Last night was the first match in Polish Finals between five times champions and raging favourites Skra Bełchatów and Cup winners Jastrzębski Węgiel, with Australians Ben Hardy and Igor Yudin. Despite their disappointing performance in last weeks Champions League Final Four, Bełchatów were still expected to be too strong and experienced with too much depth of quality to lose to Jastrzębie in the most important matches of the season. That may still end up being the case, but after one match it is Jastrzębski Węgiel who have taken a 1-0 lead and with it the home court advantage in the series.
Jastrzębie dominated the opening two sets, winning 25-18, 25-16 in front of a stunned crowd. Igor Yudin was superb in this period (he ended the match as top scorer with 26), scoring at will and constantly getting the ball inside the block. Bełchatów responded as champions do by taking the third set also relatively easily and leading for most of the fourth set. However, Czech Marek Novotny, in for Ben Hardy, inspired a Jastrzębie fightback and at 23-21, the middle blocker made a great defensive play that looked like it would be decisive. But with the setter involved in the block, nobody was sure who should set it, so noone did and the ball fell untouched to the ground (see photo). That gave Bełchatów a momentary boost and they snuck over the line to win the set. The deciding set was a thriller. Bełchatów led 5-1 and 8-5 before player of the match Pawel Abramov started a service run that brought Jastrzębie back into the lead where they stayed until the end.
The stats are here. A photo gallery is here.
Game two is tonight with the third and fourth in Jastrzębie on Monday and Tuesday.