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Eagles book grand finals berth


Third-round matches of the Cellcard National Volleyball League witnessed the Siem Reap Globe Eagles claim a place in the grand finals, with others in pursuit

Photo by: Nick Sells (www.nicksellsphotography.com)
Phnom Penh Dragons captain Chuoy Kimhorn (right, jumping) spikes the ball at the Battambang Tigers side during their CNVLD match Saturday at Olympic Stadium.

THE third round of the Cellcard 2009 National Volleyball League at the weekend served up some of the most competitive matches in the history of the league, with Siem Reap Globe Eagles swooping to an unassailable position at the top of the table, booking their place in the grand final.

The five-set rule – put in place since the end of the first round – separated the men from the boys in terms of fitness, stamina and determination.

Marathon rallies were punctuated by spectacular net work, seemingly impossible defensive manoeuvres, and fiery spikes that had the crowd on its feet in loud appreciation. Four matches stretched into five-set thrillers, and most sets were decided by only the slimmest of margins.

Announcement of details for the impending 2009 WOVD Cambodia Volleyball World Cup in December also fired up the form of the league’s best athletes, who are desperate to be selected by national team coach Christian Zepp to represent their nation in the bid to become World No 1 in front of their adoring home fans.
With only eleven matches remaining in the league, a new dynasty of elite young teams has emerged thanks to an exceptional rise in the quality of training and court play. A stunning eight wins from eight matches sees Siem Reap Eagles perching proud at the head of the table, with only Kratie Nike Changemakers Dolphins left to play.

With coach Chat Samouen stepping to the courtside to direct play, young hotshots Choeum Kong and Prep Artit dominated the net. They were backed by national team captain Chheam Chhandy, who provided typically strong leadership and team spirit to ensure the Eagles stayed hovering above the pack.

Hot on their heels, Kampong Speu Global Giving Scorpions and Battambang MOSVY Tigers, along with legendary league stalwarts Kampong Speu CTN Koupreys, all played out of their prostheses at the weekend, to stake their claim on the other three grand final spots available.

The wily skills of Koupreys coach Cha Hok, and the explosive form of national team spiker Yem Buntheoun, have seen the 2008 National League Champions recover their form to lie in third place after wiping the court with Prey Veng Kingmaker Cobras in straight sets and narrowly defeating Kampong Speu Global Giving Scorpions 3-2 Saturday.

The demise of six-time national league champions Phnom Penh ANZ Royal Dragons was the hottest news from the third round, after their shock defeats to Battambang MOSVY Tigers on Saturday and Kampong Speu Global Giving Scorpions on Sunday left them in a previously unimaginable fifth spot, forcing coach Chem Kim Horn to radically re-evaluate his ageing, once-invincible team. Expect a rebuilt Dragons team to walk out of the tunnel for the start of the 2010 National League.

With Takeo ISPP Templestowe Falcons and Kratie Nike Changemakers Dolphins holding strong mid-table, still with an outside chance of making the third-place playoffs, the final three places for the Grand Finals still remain open in the closest league finish in nine years of consecutive competition.

At the bottom of the table, spirited performances by Kampong Cham Bartu Bulls couldn’t stem their slide down the rankings to ninth, though their position doesn’t do them justice after pushing Takeo ISPP Templestowe Falcons to a five-set epic Saturday. They narrowly lost out to Kratie Nike Changemakers Dolphins on Sunday in tense late match in which only Kratie coach Nuong Piroth’s “hairdryer” halftime team talk forced them to step up their play.

Prey Veng Kingmaker Cobras’ win over Pailin Stadt Frechen Lions remains their only taste of victory in 2009, though with three matches to play in the final round, they retain a chance of creeping up the table in a late push. Pailin remain rooted to the bottom of the table, having lost all seven of their matches so far. With Kampong Speu Koupreys and Kampong Cham still to play, Pailin’s prospects for 2009 look bleak. Since their establishment in 2006, Pailin have traditionally been a team to fear, so, as with Phnom Penh, expect a radically new crew to step onto the court in 2010.

CNVLD referee team Chanthou Han, Hok Veng Ly, and Sophie Smith from the ISPP Sports Department, continued their outstanding work, ensuring that all competitions are played to an international standard.

The Grand Final will be played at 7:30pm October 18 at Olympic Stadium, with the top two teams from the league ladder playing for the championship trophy, whereas third- and fourth-place teams will play for third overall earlier in the afternoon, at 4pm. Cash prizes include US$3,000 for the winner ($500 for each player), $2,000 for the runners up, and $1,000 for the third team.

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