The final of the Sitting Grand Prix was a hard fought affair between Sheffield and East London Lynx, with Lynx eventually sealing the title 3-1 – but not before Sheffield had given them a huge scare, which included something of a demolition job in the first set. The Londoners took the next two sets before a nerve-jangling fourth set which could have gone either way.
Sheffield came out of the blocks strong with three unanswered serves from Kev Tann before the East London side had chance to make their mark on the game. By the first technical time-out, although the Lynx had rallied somewhat, they were unable to find an answer to the power hitting of Zoltan Hegedus who followed up his front court heroics by putting Lynx under serious pressure on the serve receive.
A rare moment of confusion between Sheffield’s Justin Phillips and Hegedus prompted a time-out to be called by coach Kev Tann, which halted any hope of an East London revival. Frustration bubbled over in the closing stages of the set with the Londoners feeling the pressure – although they managed to save two set points before Sheffield closed out the set 25-16.
The second set started with a complete role reversal as East London raced into a 4-1 lead courtesy of some strong serving. But Sheffield weren’t to be outdone that easily, and replied with seven points on the bounce including an amazing pick-up from James Rutikanga to lead 8-4 at the technical.
This time though, Lynx dug deeper, spurred on perhaps by former GB Paralympic captain Rob Richardson, who seemed able to channel his frustration into an improved performance for the whole side. By the second technical, East London had turned the set around to lead 16-13. The closest period of play in the match ensued, but East London held onto their advantage, with an ace from Nenad Groj – subsequently named MVP - bringing up the set for them 25-21.
Both teams came out firing in the third set, and although it was the Londoners who raced to a 6-0 lead, Sheffield answered back with big hitting of their own to bring the deficit to within two points at the technical.
East London’s John Munro started to impose himself on the match, with some big kills through the middle, before Groj also got in on the action on the outside. An error-strewn period ensued from Sheffield, gifting East London a series of points. And this time, it was Sheffield’s own Paralympian Justin Phillips who let his frustration show with one huge hit flying way out the back of the court. The Yorkshire team just couldn’t get a foothold in the set after that point, with East London winning the set 25-15.
It was Munro and Groj who made the difference in the opening stages of the fourth set, Sheffield having little reply to their most powerful swinging. A more even pattern to the set developed as Sheffield clawed their way back, and a big block by Phillips on Richardson demonstrated that Sheffield were not out just yet. The subsequent yellow card for Lynx head coach Ian Legrand for dissent showed that the Londoners were rattled.
Rattled with good reason, it turned out, as Sheffield pulled away to a 20-17 lead. But these were nervy times, and a double touch called against Kev Tann was followed by a tip put long to reduce Lynx’s deficit to one. Sheffield rallied again – but so did Lynx. The big hitting from both sides diminished as the match balanced on a knife edge – with every point seemingly a marginal call. As Lynx brought up their first match point 24-23, a shanked pass brought the scores level. A four touch call from the second ref handed Lynx a second match point at 25-24 – and an uncharacteristic error by Phillips sealed the match for Lynx, with the fourth set being won 26-24
Report from Volleyball England website