When giving up is not an option

Both St. Alexius College and Z-Air Maori of New Zealand knew the stakes coming into their encounter at the Rebisco Volleyball League 2018 National Finals. A win would make the path to the semifinals a bit easier while a loss gives them a tougher obstacle to climb.

The New Zealanders must have took it by heart as they dominated the first set, 25-13, by banking on their height. Grace Tirikatene alone stopped four attacks for kill blocks while setter Lyric Koria distributed the ball well to Tirikatene, Jasmine Westrupp, Hannah Manihera-Double, and Layla Sae to collect ten attack points. In contrast, St. Alexius only had four attack points and one block in the first.

Unforced errors were a big factor too as Z-Air Maori got more familiar with each other’s tendencies via their scheduled practice sessions. Mind you that they did not have much practice as a unit coming into this tournament for only two of their players came from one squad and they were only together for one day prior to the RVL National Finals. But they looked like a team that has been playing together for so long as they only committed four errors.

On the other hand, St. Alexius commited nine unforced errors in the first set as they look rattled by their taller opponents. Their attackers were wary of getting blocked which caused them to either fail to hit the ball over the net or send it wide. But while we can measure all the numbers in a volleyball game, their immeasurable determination cannot be quantified.

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Don’t miss the FIVB VNL 2019!

Watch all 260 games of the best men & womens international volleyball online - LIVE & on-demand!

St. Alexius lives to fight another set

Boxers usually use the first round to measure the power, movement, and tendencies of the opponent. That seems like what St. Alexius did in the second set as they utilized speed to make the game uneasy for the taller New Zealanders. St. Alexius also banked on an aggressive service game by connecting on six service aces as compared to Z-Air Maori’s three. That made it difficult for the players of coach Desmond Kerekere to field the first ball which resulted in misplaced sets.

St. Alexius also found a way to go around the blockers to get points. They were successful in a number of soft touches that were not fielded by Z-Air Maori’s backline defenders and they placed their spikes through the long arms of their opponents. Because of the quicker pace St. Alexius was playing with, Z-Air Maori’s blockers were often a step slow or early which causes the ball to travel unpredictable angles. It didn’t hurt either that St. Alexius had two less unforced errors than their opponents.

A crazy third set

Z-Air Maori was still feeling the pressure from St. Alexius’ service game early in the third set. They had a number of good spikes that just went long or wide which helped the locals build a 16-7 lead coming into the second techical timeout. But Z-Air Maori responded with three straight points to make the count 16-10. St. Alexius head coach Rolan Dela Cruz then pressed for time and they scored five straight to move just four points away from a victory, 21-10.

The New Zealanders were down but not out. After a time-out by Coach Kerekere, Westrupp was able to find Zone 1 of St. Alexius open. Getting the side-out, they then had the benefit of having a tall frontline of Mahinera-Double, Kaila Ru, and Kalani Ruri. That wall of blockers gave St. Alexius a tough time as Z-Air Maori fought back to 21-14. The momentum has totally shifted to the New Zealanders as they banked on a 9-2 run to tie the game.

If the Z-Air Maori blockers did not completely neutralize their opponents at the net, they were able to tip the ball in order to get good receptions for excellent sets. That’s why Westrupp was able to find the baseline to give them their first match point of the game. However, mistaked proved to be the deciding factor down the wire as Z-Air Maori committed three critical errors.

Ruri missed a ball close to the net while another net touch violation gave a free point to St. Alexius. Manihera-Double’s over-reception gave an easy score as well. Finally, Ru’s two touches violation gave St. Alexius the win, 29-27. The error was Z-Air Maori’s 12th in the deciding set while St. Alexius only committed ten.

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