By Donovan Nair
The University of Western Cape’s (UWC) stranglehold on the men’s national club championship over the past few years came to a thrilling end when the University of Johannesburg (UJ) ended their reign in a pulsating final in Westville at the weekend.
UJ closed proceedings with a 25-20 25-23 14-25 22-25 15-4 score line to reach the podium as gold medallists for the first time since the inception of the tournament in 2000, reports Donovan Nair.
Defending champions, UWC marched into the final by thrashing Cigma 3-0 and All All Star Saints in the quarter final and semi finals respectively.
UJ dealt a cruel blow to KZN’s podium hopefuls Liberte and the Durban University of Technology (DUT) by forcing them out of the tournament in straight sets (3-0) in the quarter and semi-final stages respectively.
The opening set of the men’s final was a great contest with punishing power attacking, strong defence at the net and equally good cover play that set the stage for a pulsating match. Rising to the occasion UJ’s prolific attackers, Tawanda Mafuva and the left-handed Thabiso Chiguta set the court alight with fearless attacking. Not to be outdone UWC’s Grant Goldschmidt, Zenomen Jullies, Dean Layters and Velisa Ntsuntshe responded to stay abreast in the contest. UWC setter Ricardo Valentine’s quick reverse sets to Goldschmidt in position two were especially devastating as the latter created havoc when ever Valentine turned to him.
When UWC’s experienced middle blocker, Margo Daniels tightened his grip at the net it brought UWC on level terms at 17-17.
UJ’s Keifer Govender stepped up to take the lion’s share of the attack and he did not disappoint his coach as he pounded attack after attack to stretch their lead to 22-18. A well timed block by Panashe Chiguta on Margo Daniels pushed the score to 23-18. Goldschmidt and Jullies added two points on the trot to close the gap at 24-20.
When a pressure serve from Goldschmidt floated out of bounds it handed UJ a morale boosting 25-20 first set win.
Continuing with their winning ways, UJ were quick to get off the starting blocks with a 4-1 lead. Goldschmidt, Jullies and Dean Layters and brought UWC back into the hunt by levelling matters at 14-14.
At times the contest between youngsters Dean Layters and UJ’s Keifer Govender was well received by the fans who responded with loud cheering as a mark of their appreciation. With Tawanda Mafuva (the tournament’s best attacker) and Thabiso Chiguta in superb form, UJ were on course to win the second set. When Keifer fired one of his trademark missiles from position two it gave UJ a hard fought 25-23 win.
With a 2-0 lead one would expect UJ to push ahead to wrap up proceedings in the quickest possible time. However with UWC piling on the pressure in a ‘do or die’ third set , things became decidedly uncomfortable for UJ. When confusion reigned in UJ’s back court, coach Hugan Coopasamy brought on his back up setter to rest Sunker and his prolific attacker, Keifer Govender .
Dean Layers was in fluent form as he helped UWC to take the set with a well earned 25-14 score line.
In the fourth set UWC directed their sets to Zinomen Jullies who towered over Jeremy Sunker whenever the diminutive setter was in front court. UWC quickly capitalised on Sunker’s inability to stop Jullies at the net.
Keifer Govender’s return to the team brought UJ on level terms (17-17) with the high riding UWC.
The closely contested fourth set ended in favour of UWC when Goldschmidt unleashed a down-the-line spike that pounded off the court and rose high up toward the ceiling. UWC won the set by a 25-22 margin and forced the encounter to a deciding fifth set.
The final set an all UJ affair as UWC seemed to be visibly absent as UJ raced to an 11-4 lead in double quick time. With nothing tangible to offer against UJ, UWC bowed out when Velisa Ntsuntshe’s hurried middle attack failed to cross the net.
UJ rejoiced with a runaway 15-4 score line to reach the podium as gold medallists in a national club championship for the first time.