MBC Gold player Jared Moli rises high for a spike during Sunday’s final. Photo: Peter Jones.

Gold and Blue to the fore

Marlborough college volleyball teams turned in consistent efforts during the Tasman secondary school tournament staged at Stadium 2000 recently.

Both Marlborough Boys’ College side made strong starts to the two-day annual tournament, played on February 20-21.

MBC Gold and MBC Blue both topped their pools after play finished on Saturday, then met in the semifinals on Sunday morning.

Gold downed both Waimea A and Nelson College A 3-2 while the Blue team surpassed expectations by beating Nelson B 3-1, Nayland A 3-2 and Waimea B 3-2.

The semifinal went Gold’s way and they moved on to a repeat meeting with Nelson College in the decider on Sunday afternoon.

In a tight encounter which lasted a tad under an hour and a half, the visitors prevailed 26-24, 18-25, 25-18 and 25-16 to take the title.

Gold coach Tamati Te Tua said there was no MVP for his side as they played very well as a team, suggesting it was a great start and just the beginning of the side’s 2021 campaign.

MBC Gold’s Josh Whittall sets for his outsider hitter. Photo: Peter Jones.
MBC Gold’s Josh Whittall sets for his outsider hitter. Photo: Peter Jones.

MBC Blue wrapped up fourth place in the tournament which was a superb effort as they were ranked the bottom team.

Marlborough Girls’ College A won their first game against Motueka but had losses to both Waimea A and Garin on Saturday.

The following day they beat Waimea B and Nayland B to come home on a winning note.

Coach Aaron Lyster said his charges had improved from start to finish. He noted it was the first time the team had played together and felt they were going to get stronger as the season went on.

Sylvia Hartland, playing middle was a force at the net while Jenny Tobwara handled the libero’s role very competently.

MGC B came mighty close to a win, losing by two points in five sets across the weekend.

Coaches Amy and Nicky Bain were impressed by their charges as it was the first time this team had played together, half the team coming off the junior tournaments. One of the stand-out players for the B team was Maia Watene who impressed with the quality of her allround play.

Waimea Girls A came from two sets down to beat Nayland A in the girls final.

The teams have a busy few weeks ahead of them as they prepare for nationals at the end of March, if COVID permits.

Eloise van Velthooven waits at the net during an inter-collegiate beach volleyball match. Photo: Supplied.

Young volleyballer’s USA stay cut short

Eloise van Velthooven’s four years of playing top-level college volleyball and studying in the United States came to an abrupt end in March.

The former Marlborough Girls’ College stand-out, who represented the senior New Zealand women’s side while still at school, has been competing and studying in the United States since 2016.

After spending her first two years at Parkland College in Champaign, Illinois, the 1.86m 22-year-old shifted her skills to Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi, situated on the Texas Gulf Coast.

In the latter stages of completing a degree in exercise science, and having recently been recruited to compete on the college beach volleyball circuit, Eloise returned to the US following a short 2019 Christmas break in New Zealand with definite plans for the following six months.

However, as happened the world over, the arrival of COVID-19 threw all those best-laid plans out of the window.

“I had completed my four years of indoor volleyball but then I got asked to play a season of beach volleyball,” she explained. “Training started in late January and we had just finished our first two tournaments by the middle of March.

“We practiced in the morning, then the coaches called us back and told us the season was postponed for a month, then it was cancelled.

“We knew that we would be affected [by the COVID pandemic] … one of our team mates had to return to her home country and we wondered if she would be back, but we never thought that our season would be cancelled. That was a shock. Then we immediately went into an extended Spring break and school studies were put online.

Action from an indoor volleyball clash. Photo: Supplied.
Action from an indoor volleyball clash. Photo: Supplied.

“I intended to stay on [in Texas] anyway, my apartment’s lease was paid for … but then everything escalated really quickly.

“My parents started calling me more often, asking if I was fine, and I told them I was. But then they called up and said, ‘no, you are coming home, we have got a flight for you in two days’.

“So, I got back to New Zealand on Tuesday, the day before lockdown began. I was quite lucky really.”

Back home, Eloise completed her studies on-line, graduating with a Bachelor of Kinesiology [exercise science] degree, but has had to forego her graduation ceremony.

She fully intended to return to the States in August, begin studying for a Masters degree and play out the beach volleyball season, but decided this week that she would stay put, at least in the meantime.

“I had to make a decision,” she explained, “I hate the waiting and in the long run it is hard to see [the virus situation] getting better.”

Another reason to return at some stage is the fact that, due to her hurried departure, Eloise has had to leave most of her belongings, accumulated over the past four years, behind.

