Close but no cigar for Blaze
The weekend of 15th/16th February 2014 contained two key home fixtures for Blaze as they battle to stay in Division 1. On Saturday, they entertained City of Bristol and on Sunday London Knights. Earlier in the season, Blaze had beaten City of Bristol 3-1 away so were confident of another win. However, Blaze had been comfortably beaten 3-0 by London knights (25-20, 25-21, 25-15) in October. The key question to be answered is had Blaze improved sufficiently during the season to turn this result around?
On Saturday, the first goal was achieved with a “regulation” 3-0 win over City of Bristol. The first set was tight at 25 – 23 with much of the early play erratic. In the second set though, Blaze found a good rhythm and played with greater confidence maintaining pressure on the City of Bristol receiving team. This was best characterised by a run of 12 straight points on the Luke French serve. This encouraged coach Darren Lewis to use all the squad and ensure everyone would be well prepared for the match on Sunday.
On Sunday, Blaze faced the full squad from London Knights. What followed was a very good game with extended periods of the game when both sides were playing well.
Blaze started set 1 brightly leading 8-7 at the first time time out. Rob Poole was hitting well over and around the blocks. Blaze maintained the edge and took the lead 16-14 with a crisp hit through the middle. Further middle play helped Blaze start to dominate and they increased their lead to 21-16 and closed out the set in good style at 25-17. The home crowd had good reason to cheer the team on.
There had been glimpses of the threat from Knights and this started to emerge more consistently after the first technical time out at 8-5. Pressure from good serving contributed to Blaze error count allowing Knights to take control at 13-16 and then 16-20. A late brace of good hits from Rob and Toby helped bring the score back to 21-23 but Knights took the set 21-25.
Set 3 was remarkable for the wrong reasons. Both sides were showing great determination with the teams rarely more than one point apart trading side outs and blocking plays.
Photographs courtesy of Bob Braine
Blaze lead 16-14 at the second technical time out and later 18-16 when an “old” rotational error or so we thought was recognised. What followed was a 20 minute delay whilst the referees tried to sort if and what the problem was. At the end of the discussions the matter was inconclusive but it led to Blaze being deducted 1 point. This seemed to affect Blaze more than Knights and through receiving errors Blaze trailed 20-22 and lost the set 22-25.
Blaze reacted well to be being 1-2 down in sets, quickly building a 4-1 lead. However Knights came back once again with strong accurate hitting from their No 7. Once again, the game was very tight with points being traded. At 10-10 Blaze played solid defence and eased away to 14-10. It was of no surprise though that Knights rallied again with some great blocking plays to pull the score back to 14-14. Once again the teams traded side outs up till 19-19 and unfortunately, rather predictably this season, Blaze was not able to maintain good form right up to the finishing line. They lost the fourth set 23-25 and match 1-3.
This was a great game to watch and played in good spirit. Blaze put in one of their better performances to ran a “top three” Division 1 side close. There are 6 games left in the season and with Birmingham beating Lynx this weekend, there is still everything to play for. 7 out of the 10 Division 1 teams could still find themselves in the relegation battle.
Blaze have a busy home fixture schedule in March; their place in Division 1 will be decided then.