Volleyball: Predators beat Salford and Darlington to end 2013 on a high

Originally published by SportsByte on December 9th 2013.

Sunderland City Predators women’s volleyball won both of their final two games of the year, with 3-1 wins over City of Salford 2 and Haughton Darlington at CitySpace.

The Predators were expected to win both games, given that they were facing the two sides below them in the Womens Division 3 North table, and coach Keith Sowden said they were disappointed to drop two sets from the day.

Sunderland City Predators 3 -1 City of Salford 2 (22-25, 25-23, 25-23, 26-24)

Sunderland City Predators edged a tight match against City of Salford 2, coming from behind to win 3-1 at home.

The Predators came from behind to claim their fifth win of the season in a match where just nine points separated the two sides from four sets.

It was a nervy but successful start to the day for Sunderland, who played Haughton Darlington in the second part of their double-header.

The match had a similar rhythm throughout, with both sides struggling to find any kind of fluency. Both sides attacked well but made plenty of errors to let their opposition back in.

Sunderland lost the first set by three despite being leading 22-20 at one point. It was that 22nd point which summed up the Predators best, as Hollie Patterson dived bravely to keep the ball alive, Abby Sowden and Eve Porter combined in attack and then – under pressure from the home side – Salford were forced into an error.

The lead was thrown away, which was a common theme for Sunderland who led nine times in a sluggish first set.

Sunderland had a much slower start to the second set, finding themselves 9-5 down, but they eventually led 14-13 were suddenly dominant at 20-15. The composed lead was shortened again though as Salford pulled it back to 20-19.

Sunderland were unable to close the game out, which made for a nervy finish – eventually winning by two.

The Predators then took the lead in the match, again winning in nervous fashion but Sunderland were much improved, save for the odd misunderstanding at back court.

And, with the two sides clearly evenly matched, he fourth set went all the way to 26-24. The biggest lead in the final set was held by Sunderland at 11-7, and they eventually won by two to put them in full confidence for the Darlington match.

Sunderland City Predators 3-1 Haughton Darlington (24-26, 25-21, 25-23, 25-20)

Sunderland again lost the first set against Darlington but fought back valiantly to win their second game of the day.

The Predators were looking good at 21-21 but Darlington – bottom of the league going into the day – won the set by two.

The home side, though, hit back, with Maria Spanou particularly impressing at the net both in attack and defence. It was her smash that won the second set for Sunderland.

By the third set, Darlington were beginning to tire because they had played two games back-to-back, whereas Sunderland had had a break while Salford played Darlington. The Predators took an extended lead at 17-14 and, after a slight wobble, again won by two.

Sunderland then dominated in the fourth set, overpowering a now-exhausted Darlington side who did not have any players on their bench, compared to Sunderland’s healthy squad of 10 – which meant they could swap in four players from the bench.

After winning the final set by five, coach Sowden said: “Overall we probably got we deserved today. These are the two bottom teams in the league and fortunately we’ve beaten them all the times we’ve had to play them, so we’ve got those banked, and we’ve got tough games after Christmas to come.”

Sunderland face Wirral twice, North Riding Eagles twice and runaway league leaders Team Durham in 2014, with the season set to conclude in March.

“We’ve dropped two sets but I’ve tried today to give court time to people who maybe wouldn’t get that against better teams,” Sowden said.

“In some cases that worked well and in some cases it didn’t work quite so well, but we tried a few things today, and we’ve come through both games.

“You’ve got to keep the full squad interested if you can, otherwise you lose them and we can’t afford to do that. So I’m reasonably happy with that.

“I’m still looking for that opposite player – you’ve got the setter who sets but we need someone to really hit the ball down and I’m still struggling to find that player in this team, someone to fill that role.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do on blocking; we didn’t block well today. I thought at times we served well, and I think again the big squad paid off because in that last set [Darlington] were tired, because they’ve only got the six players.

“We’ve got players to bring off the bench who are a bit more fresh. They are maybe not the most experienced players but it helps to give the experienced players a rest so you can come back stronger.”

The Predators have now won six games from 10, and are right in the hunt for the top two places with Wirral and North Riding Eagles in touching distance.

“I’ve told the girls that I expect them to win all of their games apart from Team Durham, which I think is a bridge too far for anybody at the moment and if we do that we’ll be second in the league and in the play-offs.

“It’s a big ask, we need to keep training regularly, they need to get their fitness levels up because I can clearly see that they’re not where they should be and I’m sure we’ll compete all the way through to the end. But all in all, it’s not a bad afternoon’s work!”

Sunderland next face Wirral on January 19, a game that could see them move above the Liverpool side and close the gap further on Yorkshire side North Riding.

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