The victory not only meant that UEL defended their Premier South title, but UEL got their redemption over Essex, who inflicted UEL’s only defeat of the season in October.
Since the loss, The Blues have extended their winning streak to eight matches, which puts them in good form leading into BUCS Final 8s this weekend.
UEL’s Higher Education Volleyball Officer and first team player, Yvett Tálas, was delighted with the achievement and hailed the encouragement the side received in their title-decider.
“It was awesome, the support we got from other students and the men’s team was really good during the match and I think that helped us a lot, because it went to five sets and every small thing can change the game. So, having people supporting us and even just the teammates supporting each other on the court was amazing,” she said.
However, despite their title success, UEL had to overcome many obstacles this season, most notably the departure of last season’s title-winning coach, Simon Loftus, who left the side to join Kingston University in December.
UEL’s Vice-Chair, Ashley Fantazia, suggested that winning the title was significant as it demonstrated that the team’s winning mentality was undeterred by the change of coach staff.
“It’s definitely a massive achievement, to defend the title, especially considering the hardship we faced halfway through a season, losing a head coach and having to make the decision of either letting it break us or make us, so it feels really good,” she said.
The Blues suffered their only loss of the season at the hands of Essex back in October before winning eight games on the bounce, but when asked whether the Essex match was the pivotal moment that led to their successful title-defence, Fantazia implied that it was after Loftus announced that he was leaving.
“Most people would think that it would be the game against Essex, but I think that it was 100% when we played Oxford and that was when we had found out that Loftus was leaving. We came together and all of us sat there together and agreed that we had never felt chemistry like that before on the court. It was 100% of everyone playing for each other and that changed the rest of the season.”
Loftus’ successors, Jefferson Williams and Ian Legrand, have played a pivotal role in maintaining the side’s momentum. Since Loftus’ departure, UEL have won all three remaining fixtures, only dropping two sets in the process. Tálas suggests that both Williams and Legrand have the credentials to continue Loftus’ winning legacy.
“Jeff likes to focus on small things and gameplay whereas Ian looks at just the technique and trying to help individuals, so it is all very complementary. I don’t think I can be super objective because I have been training with Jeff for the past two years, so I love him and I think he has been great,” she said.
The team has responded well to the changes in coaching staff and showed their determination to come back stronger after Loftus’ departure from the programme.
While the celebrations continue, the women know the real work starts this weekend as they take on the best teams in the country at BUCS Final 8s.
The Blues lost in the semi-final last year to eventual Champions, Team Northumbria, but hope to do one better this year and be the first UEL team to make it to a Championship Final.