Hancock, Ceelen-Thomas scoop Asics MVP honours

Not only were the Northern Moana women’s and men’s teams winners in Sunday’s National Volleyball League Grand Finals, two individual players were also honoured for their outstanding efforts over the weekend.

Moana Men’s outside Jacob Ceelen-Thomas was named winner of the Asics Men’s Most Valuable Player award following his performances for the championship winning side in the second edition of the National Volleyball League. 

Ceelen-Thomas, who plays with the Shirley Volleyball Club in Christchurch, was a big influence in his side’s run to the final – another five-set marathon - which saw the Moana inflict the first loss on defending champions Southern Pounamu as they claimed the title.

Making his NVL debut over the weekend, the 22-year-old was ecstatic with the way his team rebounded after dropping their opening two matches on Friday.

“It was mean!”, Ceelen Thomas said.

“It helps that we won but I’m super proud of how everyone performed. It was great to come back from a rougher start to end up on top.”

On his MVP honour, Ceelen-Thomas was quick to point out there were several worthy candidates.

“Honestly it could have gone to so many people. Everyone contributed when it mattered, and the team really deserved the MVP award.”

The Asics Women’s Most Valuable Player went to Moana captain Ashleigh Hancock, with the setter saying it was the quality of the players at her disposal that helped her stand out.

"Our team connected really quickly making it easy for me to do my job as I had so many great options to set," Hancock said.

"I was a bit shocked to receive MVP. It must have been a tough decision for the selectors as everyone in the team made a massive contribution in their own way over the course of the tournament.

A lot of us in the team, including myself, wanted to make the most of the competition by getting out on the court and simply having some fun - we certainly achieved that which I think made a difference in the end result."

Moana win dual NVL titles

The Northern Moana were winners twice over on Sunday, the men’s and women’s sides taking out their respective finals in the National Volleyball League at AUT Sports and Fitness Centre in Auckland.

Lauren Fleury’s women’s side got the finals off to a pulsating start, recovering from a 2-0 deficit to claim an incredible 3-2 fightback win over the defending champions Midlands Te Waiora.

Fleury said: "I was really happy with the way the team kept fighting and finding a way to win. We had a plan to keep trying to get better each match and while there were the inevitable ups and downs, they kept believing in the plan.

"We had strength all around the court, everyone in the team contributed, and ultimately we needed that flexibility and adaptability to be able to beat the other very good teams."  

The action continued in the afternoon’s second final, Neil Anderson’s Moana Men’s team handing Sebastian Gonzalez’s Southern Pounamu their first loss of the weekend with an enthralling 3-2 win.

In the third-fourth place matches earlier in the day, Central Hauwhenua were 2-0 winners over Southern Pounamu in the women’s competition while Midlands Te Waiora accounted for Central Hauwhenua 2-0 in the men’s grade.

National Volleyball League 2022 - Grand Finals

Women's - Northern Moana 3-2 Midlands Te Waiora
First Referee: Brieana Booth
Second Referee: Brady Nicholson

Men's - Northern Moana 3-2 Southern Pounamu
First Referee: Luis Paulo
Second Referee: Gavin Turketo

NVL set for Southern blast

When the National Volleyball League hits the court in Auckland in October, the league should prepare for a flex of South Island muscle if Head Coach Mary Edmondson and the Southern Pounamu women’s team have any say about it.

Edmondson, a long-time volleyball coaching stalwart based in Christchurch, has assembled a squad connected to their Te Waipounamu roots with eight of the team of 12 team picked from Christchurch and Nelson.

The Southern Pounamu coach says that is very much a deliberate move.

“Our Southern Pounamu team has a strong southern base,” Edmondson said.

“We will work to use the individual strengths as a group to best effect. I enjoy working together with players and coaches to develop an inclusive team culture where everyone feels supported, important and wants to learn.”

Edmondson and Assistant Coach George Koria, firmly backed local and young with their first pick of the draft, grabbing junior international Taylah Holdem at number three before rounding out the team’s marquee contingent with Petra Manderson at number six and Kalani Ruri at number 11.

“Taylah, the young hammer, has the ability to put the ball away in the frontcourt and backcourt. Petra is a player with US College and international experience, and she has an extensive toolbox. Both Petra and Taylah have strong passing skills will give us an excellent platform on which to launch our attack.

“Kalani also comes with US College experience and the ability to play setter or right side which allows us flexibility and she will be a big blocking presence on the right side.”

With those core components in place, Edmondson is quick to remind us that reaching their potential in October’s NVL will rest on how fast the group can blend and transfer into on-court execution.

“Our marquee players will be important, but volleyball is a 12-person game so how quickly we can build connections and discover each other's strengths will determine our success,” Edmondson said.

Those Southern connections just may help speed up that process.

The 2022 National Volleyball League hits the court in October at the AUT Fitness and Sports Centre (North Shore Campus) in Auckland.

