Mauao Warriors win first national volleyball title

By Peter White

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CHAMPIONS: Mauao Warriors celebrate after winning the national senior men's volleyball title last week. PHOTO/Julie Fitz-Gerald 040816sp10BOP
CHAMPIONS: Mauao Warriors celebrate after winning the national senior men's volleyball title last week. PHOTO/Julie Fitz-Gerald 040816sp10BOP

Mount Maunganui's Mauao Warriors men's volleyball team claimed their first NZ championship title last Friday at Wellington's ASB Sports Centre.

The young side beat the four-time defending champions from Nelson, Provolley Pines, in a pulsating and spectacular five set final.

This was the second time in the tournament that they beat them in five sets after an earlier marathon effort in pool play.

Mauao Warriors team manager Neil Fullerton says the result is even more remarkable as they started the season needing to find a new setter.

"Coach Ngakohu Papuni approached the team captain and middle blocker Paora Morunga and asked him to fill this role.

"To come through and win the national tournament in his first year as a setter is credit to the hard work that Morunga has put in with help from his coach.

Morunga was also helped in the finals by the accurate passing of Thomas Reid and Brad Fullerton.

"As Morunga's confidence grew through the tournament, it opened up the hitting power of Tame Malcolm, Sam O'Dea and Daryl Lewis which teams struggled to cope with."

Mauao Warriors went through tournament pool play unbeaten including that tournament-changing win over Provolley Pines to top their pool.

Then it was knock-out semifinals time.

Mauao Warriors met experienced South Auckland outfit Playaz, who in earlier pre-tournament games had caused the younger Mauao team some problems with their rather unorthodox and flamboyant style.

Playaz won two of those three earlier games but when it matted most they were no match for the well drilled and confident Mauao Warriors who won in four sets.

The final was a classic match-up between the more experienced and favoured Provolley Pines, who had won four consecutive national titles, up against a younger but well-balanced Mauao Warriors looking for their first national title.

The first two sets went the way of the Provolley Pines by 25-23 as their supporters eagerly anticipated a fifth straight national title.

But no one told Mauao Warriors it was all over. They regrouped and added more variety on attack as well as stepping up their aggression on defence.

The third set went point for point until midway through the set, when the momentum changed.

"Mauao's consistent passing, setting and hitting told on the opposition and Pines started making a lot of unforced errors," Fullerton said.

"Mauao really applied the blowtorch to their opponents by making some great defensive plays and a number of huge blocks to the delight of the large vocal crowd."

Mauao Warriors took out the third set 25-17 and the fourth by 25-18 to set up momentous final charge for the national title in the fifth set. The players held their nerve well and took charge to win 15-8 and claim that elusive first national title.

Fullerton says the victory is a major achievement for a fledgling volleyball club that only formed in 2011.

"There have been a couple of third placings, by the men in 2014 and 2015 and the women in 2014, but the result at this year's national tournament certainly eclipse those previous results."

The Mauao Warriors women's team placed fifth in Wellington after being only one win away from a semifinal position.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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