“I brought a suitcase back, and that’s all I need at the moment, but I guess it’s a good reason to go back when their borders open again.

“I am also a bridesmaid for a former Illinois team mate next June so that’s another excuse to go back.”

Eloise enjoyed plenty of success at both colleges.

In her freshman year at Parkland, her side won the national [NJCAA] junior division two title, losing just two of their 53 games for the year. In her second [sophomore] year they lost just six games, and wound up fourth.

At Texas A&M the lofty outside hitter competed in the senior NCAA division one, as part of the Southland Conference, and helped her side reach the competition semifinals.

Eloise played for the New Zealand under-18 team in 2014, the NZ schools side in 2015 and the national women’s team in 2015 and 2016.

This year she became fully immersed in her new pursuit, beach volleyball being a growing sport in the States, and had already come up against some handy opposition.

“In our first tournament we player the number one and two college teams in the nation, it was a cool experience but they are very good. I’m still learning the ropes on the sand,” she added.

The Capital Wolves volleyball team, comprising a mix of players from Wellington and Marlborough. Photo: Supplied.

‘Half-baked idea’ pays off as Redbacks become Wolves

Marlborough may not have a presence this year on the national volleyball stage, but a group of the province’s top women players have found a new pathway to compete at the top level.

With the Marlborough Redbacks, the province’s female representative team for the past few seasons, unable to field a competitive side this year the future looked grim for the region’s talented volleyballers.

However a “half-baked idea”, cooked up by Marlborough’s Katie Cunningham and her Wellington counterpart Lauren Bidois-Turrell, has allowed those players with an appetite to show their skills at a high level to be satisfied.

“Myself and a couple of other Wellington girls competed at the provincial champs this year and that’s when we came up with this half-baked idea of playing together … basically taking the best of both regions and forming one team,” explained Cunningham.

She and several of her former Redbacks team mates opted to join forces with the Capital Wolves club for the season and it has quickly become a successful partnership.

The Redbacks had previously competed in the southern zone, encompassing the South Island, and had found the travel commitment onerous. By joining with the Wellington-based Wolves, and playing under their club name, they competed in the central zone, covering the bottom of the North Island, effectively reducing the associated costs and travel time involved.

“In order to be a part of that competition it meant we had to adopt their name and their club. Basically that meant we didn’t have to travel down to Dunedin or Christchurch, just pop over to Wellington,” explained Cunningham.

“The travel commitments [to the southern zone tournaments] put a lot of people off. This year we would have had a weekend tournament in Dunedin, a two-day tournament in Christchurch then another two-day tournament in Nelson, all three weekends back-to-back. It was just demanding too much.”

The new-look Capital Wolves crew, who don’t have a full-time coach or manager, got together in June and have competed at three tournaments so far, with immediate success.

In early August they were placed second in a Palmerston North tournament, then they returned later in the month to the Manawatu for another event, involving stronger teams, where they finished fourth.

By doing that they became eligible for a Wellington event, staged two weekends back, from which the top two sides qualify to compete at division one nationals in October.

Again the Wolves finished fourth, twice pushing the top seeds to five sets along the way.

Even if the combined crew had finished in the top two qualifying positions they were not planning on attending the nationals as there were not enough players able to commit after such a late start to their season.

“I’m really impressed with how well the girls have got along and how well it has all worked out,” said Cunningham.

“We have always just had Marlborough Redbacks … so it was a big change collaborating with Wellington.

“This has been an experimental year because we have never played in this zone before and it has been a success. I’m glad we gave it a go. We started late so next year hopefully we can try and get the players to commit early on. Then we can commit to doing nationals as well which will be really exciting.”

Along with Cunningham the other Blenheim players involved are Isabella Rohloff, Louise Brown, Maddy Croad, Mary Schneier, Jordan Peipi, Amy Rowse and, at the beginning of the campaign, Abbey Greenwood.

Twin sisters Malia and Etelini Manoa, former Marlborough Girls’ College volleyball and netball stand-outs, are also part of the squad, Malia travelling from Christchurch to be involved.

The Capital Wolves squad: Katie Cunningham (Blenheim), Lauren Bidois-Turrell (Wellington), Lucy Penrice (Hawke’s Bay), Etelini Manoa (Blenheim/Wellington), Malia Manoa (Blenheim/Christchurch), Isabella Rohloff (Blenheim), Louise Brown (Blenheim), Maddy Croad (Blenheim), Mary Schneier (USA/Blenheim), Sophia Higgs (Wellington), Jordan Peipi (Blenheim), Amy Rowse (Blenheim), Helen Wilson (Wellington).