All Stars through to the last 8 of the National Shield!

HEYVA All Stars Men's squad successfully reached the last 8 of the National Shield with a 3:2 victory over GNG Bedford VC at Baysgarth School. GNG Bedford wrote a lovely match report following a friendly but hard fought game!

After a long festive and new year period volleyball break the GNG Bedford squad travelled up to near Kingston-upon-Hull for the much anticipated game against HEYVA All Stars. A chunk of the squad had not played or trained for nearly a month and so it was going to be an interested test of fitness and general Christmas excess clearance also. The usual coach/captain car from West London & Hemel Hempstead caught up with Hannah, Lukasz and Wictor at the M1 Junction 14 coach park for 10am. In the other car, GNG stalwarts chairman Loga, Bal, Sat and Mantas drove up the A1 from Bedford. The team joined at a service station south of the Humber Bridge for a coffee break and a light lunch just after 12. Since the game warm up was not until 2pm the team decided to cross the Humber Bridge and take in the view and a walk along the shoreline. The motley crew of the Polish and Lithuanian tandem, Lukasz &Mantas, Dee, Raj in his turban, and our services escort and ‘supporters team’ Hannah, patrolled the northern front’s freezing rocky beach looking for good photo shots, whilst Sat’s car crew took a stroll and photo’s on the south side. Not quite the group/team photo shootplan but we enjoyed the Humber estuary view and bridge nevertheless. Now that the team was nice and cold (!), they headed back towards Barton-on-Humber for the game.

The All Stars and GNG teams were technically at similar top end of local league levels but with players that could comfortably play at higher National League divisions. Having viewed the player profiles for All Stars we could see that the game would be close (not just because they also had Polish and Lithuanian players!), and it proved so. We arrived at the venue and were welcomed by Patrick Sprakes and the HEYVA team and were directed to our marked changing facilities. Patrick joked we were only given separate changing rooms due to the shower facilities restrictions and nothing more serious! After a team talk over the game plan in the changing rooms by Coach Raj the team proceeded to warm up in the main hall.

So on to the game; GNG started the first set with the tried and tested single setter system with Loga at the heart of the team. Lukasz and Wictor took their normal outside hitter’s duties with Dee and Sat going through the middle and Raj playing opposite. The first few points were spectacular and a sign of things to come. All Stars’s Adam Kupka transferred his warm up attack line hits into the game itself with GNG’s Witek’s defence matching up to his full power spikes with some excellent digs to keep the ball in play. Both teams traded points with some excellent high powered spikes and defence play from both teams. Eventually the impact of All Stars’s outside hitters from some fluid setting began to bear down on GNG who were not normally used to defending against this level of attack as a team unit. Ultimately All Stars managed to build on their lead to take the first set 25-19.

In the second set GNG changed to their most advanced two setter system using Dee and Sat as second line setters to always give a 3 man front line attack option. Mantas joined the team in place of Loga to play outside hitter along with Raj. GNG now moved up a level and the change made a positive impact. Witek was beginning to get into top gear and made some excellent spikes. He was winning a point on virtually every ball set to him. All Stars were still very close and able to keep up with the new GNG format and Witek’s hitting. GNG however managed to edge the set 25-23.

The third set allowed for Bal to come on for Raj, with GNG still sticking to the two setter system. For some reason the team took the foot of the accelerator and All Stars took full advantage taking a big 9-1 early lead. After lots of bench support and a team talk at the timeout GNG began to play the usual game again and slowly, and rather surprisingly, began to catch up with All Stars after giving away such a lead. Although All Stars must have at least partly easied off, GNG did manage some superb blocking to limit All Stars big spikers to the delight of the bench. As the set progressed and the points gap closed GNG began to believe they could win the set. In the end the gap was just too much and All Stars closed out 25-21. Still an excellent partial comeback even if the set was lost.

All Stars now wanted to close out the game in the fourth set. GNG however had reverted back to the winning set 2 team and format, and were in no mood to give up without a fight. The team raised their game and played some excellent volleyball. Lukasz and Witek lead the attack and GNG marched to a 25-18 set victory.

Buoyed from their best set result GNG moved into the short fifth and final set in confident mood, knowing it would be tough, but the game could be won. The first 8 points summed up the match, both teams traded point for point with the outside spikers of GNG going directly against All Stars’s outside power hitters. After some awesome attack play the teams changed sides both very much in the game at 8-7 to All Stars. The pressure was on and the second half was tense. The home supporters were making lots of noise and both teams were giving their final push to take the win. Again the teams traded points and the winner would be the team that made the least defensive mistakes or had some outstanding play. A couple of close 50-50’s went against GNG, and All Stars moved ahead. With a last and crushing final smash from their number 2 middle hitter, All Stars took the win 15-11.

Both teams played the game in good sporting spirit and the hand shakes acknowledged a highquality volleyball game that had gone close to the wire. Credit must be noted for both referees Diane Hollows and Roger Kittle, who were excellent throughout. Whilst the GNG squad was downbeat at having lost the game, they enjoyed the experience and day overall. GNG’s Witek Wolodzko was awarded MVP after his attack success. The National League Cup & Shield organisers at Volleyball England are also due credit for having provided an excellent workable framework for non-NVL league clubs such as ourselves to participate.

In the post match social at a nearby venue, where food was provided by the hosts, the small talk was around a good and close game. Overall it was a near perfect day within an excellent sporting context. GNG Bedford would like to thank the HEYVA All Stars team for hosting the game and particularly Patrick Sprakes for organising the event.