Railways face tough test from TN, Kerala

Karnataka men look for Federation Cup encore

Railways face tough test from TN, Kerala
Defending champions Indian Railways will look to maintain their dominance while traditional forces Tamil Nadu and Kerala are expected to make a strong impact when the 64th Senior National Volleyball Championship gets underway here from Saturday.

To be held across three venues –– Sree Kanteerava Stadium, Swamy Vivekananda Ground and Kittur Rani Chennamma Ground –– the championship is returning to Karnataka after a gap of 12 years. The last time Karnataka played host to the championship was way back in 2003 in Davangere.

The Railways’ men’s and women’s teams emerged victorious in the previous edition in contrasting fashions and with a bunch of India internationals in their ranks, they will look for a strong start in their quest to retain the crown.

In the men’s section, Indian players Prabagaran and Manu Joseph, the duo that starred in their come-from-behind 19-25, 18-25, 25-23, 26-24, 15-9 victory against Tamil Nadu in the summit clash last year, will once again lead the charge for Railways. Railways are placed in Group A, alongside Kerala, Punjab and Andhra Pradesh.

Railways’ coach Naresh Kumar felt that the right mix of experience and youth is the biggest plus for his team. “The  experience in the side has increased and we have youngsters showing lot of promise. That will make a difference. We defeated the Russian team to win the gold in the World Railway Championship in June last year and that has given us a lot of confidence.” 

Tamil Nadu and Kerala, two of the most consistent teams in the championship for the past five years, are expected to pose a stiff challenge to Railways. The winners of the 62nd edition of the event, Tamil Nadu almost clinched the title last year but a resurgent Railways came back from two sets down and saved three match points to post a spectacular victory. The champions in the National Games held in Kerala last year, Tamil Nadu, with three Indian players in the form of captain GR Vaishnav, Ukkra Pandian and Naveen Raja Jacob, can be a tough nut to crack.

“For seven years we have played the same team. Now we have some youngsters coming in. If they play the way they play for their respective departments, we should be fine,” said coach P Sundaram.

Hosts Karnataka will be looking to script another stellar show similar to their title winning performance in the Federation Cup last year. The A Karthik-captained side are in a tough group featuring Tamil Nadu, Services and Rajasthan. Coach MH Kumara admitted that the task will be challenging. “We have got a tough group. Our first aim is to reach the semifinals. I am expecting senior members TD Ravikumar and Anup D Costa to step,” he said. Karnataka open their campaign against Rajasthan on Saturday in the competition that will be played in a league-cum-knockout system.

In the women’s section, holders Railways will look to begin their title defence in strong fashion, while runners-up Kerala also stand a bright chance. Railways have been on a roll, clinching seven straight titles from 2008, while Kerala have been highly consistent, reaching the semifinals since 1998.

Karnataka will be spearheaded by skipper Ranjitha and the young side, which includes Varalakshmi who has represented the Indian youth team, has the potential to script a fine show.
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