23 Feb 2024

National Cup semi-final previews: UON bid to make history as holders bid for repeat success

National Cup semi-final previews: UON bid to make history as holders bid for repeat success

​For the eight teams in National Cup action this weekend, a final on the showpiece stage of Cup Finals Weekend 2024 is now just one tantalising game away.

The race to play at the National Volleyball Centre in Kettering began way back in September – before even the Super League and NVL seasons had started – yet only now are they approaching their finalé. 

In many respects, it is the usual suspects – the semi-finalists in the women’s competition are set to finish as the top four sides in the 2023-24 MAAREE Women’s Super League, while the men’s final could be a repeat of last season’s final, if both sides win. 

Yet others teams, such as the University of Nottingham, looking to break new ground on the national knock-out stage. 

Here, we run the rule over the four matches that will take place over the weekend in the hunt for Golden Tickets to Cup Finals. 

Please note that all player stats referenced in these Cup previews refer to Super League matches only.

Men’s National Cup 

Malory Eagles v University of Nottingham 

With home advantage, a loftier league position and a National Cup title to defend – having won the trophy last year – there’s no doubting Malory will fancy their chances in this one and go in as strong favourites. 

But don’t count out Nottingham, who are seeking a first National Cup Final appearance, and have proven to be a very capable team on their day in this year’s Super League. 

UON go into the match on the back of a morale-boosting victory at Team Sunderland last weekend that has put daylight between them and the bottom two going into the final weeks of the league campaign. 

Malory, meanwhile, suffered a 3-1 defeat at Essex Rebels – their first loss in seven matches after six victories on the spin – and will be eager to get back to winning ways as they go in search of a 17th – yes, 17th – National Cup success. 

Both sides have players who could turn the match in their team’s favour, with University of Nottingham’s outside hitter Slater Bird (145 kills, 68 digs) enjoying an excellent season and Oliver Quick successfully returning 215 out of 221 serves and completing 67 digs. 

For Malory, the ever-consistent Nathan Fullerton (17 aces, 221 kills, 29 blocks and 103 digs) has enjoyed another excellent season, while Cameron Carrington has been a trusted companion (11 aces, 228 successful return attempts from 245, 95 kills, 20 blocks and 64 digs. 

To get to this stage, Nottingham were 3-0 victors at Oxford – who have subsequently progressed to the National Shield semi-finals – in round 2. 

They then saw off Cambridge 3-0 in round 3 before edging out Black Country in a thriller in the West Midlands, coming back from two sets down to prevail 15-13 in the tie breaker and win 3-2 overall. 

In contrast, Malory have so far not dropped a set, beating Team Sideout in round 2, Weymouth Beach in round 3 and then fellow Super League team and London rivals Richmond Docklands in the quarter-finals. 

When the sides met in the East Midlands earlier in the season, there was precious little to choose between the two teams before the Eagles won a fifth set tie breaker. 

Don’t be surprised if this is another closely-matched affair, especially with what is at stake for the winners.


Durham Palatinates v Essex Rebels 

A Durham-Essex double header across the men’s and women’s semis will make for an exciting Saturday afternoon at the Graham Sports Centre, with the men’s encounter, between two talented teams, a tough one to call. 

Just how close it could prove to be is illustrated by the two side’s respective Super League playing records this season, with the Palatinates having won 9 and lost 4 from their 13 games, while the Rebels have 10 wins and 5 losses from their 15 matches. 

It’s likely to be a confident Durham who take to the court, having prevailed 3-0 at Stockport last weekend – a destination where a number of other Super League teams have found life tough in 2023-24. 

The Rebels will also be on a considerable high, having leapfrogged Malory Eagles to move back up to second place in the Super League table, albeit having played a game more, with a 3-1 success over their rivals in Colchester last weekend. 

There is no doubting that the focal point of the Palatinates’ attacking play is American opposite Grant Maleski, who has completed 244 kills when none of his team-mates have reached 100. He has also weighed in with a team-leading 16 aces, as well as 44 blocks and 101 digs. 

Another US player, Donovan Todorov, has also produced the goods, with 61 blocks to his name, in addition to 12 aces and 68 kills. 

Essex have been buoyed by the displays of Thomas Shatimehin, whose efforts have seen him break into the Senior England squad that won the Novotel Cup for the first time. 

He tops the kills list with 170 and is the joint-leading ace server with 20, but he also has a team-best 334 service returns (from 346 attempts), 18 blocks, 14 assists and 87 digs, demonstrating his all-round versatility. 

In terms of defence, libero Lefteris Ioannou has played a key part for his team, with 147 digs, many of them spectacular, to go with 307 successful service receipts from 330 attempts. 

In reaching the semis, Durham made the relatively short trip to York Vikings to register a 3-0 win in round 2 before disposing of Hull Thunder, also 3-0, in round 3 and then winning 3-2 at Super League Stockport in their quarter-final, coming back from two sets down to win 17-15 in the fifth. 

It has been a similar ride for Essex who, after beating Cambridge ARU in the second round and Sheffield Hallam in the third (both by 3-0) pulled off the result of the competition so far in knocking out unbeaten Super League leaders IBB Polonia via a 19-17 triumph in a tense fifth set tie break. 

