Shirley Silverbacks women (Christchurch) won their first New Zealand senior club title in Tauranga on Saturday night, powering to a 3-0 (25-19 25-21 25-20) win over defending champions North Harbour Raiders A at ASB Arena in the final.
Nelson men then won a record-equalling fourth straight title with a clinical 3-0 (25-18 25-14 25-12) win over Playaz (Auckland) giving the South Island a winning double for the fourth time in 48 years, the last coming in 1993 when Shirley men and Smash women were victorious.
Shirley had lost 0-3 to Harbour Raiders in pool play, but coach Sam Ryburn and captain Kim Smith had them ready to fire in the final, some staunch defence in the first set and tough serving keeping Raiders on the back foot.
Locked at 20-20 in the second set, Shirley benefited from some unforced errors to take a 2-0 lead and closed it out after a scrappy start to the third set, with middle player Katie Adamson and setter Nicky Pio outstanding.
Captain Smith, a former Black Ferns rugby rep for five years, said the victory was the highlight of her volleyball career and she heaped praise on the entire squad, who all contributed to their triumph.
Seeded ninth based on last year’s results, Smith said their 3-2 cliffhanger win over Tauranga A in the semifinals on Friday night gave them self-belief heading into the final. “Things started to click in that game and it all came together in the final. The girls’ confidence lifted after the semifinal and our team was solid right across the board. We have a great team spirit.’’
Pio, Alice Zeimann and Petra Manderson were also part of the Burnside HS team which won the NZ schools title this year, but Manderson missed out on playing at seniors because of injury. Pio and Zeimann completed a notable treble by winning the national beach title last summer.
Smith said they were well aware a South Island team had not taken the club crown since 1997 when Pioneer won and that Shirley had not lifted a women’s title before. She said Ryburn had been ‘’unreal’’ with his knowledge and training programmes, while assistant coach Warren Smith had worked hard on their mental skills to lift the side.
Ryburn, who also coached Burnside, said the Shirley win had made it a ‘’stunning’’ season.
“We are blessed with the athletes we’ve got on our doorstep and the ones who have returned from the [United] States.’’
He said they had taken heart from the tough semifinal victory and served ‘’much better’’ than previously.
“We had to stick to what we knew, being aggressive and being big. We received serve really well and Harbour couldn’t get their attack going with us serving well.’’
He said Shirley’s defence had been vital early in the final.
“We showed real desire on defence … I couldn’t have asked for more effort and there were bodies flying everywhere. It was pretty impressive. Sometimes it goes the other way but while they were sore after the semifinal they were fizzing before this game.’’
He said they would all be back for another title tilt next year and the players had a real ‘’passion and desire’’ about what they were doing. They were all focused on getting to the ‘’right place and you can’t trade the work they do for each other’’.
‘’The bench were all in it and didn’t screw up their faces once. This team will be around for a few years.’’
South Island teams won the men’s and women’s double in 1982 (Canterbury University men and women), 1988 (Pioneer men and women) and 1993 (Shirley men and Smash women).
Pines Nelson made it four straight for themselves in the men’s final and four doubles for the South Island, with coach Colin Redpath full of praise for their efforts throughout the tournament.
After edging Playaz 3-2 in pool play, he admitted he was worried about the final, with the Auckland side capable of brilliant volleyball if they got their tails up. “I felt a bit sorry for them as it was their first final, but our guys went to the next level.’’
Nelson put their foot on the throat from the first whistle, with gun left-handed open hitter Ben “Sticky’’ Glue producing a class effort with over 20 kills, setter and captain Pat Shone controlling their offence brilliantly and libero Harry Ferguson was strong in the back court.
Playaz looked jaded after their epic 3-2 semifinal win over North Harbour Raiders the night before but the club, formed 14 years ago, has the potential to be a huge force in Kiwi volleyball.
“They should be proud of their tournament,’’ said Redpath, ‘’but our guys blocked them well and really stepped up.’’
He confirmed the entire squad was keen to have a crack at five successive wins next season, which would eclipse the old record now shared with the Sparta (Auckland) team of 1972-75.
The way they dominated last night, you wouldn’t bet against it.
By Gary Birkett Photo Julie Maree Photography