CHENNAI: On Wednesday, the stars had looked to be aligning in their favour at the 67th National Volleyball Championships at the JN Indoor Stadium here. Perennial favourites Railways had made an uncharacteristically early exit. Defending champions Kerala had been weakened by the injury-enforced absence of their captain Jerome Vinith — circumstances that Tamil Nadu took advantage of in the semifinal. In the final, they were up against a Karnataka side that had never won the title before (Mysore state had won in 1952). And they were going to be playing that in front of a vociferous home crowd. It looked like the traditional powerhouses was going to end its five-year wait.
It was not to be, though. Karnataka played like spiker possessed and lifted their first ever national title, winning the final 3-1. Tamil Nadu clearly had the talent, but their opponents were riding on pure spirit. That was evident in the way they reacted after losing the first set 25-21. After opening up a gap at 20-16, they had Tamil Nadu deny them four straight set points. A lesser team would have crumbled at this. Instead, Karnataka hung on, matching their opponents shot for shot, block for block, clawing back every inch conceded. That incredible second set finally finished in their favour 36-34.
That loss broke Tamil Nadu and in the ensuing set, they were a shadow of the team that began the match so promisingly. The third set finished 25-18 in Karnataka’s favour and Tamil Nadu were behind 20-9 in the fourth. It took only a few more minutes for Karnataka to complete the formalities and take the set 25-14.
For the quartet of Naveen Raja Jacob, Mohan Ukkrapandian, GS Vaishnav and Shelton Moses, the result is heartbreaking. Arguably at their peak — Ukkrapandian captained the team at Asian Games, while Vaishanv and Naveen will surely make it back to the national camp after their performances here — a title after five years in front of their home fans would have been the highlight of their careers.
Ever since rising to national prominence with a title-winning show at this very same arena in 2010, they have stayed loyal to their state while watching some of its most promising talents leave for fresh pastures. Jerome Vinith now captains Kerala while Akhin GS plays for them as well. The likes of Prabhakaran P, Prabhakaran S and R Angamuthu now wear Railway colours. If Tamil Nadu had managed to keep hold of the talent they produced, they would have been unbeatable. Instead, they are once again bridesmaids.
Kerala tenth time lucky
After losing nine straight times to Railways in the final, Kerala women’s team finally broke the jinx to clinch the title. They triumphed in the 67th National Volleyball Championships at the JN Indoor Stadium with a 3-2 victory over the defending champs. This is the first time since 2007 that Railways are failing to lift the title. That was also when Kerala last won the title, in Jaipur.
Results: Men: Final: Karnataka bt Tamil Nadu 3-1 (21-25, 36-34, 25-18, 25-14); Third-place match: Kerala bt Punjab 3-0 (25-23, 25-16, 25-19). Women: Kerala bt Railways 3-2 (20-25, 25-17, 17-25, 25-19, 15-8); Third-place match: Maharashtra bt West Bengal 3-0 (25-20, 25-14, 25-18).