Bhubaneshwar: Kerala women pulled off a brilliant performance to decimate arch-rivals Railways and retain the senior national volleyball title here on Thursday.
At the KIIT University indoor stadium, Railways were no match for Kerala as the latter won in straight sets (25-18, 25-14, 25-13) in just over one-and-a-half hour to take home their eleventh title overall and the second on the trot. It was the eleventh straight Railways-Kerala final and the two teams have contested the summit clash of the nationals 28 times in the last 40 years.
Asserting their supremacy in no uncertain terms, Kerala eves finished the 68th nationals without dropping a single set. They eased past West Bengal, Delhi, and Karnataka in the preliminary round before getting the better of Himachal Pradesh in the quarterfinal and Maharashtra in the semifinal.
In the men’s final, Tamil Nadu dashed the hopes of Railways, winning 3-1 (25-18, 25-21, 21-25, 25-23). Kerala men, who lost to Railways in the semifinal, finished third by defeating Karnataka in the losers’ final (25-21, 26-24, 25-19).
In the women’s final, the two teams were level pegging in the initial phase before Kerala nosed ahead with an enterprising display. They dominated the proceedings with some terrific smashes, brilliant blocking, deft drops and superb serves as there was little hope for Railways to extend the match beyond the third set.
Railways offered a better fight only in the first set, securing 18 points, but their energy fizzled out in the second and third sets as the Kerala wagon, led by Anju Balakrishnan, bulldozed its way through to complete a memorable victory.
Kerala ride on KSEB power
Out of the 12 players in the Kerala squad, 10 were members of the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) team. The remaining two were attached to the Kerala Police. It was the third major title won by Kerala women in a span of two years under the guidance of coach Dr C S Sadanandan. Apart from winning the previous nationals held in Chennai, the team had emerged victorious in the Federation Cup last year.
From the last year’s title-winning squad, Kerala had retained nine players. The three players who did not feature in this year’s team were former captain Fathima Ruksana, T S Krishna, and Jinsi Johnson, who switched over to Railways.
Kerala team: Anju Balakrishnan (Kasaragod), S Rekha, M Sruthi, E Aswathi, K P Anusree, N S Saranya (all Kozhikode), Albin Thomas (Kottayam), S Soorya (Kollam), Anjali Babu, Maya Thomas (both Kannur), K S Jini (Ernakulam), and Aswathi Raveendran (Wayanad).
Chief coach: Dr C S Sadanandan (Thrissur); assistant coach: Radhika Kapildev (Thiruvananthapuram).