First game of the 2013/14 season for the two Su Ragazzi men’s teams saw the first team play in Glasgow, and the second team in Edinburgh. In a repeat of last season’s opening fixture City of Glasgow Ragazzi had to play derby rivals Glasgow Mets. Both teams showed significant changes in their line-ups for a match that was excellently managed by experienced match officials Grant McIntyre and Gordon Laughland.

As they did last year Mets won the first set 25-19. It was tight, both teams scored runs of points, no one had a clear advantage, and Mets deserved to reach 25 points first.

For the City boys it was a case of getting to know the systems and the plays. New players Yeray Hernandez and Ivaylo Katserov were pushed right into the deep end of the Scottish National League performance standard, as both teams went head to head in a robust manner. Neither of our two outside hitters had much luck in that first set against a strong blocking performance from the home side, and the set was captured fairy comfortably.

Stewart Caldwell was the other new player for Su Ragazzi. Transferred to us from the Kilmarnock Club, Stewart has loads of experience of playing and winning at the top level of the game. In that first set he was fairly quiet, as he played his way into his new position as off-setter. In the second set Stewart exploded into the game with a man-of-the-match performance of blocking and hitting net play. The set had been fairly tight, Mets established and defended a lead based upon som excellent serving and again, a terrific blocking display. But with Stewart Caldwell beginning to influence the game, and Captain Steve Todd finding that little bit of extra precision in his setting we reached the 25 point mark and squared the match – just like last year.

Set three we established a strong lead, then let it go. They were agitated and losing, then they weren’t either of these things. We were playing well and winning, then we weren’t either of these things. Cammy Galloway as Libero was playing well, and our two MBs Fraser Strachan and Callum Johnson were being effective in both blocking and attacking, and Stewart Caldwell continued to apply increasing amounts of pressure on the Mets team. We won a very tough third set 25-22. It could have gone either way, but we made less mistakes than they did, and the two outside hitters were beginning to deal more effectively with the Met’s blocking strategy……but it was tight.

Set four was a ding-donger. They had the lead, then we did. They beat up on our passing unit with some tough serves, then we did the same to them. The game momentum was in their favour, then swung behind our efforts, and it was 24 – 24. At that stage the game was tight, but we looked relaxed. The players were tense, but we controlled the ball better, the competition was fierce, but we were enjoying it, and we celebrated the 27-25 score line.

The game was very enjoyable, the standard of play was good, we can and will get batter, we have players to add to the team, this could be a good season for us……..well done to all concerned.

The journey to the second city for the day was made in glorious sunshine. South Queensferry High School, the ‘fortress’ home venue of Edinburgh Volleyball Club.

We didn’t play Edinburgh last season, they were in the ‘East Division’ and we were in the ‘West’. Seems fair, Edinburgh is in the East and Glasgow is in the West…….got that bit! Somehow, for some reason that has never been fully explained, Su Ragazzi has been changed to an East team for this year’s campaign (?) and so we had to go head to head with Ian Brownlee’s team (and Simon Hammond). Both sides fielded a majority of young players (and they had Simon Hammond) and the standard of play was very good for a DII match.

We were missing our experienced talisman Chris de Lattre who has retired again (and no, the rumour that Chris has retired because his local chemist no longer stocks ‘Deep Heat’ is not true) through injury, and general wear and tear to muscles, joints and bones. Chris’ absence (and Simon’s presence) would be telling in the latter stages of the match.

Set 1 we won 25-21, playing with some style, and doing a good job of controlling the ball. Set 2 they won 25-23, playing with some style, doing a good job of controlling the ball, while we didn’t pass for peanuts. Set 3 we won 25-21, playing with some style and controlling the ball, and passing very well. Set 4 they won 25-15, and we got thumped because we didn’t pass the ball. So the match came down to the fifth set.

When we were passing well and controlling the ball our play was excellent. Setter Marc McLaughlin set a disciplined and thoughtful offence and we had solid performances from all of the hitters. When we didn’t pass well we were consistently ineffective at the net, and they had Simon Hammond. Last season Simon was Captain of the Edinburgh Club’s first team, playing at the very top of the top division. On yesterday’s performance he could still be playing there. He calmed the young players when the game was tight. He took lots of pressure off their passing unit by covering huge amounts of space. He was unstoppable in his hitting role, and he served tough all day…..he was excellent. He did for them what Chris de Lattre did for us last season, and from a club development perspective he played an invaluable role. And he did all of that again in the 5th set.

In that 5th set the score went point for point until we reached 8 points first and changed ends. They then dominated proceedings for a while to establish a clear lead – at this point we didn’t pass very well.

We rallied and pushed hard, but they closed the set out at 15 – 12 and that was that. It was a good game, we contributed to the excellence, we missed Chris’ influence as well as his play, we won’t come up against a player of the calibre of Simon Hammond every week, and we will work hard in practice at improving our side out potential.

And on the way back to Glasgow the sun still shone beautifully out of a clear blue sky.