Deans prepared to dig deep for play-off glory

Marcus Russell   Picture: Allan Hutchings
Marcus Russell Picture: Allan Hutchings
Josh Green in action for England under-17s at the NEVZA Championshi. Picture: Hamistolen Photography

Green buoyant after his first international abroad

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Horndean will use a mixture of youth and experience in their fight for promotion glory.

That is the vow of player-coach Nasser Ssemuwemba ahead of Sunday’s National Volleyball League play-offs at the National Volleyball Centre, Kettering.

The Deans, who finished behind southern division two winners Wessex BU, will face Birmingham and Nottingham Rockets in the round-robin competition for the right to play in national division one next season.

Injury and unavailability has hit Horndean hard in recent weeks and will continue this weekend as key players Marcus Russell and Leandros Tsikras – voted the league’s most valuable player (MVP) by his peers – are ruled out of contention.

But nevertheless, Ssemuwemba insists his team will travel with confidence following their impressive 3-2 victory over third-placed Bristol last time out that sealed a play-off spot.

He said: ‘We are missing two key players for the play-offs.

‘Marcus Russell is going to be away in Europe on holiday with our blessing.

‘He booked the trip a long time ago and we have known about it the whole season, so we didn’t want to break that.

‘Leandros Tsikras is injured and, like Marcus, he will be a big miss for us.

‘The way he has managed to impress all of the opponents we have played is unbelievable, he wholeheartedly deserves his MVP award. Although he is back in training and will be there with the squad in Kettering, Tsikras is not allowed to play – on doctor’s orders.

‘What we remain with is not a team that is at full strength but a team that is looking to go and try to fight.’

And it was fighting spirit that the understrength Deans displayed in abundance in the last game of their domestic season at Bristol.

Requiring one point to seal their play-off spot, Ssemuwemba’s young side excelled against difficult opponents, battling to a sensational 3-2 victory.

Upcoming players Jack Whitlock and Matthew Jackson impressed through the middle and the inexperienced youngsters, as well as the returning Haakon Lie, will have a big role to play again this weekend.

Ssemuwemba said: ‘We were not expecting to beat Bristol but we managed to win using a different system – and it is the same system I will be trying out on Sunday to see if we have a chance.

‘Jack Whitlock and Matthew Jackson have improved a lot and it has been impressive to see.

‘They have given us an added reflex and reaction during play.

‘They also have great agility, which is good news, as some of the older players are a bit slow!

‘But we have a really good blend of experienced and young players which we will be relying on this weekend.

‘Hopefully that will play to our advantage.

‘We certainly have got a chance because we also have Haakon back from the Bristol game.’