Originally published by SportsByte on March 5th 2013.
Promotion from the Women’s North Division 3 as champions may be a little out of sight for Sunderland City Predators, but they are still confident ahead of their last three games of the season.
Sunderland beat North Riding Eagles 3-2 at the weekend but two 3-1 wins for Manchester Marvels over Haughton Darlington and Darkstar Derbyshire leave the Predators five points off top spot.
If the Predators finish 2nd, they will play in a triangular play-off with teams from other divisions for a place in next year’s Division 2.
Coach Keith Sowden said after the weekend’s thrilling five-set win: “I don’t think we’ll catch Manchester but you should always strive for promotion.
“On the whole, out of the three games left, this was probably going to be the hardest game to win. Now we’ve got three home games in a row, and finish the season off and get the promotion slot we’re after.
“We’ll maybe need a few more players in the squad but hopefully we’ll get more for next season.”
Wirral are third in the seven-team league, level with the Predators on 23 points, but they’ve played two more games. Derbyshire have played the same number of games as the Predators but are two points behind.
Predators’ Eve Porter, who was named MVP for the match, added: “There’s still a lot of work to do. We’ve come a long way as a team with our communication and team spirit so we just need to keep going with that and see how far we get really.
“We need to make sure everyone’s at training and working hard. I think the last few games will be a little easier than [North Riding]. I think we’ve got a good chance of winning our next three games.”
Sunderland were given their toughest game of the season by North Riding and struggled from the start, losing the first set 17-25. They grew into the game as it wore on and their experience in winning games showed towards the end as they powered to a 15-10 win in the final set.
But Porter conceded that they weren’t at their best in the opening stages, saying: “I think at some points we just switched off. If you go a few points ahead and sometimes just think “alright, we’re winning”, and then you lose a few points and you have to switch it back on, and sometimes switching it back on isn’t easy.
“You shouldn’t switch off anyway, but it’s sometimes just minor errors or stuff. There was one point where I was happy when I got subbed off because I thought ‘I’m playing rubbish, here’.
“I went off for 10 or so points, then came back on and played so much better. Sometimes that’s the difference. Keith’s (Sowden) a good coach and he knows that sometimes that’s what players need.
Sowden added: “It didn’t look like we were going to come away with the points but we managed it in the end. We were playing against a team with less experience than we’ve got and a team that hasn’t won as many games this season, which makes a big difference because the girls have won quite a lot of games.
“That helps when it gets to the business end of the set, they can finish the job and get over the line. That was the difference between the two teams.
On their slow start, Sowden said: “They’ve not had that much chance to train together. Paula’s (Steikunaite) just come back from a fractured wrist, Alex (Laws) had an injured thumb.
“Eve (Porter) and Abby (Sowden) were the setters and Eve played different positions today so it meant we had to change things around a bit so it took a little bit of a while to get used to that.”
Paula Steikunaite impressed on her first game back after two months out through injury and said after the game: “I’m content. It’s only my first time back after two months out with the team so I’m not too confident as I’m not sure what’s going on and obviously we’re still short of people.
“I’m really looking forward to getting back into training and performing much better in the games as well.”
The Eagles, a young team from Whitby, impressed, especially given that the Predators beat them with relative ease back in November.
Porter said: “All credit to North Riding Eagles – they played amazingly well. They are a really young team, a lot of them are around the age of 17, 18 and they’ve improved a lot this season, so next season or the season afterwards they could be an absolutely amazing team to play against.”
Sowden was also impressed, saying: “They are just young girls. They’ll improve a lot next season.
“It was a good game of volleyball for spectators I would have thought but not so good for the coaches!”
The Predators play both Haughton Darlington and RAF Hawks at CitySpace on Sunday 17th March as they look to cement their playoff place in the league.