The Palatinates may, perhaps, hold the psychological advantage going into this meeting, winning 3-0 on home turf and then repeating the trick in Colchester more recently to emerge 3-1 victors. 

All that, of course, will go out of the window for this one-off Cup clash. 

Women’s National Cup 

Durham Palatinates v Essex Rebels 

The size of Essex’s task in the North East is unquestionably huge, given recent history. 

Not only are Durham reigning MAAREE Women’s Super League and National Cup holders, but they have also won all of their matches this season, including 13 in the league, where they have dropped only seven sets. 

The Rebels, though, have been ultra-consistent in defeating the side’s below them in league competition, hence why they have accrued an 11-5 record to sit third. 

Last weekend, The Palatinates, as ever, warmed up for their National Cup semi with a win, proving too strong for Coventry and Warwick Riga, conceding only 46 points in coming through in straight sets. 

Essex’s last game also saw a 3-0 scoreline, but they were on the wrong end of it as they were beaten at home by a Malory Eagles side who have grown in stature as the season has gone on. 

The hosts’ main strength has been their all-round talent, with a number of their players regularly appearing at the top end of the stats leaderboards. 

Among them, the Errea Player of the Month for January, Taylor Litteken, has been a consistent performer, recording 38 blocks to go with nine aces, 96 kills and 37 digs. 

Camryn Carfino (143) leads the team’s figures for kills, but the fact Alice Brand (89), Sydney Stevens (92), Kennadie Jake-Turner (95) and Litteken are all closing in on a century shows the strength in depth, and that is true across many of the other measures, too, such as serve receives, blocks, digs and aces. 

The Rebels also have plenty of US talent to call upon, including Kathryn Attar, who has a team-leading 153 kills to her name, along with 20 aces, 18 blocks and 83 digs. 

Fellow countrywoman Ellen Floyd, meanwhile, has no less than 465 assists (from 1,290 attempts), along with 20 aces, 55 kills, 25 blocks (12 of them solo) and 137 digs. 

Durham have cruised to the last four on the back of 3-0 successes over Sheffield, runaway Division 3 North leaders The Miners, Doncaster and Super League side Leeds Gorse. 

For their part, Alex Chinery’s side have beaten MK City at home, then won on the road at Loughborough Students (both by 3-0) and then returned to Colchester to defeat Super League’s Darkstar Derbyshire 3-1. 

The previous meetings of the two this season have both gone the way of Durham, but have been competitive games. 

When the Palatinates hosted, they were 3-1 victors, battling back after Essex had taken the opening set, while in the return fixture in the south, Durham triumphed 3-0 but there was no more than four points dividing the teams in each of the three sets. 

It promises to be an exciting third installment.

Team Sideout Polonia v Malory Eagles 

Two teams who desperately want National Cup success – for different reasons – meet in West London. 

Hosts Polonia are on a revenge mission. Beaten in last year’s final, they will hope to put things right this time around, whether their conquerors on that occasion, Durham, make it through from their semi-final or not. 

For Malory, they have seen their men’s team triumph in Kettering last year and also want a piece of the action. 

Both teams were victorious last time out, with Team Sideout winning 3-1 at Coventry and Warwick Riga to quickly banish the demons of a surprise 3-2 defeat at the University of Nottingham the day before. 

The Eagles come into this fixture on the back of an impressive 3-0 success at Essex Rebels that, in the process, took them above their rivals and up to second in the table. 

Maria Svridova has proven to be the most dangerous ‘finisher’ in the MAAREE Super League, by consistently topping the kills charts all season. 

So far, she has 134 successful kills from 218 attempts, with only 21 errors, giving her an admirable overall hitting efficiency of 51.8%. She is also Polonia’s leading performer when it comes to aces (17) and blocks (35). 

Sydney Busa has been another leading light for the Londoners, with 13 aces, 194 successful service returns from 199 attempts, 145 kills, 24 blocks and a team-high 130 digs, underlining her all-round abilities. 

While a full set of stats have not been available for Malory, the games that are available show that Stephanie Boyce has been a commanding present at the net, with 27 blocks, 12 more than any more of her team-mates, in addition to six aces. 

American Chloe Allen has also showcased her skills with 68 kills, six aces, 86 successful service receipts from 92 attempts, 15 blocks and 59 digs. 

In previous rounds, Polonia were handed a walkover against Division 1 high-flyers Wessex, sandwiched in between wins at Wimbledon in round 2 (3-0) and a quarter-final success at Super League club Coventry and Warwick Riga (3-1). 

The Eagles, meanwhile, have soared to victories against Cambridge, Division 1’s second-placed side Stockport and fellow Super League outfit Cambridge ARU, all by straight sets scorelines. 

There is just one previous meeting between the two teams this season and that was fairly recently, with Team Sideout using home court advantage to secure a 3-2 triumph, clinching the fifth set 15-11. 

Who comes out on top in this one is anyone’s guess, but a fiercely-fought contest is expected, whatever the end result. 

Follow all the action 

Our communications team will be out and about this weekend to capture the action from all four National Cup Final matches (men’s and women’s).

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