Back to Back NI Volleyball League Titles for Girls Teams at both Age Groups while Boys win their First.
Dalriada Senior Volleyball girls bring home the Senior Schools League title for the fifth time since the club commenced in 1999 and not to be outdone the Under 16 girls also won their age category for a record 8th time and the Under 16 Boys won their first ever league title. The Senior Girls had played all of their matches with wins both away and at home with the exception of the match with the league favourites and 2014 champions, Portadown College.
The Coach of the team, Dr Ian Walker commented that all of their preparation this season had been leading up to an epic encounter with the Portadown school who had been unbeaten in almost two years. He added “we lost narrowly to Portadown College in Portadown last year and there has been very little to separate both groups of players which, when combined, make up a large portion of the Northern Ireland under 19 Girls squad. This year it was our turn to host in Ballymoney and it proved to be a great match with the Dalriada girls edging out their rivals in two straight sets 25-19, 25-21.” The win wrapped up a successful league campaign for the girls but they always had the All-Ireland North-South schools final in their sights.
The girls then turned their attentions towards their cross border rivals St. Marys, Naas, Dublin with the prize being the All-Ireland championship, a title that the Ballymoney school had won three times in the past. The Dalriada girls had faced this team before in their All-Ireland campaign in 2013 when St. Marys eventually won the Irish Schools under 16 Title. The match was to be played in Naas Dublin so it was going to be tough to beat the opposition in their own location. However, not to be deterred, the Dalriada girls travelled in great anticipation of the game.
From an early point in the game it was clear that the match was going to be a very evenly balanced contest with the lead changing hands several times in the first set. However, St. Mary’s found a better rhythm in their attacking and finished up 25-21 to take the first set. The Second set went off to a blistering pace for the Ballymoney girls and they stormed to a 15-7 lead and at this point were really taking the game to St. Mary’s. However, the opposition were dogged in defence and came back fighting to just narrowly take the second set 25-23 also. The third set and therefore the match also went St. Mary’s way and was basically a copy of the first set finishing up a very close 25-23 in favour of the Dublin side. St. Mary’s Coach, Marion Maloney admitted that the ‘marathon’ match was a lot more difficult than they anticipated and she paid tribute to the Ballymoney girls for travelling and competing so hard.
Captain of the Under 18 Dalriada team, Ellen Monteith said “we were keen to put up a better fight this time round and I feel that we played really well and could almost have turned the tide a few times in the game but just found it hard to finish off sets that we had led for a significant amount of time.” Dr Ian Walker, said that his team gave a great account of themselves and the title could have went either way with the 3-0 defeat in sets not really reflecting how close the game actually was. He praised both sets of players for a magnificent spectacle of volleyball. Dr Walker thanked his players and their supporters for travelling for the four hours and still putting up a great fight against a good St. Mary’s side who he equally praised for their tenacity to come back from being behind in two of the sets, especially after a tiring five day training camp in Portugal which proved to be excellent preparation for them.
The under 16 girls had a relatively short season. They had some tough games within their own regional league against Coleraine High First team and the Dalriada B team, which consisted of younger girls from Year 11 who also put up a good fight. After making it out of their regional league the match against the other league favourites was also going to be against Portadown College. The match was played in Craigavon Leisure Centre on Thursday 23rd April and both teams were quite equal up to the 7-7 point. Then the Dalriada girls pulled away and with strong serving from Captain, Sophie Rollins and Laura Henry they had created a large gap to finish the set out. The Dalriada girls continued to dominate the second set with a strong finish and won the game 2-0 to retain the NI U16 title for the eighth time. Within two days the Northern Ireland Champions had to then contest the All-Ireland final, a title that they hadn’t won since 2011. Everything was going for the girls from Ballymoney in that the game would be played at Dalriada School for the first time ever. They faced Dublin side St. Marys, the dominant force in girls volleyball from the south and they would have to play their best ever volleyball to win. The game was played in front of a strong home crowd and in the first set both teams were very even until 12-12 when the Dublin girls produced some very strong serving and attack play at the net. After this the home side could not get back into the set which finished a disappointing 25-16 to St. Mary’s. The second set was a much tighter affair with both sides trading blows – Dalriada were excellent defensively and St. Mary’s were excellent offensively so it made for an exciting and intense battle which was tied at 23-23. Unfortunately the nerves got the better of Dalriada after two decisive points they were edged out of the All-Ireland title for another year. Dalriada coach, Dr Ian Walker, said that they had an excellent season which culminated in a strong All-Ireland contest but just came up short. 4 girls from his 14 strong squad had earned multiple international caps this year and it was important that they celebrated their NI league win and not their All-Ireland defeat.
To cap matters off even more for the school the ever impressive Boys Under 16 team managed to make it to their league final after beating the likes of Campbell College who have dominated Boys volleyball for the past few years. In their corresponding league final they also faced Portadown College. Their coach, Zara Bolton, a past player at the school had prepared the boys thoroughly for the NI final and the boys did not disappoint in the game taking both sets with a generous lead. The win represents the first ever league title in Boys volleyball for the school which has been so successful in the girls game for years. Dr Walker said that the NI league finals represented an historic day for the school in that they had won three of the four League titles available for schools volleyball. The boys now await their own All-Ireland Final date and venue against St. Raphael’s of Galway.