This UEL win was not only groundbreaking, but it was the last match with coach, Simon Loftus, as he departs the mens’ and womens’ programmes at Christmas to lecture at Kingston University.
UEL were narrowly defeated in five sets by Bournemouth in October this year, in what was their second consecutive defeat following a defeat to the University of Essex at home. However since those losses, UEL have been in fine form, defeating The University of Exeter and The University of Cambridge in consecutive matches. The were also able to gain redemption over Bournemouth in a match that UEL won in pulsating fashion 3-2, extending their winning-streak to three matches.
UEL’s former captain Gary Slade, who has just stepped down from the role, was euphoric with the side’s performance as they exacted their retribution against the visitors. But there were also mixed emotions as a result of Loftus’ imminent departure.
“It feels amazing,” said Slade. “It was bittersweet only because it’s our last game with our Coach Simon and also it was sort of a revenge game because they beat us in five [sets] last time and it was very close. They are a very good team to play against, so it was exciting and it was fun,” the American said.
Last season’s champions, Bournemouth, came into the match as favourites with just one defeat, but couldn’t breach the hosts in a well-fought first set which swung in UEL’s favour, as Loftus’ side took it 25-21, courtesy of a Bournemouth block that drifted out of play.
UEL began the second set strongly and led Bournemouth 10-8. However, the hosts’ lost momentum and a number of unforced errors crept in. Bournemouth took advantage with their number nine spiking home successfully to help the visitors come from behind to win the second set 18-25, and level the tie at one set apiece.
Asked whether the hosts took their foot off the pedal in the second set, Slade said: “It’s definitely one of those things that happens in volleyball all the time. When you get comfortable and have that lead, you tend not to play as competitively, you play more relaxed thinking it’s going to be an easier win, but you can’t let up on a team like Bournemouth because every single point, they fight and are aggressive and that is what helped them come back in the second set.”
The third set was as open as the first but when a Chris Chappell’e serve was returned out of play, a five-point margin had opened up, giving the hosts a 15-10 lead, and they never looked back. Chappell’e was instrumental throughout the set and a spike at set-point gave UEL a 25-21 third-set victory.
“In the third set it was a matter of having the errors on and it was a matter of cleaning up and getting better and trying to keep our focus on our side, trying to capitalise on our side and work as a team and as a unit for UEL,” Chappell’e said.
UEL went into the fourth set with momentum and at one point led at 12-10. However, just as they did in they did in the second set, they surrendered their lead and Bournemouth capitalised on a number of unforced errors. The hosts nearly fought back, closing the gap to just one point at 21-22, but the visitors held on to take the fourth set 22-25 to set up an enthralling final set.
Despite losing the previous set, the hosts were eager to get the victory in the final set and were spurred on by the raucous support from the stands. A number of fine spikes from Chappell’e caused havoc for Bournemouth, who trailed UEL by six points at the switch of sides before Daniel Schmidtke blocked at the net to sealed the victory.
Chappell’e reflected on how the victory in the final set was a superb feat achieved through a fine team effort.
‘All credit to my team-mates’
“Honestly, it’s that fifth set man, it’s about who wants it more, we switch at the eighth point and we had to dominate on both sides, we just had to race to point number eight. I give all my credit to my teammates for sticking together tonight,” Chappell’e said.
The result meant that UEL will go into the Christmas break at the top of the league on 12 points, ahead of Bournemouth, who have a game in hand.