The Israel Volleyball Association hosted on Tuesday at Romema Sports Arena in Haifa the finals of their national cup – with Hapoel MATE-ASHER AKKO edging Maccabi TEL-AVIV 3-1 in a dramatic men’s finale to claim their sixth title in a row in the competition. The local fans pushed Maccabi XT HAIFA to victory over Hapoel KFAR SABA for the hosts to seize their third consecutive national crown in the women’s competition. 

The men’s final was the real highlight of the event as Hapoel MATE-ASHER AKKO claimed a hard-fought 3-1 victory (27-29, 29-27, 25-18, 25-21) to celebrate their sixth straight triumph in the national cup finals. It was a truly dramatic matchup with continuous turnarounds. Maccabi TEL-AVIV stormed to a 15-10 lead in the first set but the ‘Reds’ from Hapoel fought their way back. Maccabi cancelled two set points for the opposition and eventually won the first set 29-27 on a mistake by Hapoel.

However, the course of the game changed towards the end of the second set where Maccabi had a comfortable 23-18 advantage but failed to hold on to it. Many expected Maccabi to double their lead in the match but a controversial decision by the match officials somehow did shake the players and coaching staff of Hapoel, who fought like lions to emerge victorious at 29-27. Maccabi rushed to an 8-4 lead in the third set but again Hapoel fought back to turn the tide and win the set, much courtesy of Stanislav Neviadomskyi. Leonardo dos Santos helped Maccabi stay alive in the fourth set but the ‘Reds’ were just unstoppable – with Renato da Silva, Alexander Osokin and eventual top scorer Genadi Sokolov (21 points) securing the eleventh national cup title for MATE-ASHER AKKO, the sixth in a row.

“At the beginning of the season I said that we would secure two titles from as many domestic competitions and we just won the first one,” said Osokin. “It was not easy at all today and we came back from a big gap in the second set and this makes this victory taste even sweeter. I see many fans with tears in their eyes and that is truly exciting.”

“We started very well, winning the first set and leading 23-18 in the second but they came back and broke our rhythm,” said Maccabi head coach Zohar Bar Netzer. “It is a pity, because if we had won that second set, I am confident that we would have won the game as well. They did many good things and we made more and more mistakes – it remains very painful to lose a final like that.”

The two leading teams in Israel women’s Volleyball – Maccabi HAIFA and Hapoel KFAR SABA – crossed swords in the national cup final. Maccabi beat Hapoel last week to secure the top spot in the national league but the re-match was going to be an exciting one. Many home fans attended the match, thus providing a ‘green background’ (the corporate colour of Haifa) as a further boost to the players of Maccabi.

Maccabi started strong, rushing to a 14-8 lead and after a spectacular action by their libero, Katrina Zilberman, the hosts made sure that they would easily take the first set (25-12). Maccabi broke away in the second set as well – as Hapoel made a few mistakes. At 21-12 for HAIFA, it looked like the hosts were going to double their lead in the match but with an amazing comeback, Hapoel closed in at 23-24. However, Maccabi star player Logan Tom helped HAIFA close the set 25-23 before the third one was another close affair, at least in the beginning. Maccabi moved the score from 9-8 to 15-8, courtesy especially of Natalia Nazarova. Hapoel put up a fight but Maccabi eventually secured a 3-0 victory (25-12, 25-23, 25-16) to celebrate with their third straight national cup title. HAIFA and KFAR SABA will most probably add another chapter to their rivalry when the national league reaches its climax later this season.

“It is not just the victory that makes me happy, but our attitude too,” said USA star and Olympic medallist, Logan Tom. “It makes no difference if you are playing at the Olympics or for the national cup of Israel – I always give everything I have. This is a huge achievement and a huge thing for most of these girls. I am here, away from home, giving my time and my life for these girls, who have become a family for me. It has been a very emotional night.”

Dan Shiray, the press officer of the Israel Volleyball Association and the producer of the evening, was happy with the outcome. “We delivered a happy and colourful event that gave the audience a great time, combining two finals in one evening. Both the men’s and women’s teams provided an exceptional experience for the sports fans in the hall and for those following the matches on TV as well. In addition to this, we brought a band that performed live throughout the evening so that the audience enjoyed both quality Volleyball and something else on top of the action, so that leaves the taste of a great experience.”