Crichton: Balance is key

Despite having the luxury of the number one pick in the 2022 National Volleyball League draft, Central Hauwhenua Women’s Head Coach Brendan Crichton knows his team’s chance of success hinges on the overall quality of his team, not a single player.

Having landed New Zealand representative Nicky Pio with the draft’s opening pick, Nelson-based Crichton and Assistant Coach Adam Watson knew the importance of ensuring the right mix of players were assembled around the talented setter.

“We have tried to get a balance in key positions with our marquee players, not just on the court but off it as well through their valuable intangibles that they bring,” Crichton said.

“They are all players that can lead and are happy to take responsibility at key moments in games. It's as much an excitement and a challenge for them that I want them to embrace and grab.”

Flexibility within the group also looks a key building block Crichton and Watson have used to assemble their squad with the 2022 edition of the NVL running over three straight days in late October.

“We have chosen a team that gives us many options on the outside and right side of attack, and several players with versatility able to play more than one position.

“This gives us the ability to run different offences and looks. It's going to be an exciting 2022 NVL and I want the players to drive the team and be heavily involved in our style of play.”  

The team-first ethos will be driven by a group which is chock full of individual talent, with Pio a key piece of the puzzle for Crichton’s team.

“Nicky was an easy pick in the number one spot for us,” Crichton says. “She has an immensely high volleyball IQ, very strong leadership skills and with her experience both nationally and internationally in the crucial setting role, she can control and run the offence.”

Standing alongside Pio in the Central Hauwhenua team will be Harbour’s Hayley Flatz and WECA’s Charlie Clarke, taken eighth and ninth in the draft respectively, a combination Crichton says will be highly valuable to the side over the three-day national event.

“We wanted to secure Hayley early as someone who brings energy, exceptional defence and passing to lead the back court. She was outstanding in last year's NVL in the libero role and carried this form into this year's IPC.

“Charlie gives a strong presence on the outside and with her connection with Hayley on serve receive. She has had a fantastic start to this year's Northern Zone with her club and was a standout at IPC.”

The 2022 National Volleyball League hits the court in October at the AUT Fitness and Sports Centre (North Shore Campus) in Auckland.

NVL rosters set for 2022

The second edition of the National Volleyball League (NVL) player draft wrapped up on Sunday night, with the eight teams now set for the competition later this year.

After the inaugural NVL men’s and women’s competition held in June and July last year across two weekends in Auckland and Christchurch, the 2022 edition hits the court October 28-30 at Auckland University of Technology’s Sport and Fitness Centre (North Shore Campus).

The Marquee Player Draft, held on August 14, filled the first three slots of each team before the wider player draft on Sunday completed the rosters with a raft of talent spread over each of the four men’s and women’s sides.

Canterbury setter Nicky Pio was taken with the number one pick by Central Hauwhenua Women’s Head Coach Brendan Crichton while on the men’s side, setter Sam Nielsen was taken first by Northern Moana Head Coach Neil Anderson.

The 2021 NVL Men’s MVP Troy Hulston went third to the Central Hauwhenua coached by Colin Redpath while last year’s women’s MVP Kim Smith is unavailable for the 2022 competition.

The Northern Moana Women’s side – coached by former Volley Fern Lauren Fleury - selected Ashleigh Hancock with the second pick of the draft before filling out their Marquee player slots with Stacey Niao and Elena Taiseni with the seventh and 10th picks respectively.

Fleury says while her marquee trio will be influential, blending a full squad together will be critical to success in October.

“The marquee players we've selected are all leaders in their own right and we expect them to bring that to the Northern Moana team,” Fleury said.

“In saying that, one of the great things about volleyball is it's the ultimate team game, and you can't win with only three players, so we'll be looking to select the rest of the team to complement our first three picks.”

Defending men’s champions Southern Pounamu, coached once again by New Zealand international men’s and women’s coach Sebastian Gonzalez, took Josh Mead, Mana Placid and Pesamino Morrison with his Marquee selections.

The 2021 women’s champions Midlands Te Waiora, coached again by Andrew Kilham, opted for Rachel Gunn, New Zealand Junior women’s captain Rosa Vesty and Blanka Preslova.

Southern Pounamu women’s coach Mary Edmondson grabbed Junior international Taylah Holdem with her first pick with Volley Fern Petra Manderson and Kalani Ruri completing the marquee contingent.

Returning Midlands Te Waiora Men’s Head Coach Keith Kincaid opted for Ashton Howard, Daniel Kilpatrick and Tala Potifara with his side’s first three picks.

Kincaid says his selections will all bring strong elements to his side.

“Ash has been leading the North Harbour team for some time and brings with him a wealth of experience. As a setter he understands his team's strengths and can strategically run a good game plan,” Kincaid said. 

“Daniel has developed over the last couple of seasons to be one of New Zealand’s premier opposite players and Tala is an explosive athlete with a strong jump serve and outside hit.”

Visit the home of the National Volleyball League to see all the teams and information for the 2022 edition of the pinnacle domestic competition in the Volleyball New Zealand pathway.

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