NEW Forest Volleyball U15 boys gave a good account of themselves in a tough National Cup competition in London.
The minibus full of players and supporters arrived at Ernest Bevin College, Tooting, in good spirits and ready for the challenge of facing two junior sides from super-league clubs which have won multiple national titles.
For the New Forest team, with the exception of setter Sam Ankers, this season is their first outing in England’s elite junior competition. A place in the quarter-finals was up for grabs, with the top two teams out of three going through.
In match one, Forest stepped on to the court with London-based Malory Eagles, captained by the England age-group skipper. Malory, having already warmed up with a 2-1 loss to favourites Richmond Docklands, started the match strongly and served their way to the opening set 25-10.
In set two, however, Forest grew in confidence, with setter Ankers able to run his offence as the passers began to cope with the Malory serving. Strong service runs from Ankers and Gary Parsons enabled Forest to compete in the set, which finished 25-14 to the opposition and a 2-0 victory for Malory Eagles.
For the inexperienced New Forest team, they faced a daunting task against the defending champions Richmond Docklands next. Coaches Simon Golding and Bill Brocklesby set the team a goal of reaching double figures on the scoreboard against a team with three England players in their starting six.
The Forest players, though, underlined just how much potential they have with a spirited performance. Both John Cook and Jonny Varnish produced a fantastic effort in defence, bravely facing-up to some ferocious spiking from power hitter Mateusz Bobkowski.
Cook and Varnish were also able to deliver the ball to setter Ankers, and Forest began to score points and put pressure on Richmond. With a more stable pass available, Sam Ankers was able to show what the Forest attackers could do.
Middle blocker Adam Brocklesby consistently found the Richmond court, as did captain Gary Parsons with some clever hitting options. It finished 25-11 to Richmond in set one, but it was an encouraging start to the match for Forest.
In set two, Forest took it up to another level. James Langford lit the blue touch paper with a monster block on Bobkowski, which lifted the whole team.
Parsons and Brocklesby continued to keep the scoreboard ticking over, and Langford’s dynamic performance in front and backcourt underlined his tremendous potential. It was Cook, though, who produced one of the plays of the day when he hit a ferocious underarm ace serve.
It was obvious to all that Forest were making the champions work for their win. In the end, Richmond ran out 25-16 winners in set two for the overall tournament victory. New Forest walked away with heads held high and their focus firmly on going one step further next year.
For more information about New Forest Volleyball Club, visit www.newforestvolleyball.com.