stops to finish the night in the time limit by keeping their composure and making light work of the Olympia serves and attacks.

It seemed to be all over at 24-13. Although Olympia hadn’t read the script and started a late come back to fight for the set. Blaze called a time out just to settle their nerves and on the final point just after the short break Blaze managed to take the win 25-16. 3:1 on sets with just one minute left of hall time.

The Blaze coach said after the game: “This was a relatively pleasing display for our Seconds who haven’t trained in a while. I was confident we could do some damage tonight and make sure we kept our place in the league. I am now just looking ahead to our next game now always on the look out for how to improve our performance.”

Thank you to referees Johnny McClenaghan, David Park, Callum Currie and Emma Kennedy.