Nelson Pines men star in thrilling victory

JUBILANT: Nelson Pines men, with captain Pat Shone, being lifted by his team-mates, celebrate after winning the national club volleyball championships on Saturday.
JUBILANT: Nelson Pines men, with captain Pat Shone, being lifted by his team-mates, celebrate after winning the national club volleyball championships on Saturday.

In perhaps the greatest club volleyball match ever seen in New Zealand, ASB Nelson Pines men treated a 1500-strong crowd at Trafalgar Centre to a thrilling 3-2 victory as they overcame the challenge of defending champions Sparta in the decisive fifth set at the national club volleyball championships.

Down 10-12 to a fired-up Sparta team needing only three points to seal their third title in a row, Nelson dug deeper than they've had to all season to claw their way back into the set and then took two match points to win their first-ever national senior title on Saturday.

Some inspired spiking in the last set by Ben Glue, coupled with great serving and court play by Charlie Stewart kept the locals in the set against the equally fired-up Auckland side, with Mike Faitete Su'a and captain Bennetti Schwalger winning more than their share of points.

The duel on the post between Schwalger and Glue was a feature of the game, along with some brilliant back court play from both teams, with balls being saved that would not have been returned in any other game.

Nelson captain Patrick Shone also made key setting choices work well for his team throughout the match.

The first set delivered a relatively straightforward win to Nelson, perhaps causing them to relax too much. When Sparta turned up the tempo in the second set and began hitting and serving at 100 per cent, the home team were unable to get back in the match, dropping the next two sets in a row. Fortunately for Nelson, Sparta mirrored their mistake in the fourth set to let their opponents back in, and set up the tie-breaker fifth set.

A fiercely loyal crowd were on hand to spur the home team on, their intensity spiking at exactly the right moment taking the final set 16-14 to defeat the perennial champions.

Fittingly three members of the team were named in the tournament all-star six. Captain Pat Shone, who won his first national title, was named tournament MVP and best setter. Charlie Stewart was named best passer of the tournament and Jack Redpath took out best defender.

Colin Redpath, coach of the ASB Nelson Pine men's team said winning in front of his home crowd was the highlight of his successful coaching career.

"I won the title back in 1993 with a Christchurch club, so it's been a long time but for me just the way the game went and to do it when you have had Sparta and North Harbour dominate for so long . . . this is the highlight of my career.

"It was absolutely amazing and a big, big Nelson home crowd was just fantastic.

"The performance of the team was fantastic, last year we finished 10th so it was a marked improvement, it was pretty close but to win it here was really good. There has been a lot of planning going into this and we had a really intensive training schedule which helped.

"It was a fantastic contribution from the local association, the tournament itself was, I think, the best national tournament that has ever been run.

"Allan Brodie and his team did a great job and a lot of Nelsonians came to support it, there was a real buzz around town."

Brodie, the Tasman Volleyball Association regional manager said the event was an "organiser's dream".

He said having the ASB Nelson Pine men in the final ensured a full house at Trafalgar Centre, inspiring the next generation of players.

"What a great night for Nelson volleyball in front of a very noisy Nelson crowd . . . the atmosphere was fantastic and the volleyball of a very high standard.

"To win the title was just magnificent for the profile of volleyball in the Nelson community. What a great example for our young Nelson players to aspire to.

"Congratulations to Colin Redpath, Pat Shone and the team for the work they have put in this season. This is the first win of this event by a Nelson team in the 45-year history of the championships," Brodie said.

In the earlier women's final, 2011 champions Manukau South repeated their three sets to one win over Tauranga after dropping the third set to the Bay of Plenty women who seemed tired after two marathon games the day earlier.

Tauranga were further challenged when they lost their key spiker Simone Head to a torn achilles tendon in the very first point of the game. For the victors, setter Pogai Falemai always made good choices, and Vaovai Aiono hit probably as many winning spikes as the rest of the team combined.

Although disrupted by their early injury, Tauranga's enthusiasm gave them the opening set, but they were never really in the game after that, with the greater experience of the Auckland women helping them maintain early leads in each of the three remaining sets.

The Nelson Mail