MARCUS RUSSELL inspired Horndean to a thrilling 3-1 win over Guildford International at Highbury College in the National Men’s Shield.
It was the perfect tonic for the side who are struggling for form in the National League but are now in the shield semi-finals.
Russell helped hosts Horndean take the opener 25-23 as he linked well with newly-resigned setter Benoit Royer.
Crucially, their fine work helped peg back the division two south visitors after they took a 6-1 lead.
On realising that Horndean had applied tough blocks against their spikers, Guildford made attacking changes in the second.
They suspended their more aggressive spiking style for an off-speed approach.
The move paid off as they went on to win the set 25-21 to level the contest.
‘All they did in that set was tip the ball over our blocks and we were caught napping on several occasions,’ said Russell.
‘The other annoying thing was that we failed to keep our promise of trying to cut out individual mistakes at the start of the second set.
‘Instead, we walked back onto the court and made the same errors as we did at the start of the first set, gifting Guildford points.
‘This time round we were made to pay the price.’
In the third set, Royer – a replacement for injured skipper Stuart McCulley – decided to mix the Deans’ attacking options by introducing his out-side attackers Maciej Kubis and Stoyan Yuriev more in to the game.
The duo, together with opposite player Stephen Metherell, relentlessly pounded Guildford’s defence to win the set 25-16.
The Deans then carried their momentum into the fourth set as Russell took charge with a dominating display.
‘He was totally unstoppable,’ said Horndean’s player-coach Nasser Ssemuwemba of ex-team GB star Russell’s riotous performance.
‘When at the front of the net, he was either too quick for them or hitting above their blocks.
‘And when he was at the back, his back court spikes were irretrievable.
‘Marcus is just different class.
‘Because of his work commitments, we’ve been unfortunate not to have him in the team as much as we would have liked.
‘But when ever he’s been available, his presence alone just lifts the whole team up.
‘In my opinion, he has always been and will always be England’s best volleyball player ever.
‘A real top role model for all young volleyballers out there, because he’s got everything.
‘We’re proud and honoured to have him in our team.’
With Russell fully charged, the Deans went on to win the fourth set 25-18 and set up an away meeting with Men’s division one outfit London Knights LSVC in the semi-finals on Saturday, February 23.
But before that mouth-watering encounter, Horndean will hope to take their winning momentum into their home league match with City of Bristol on Saturday, February 16, at Highbury College.