HORNDEAN roared into the National Shield final with an historic five-set win over higher division outfit London Knights LSVC.
They will now travel to Kettering in April for a revenge mission against Flaming Six Aces – who knocked Horndean out of the National Cup earlier this season.
Reaching the final is a massive boost for the Deans who have struggled in National League division two south following last season’s promotion.
‘This is the biggest win we’ve ever registered since the club’s inception in 2011,’ said Horndean player-coach Nasser Ssemuwemba.
‘I want to thank the club management and all the players – mostly the six who travelled to London and got us the much-needed victory.
‘We’ve all worked hard and shown exceptional form in the Shield, which has brought a lot of excitement to the club for making it to that dream final in Kettering.
‘Everybody is just buzzing.’
The Deans made a slow start – in keeping with the story of their season so far.
They lost the first set 25-21 at Bethnal Green Technology College.
However, Horndean responded with their own blend of well-angled spikes and aggressive blocks.
Haakon Lie, Stoyan Yuriev and Stephen Metherell were all to the fore as Horndean took the second set 25-16 to level.
The Deans carried momentum into the third set where play-marker Benoit Royer introduced Russell into the game.
Russell, together with outside hitters Yuriev and Lie, relentlessly pounded London Knights’ defence and Horndean stormed into the lead with a 25-23 triumph.
Skipper Metherell said: ‘We installed huge blocks against their hitters which totally put them out of the game.
‘And we served really hard to their receivers which, in the end, disorganised their attacks.’
The London side were far from beaten, however.
They took the fourth set 25-16 to force a decider.
Crucially, Horndean made a last-ditch tactical change with Russell switched from attacking through the middle to hitting outside.
Ssemuwemba, named 2012 coach of the year at The News Sports Awards recently, explained the move.
He said: ‘We opted to rely on Russell’s versatility and good reach to give us the whip through the wings.’
Russell immediately stamped his authority with high-ball hits above the hapless blockers.
This helped Horndean secure a sensational 17-15 final-set win.
Russell said: ‘This is a massive win for the club and all the lads.
‘We’re very excited about the final.
‘It will be a massive experience – mostly for our foreign players who have never played in the national finals.
‘The atmosphere is absolutely brilliant and we can’t wait.’
The National Cup Finals weekend takes place on April 20-21 at the National Volleyball Centre, Kettering.
On Saturday, Horndean are in league action at Cardiff.