PVL Semifinalists (source: primevolleyballleague.com)

With the end of the India’s RuPay Prime Volleyball League powered by A23 regular season on Thursday, it became clear that defending 2022 champions Kolkata Thunderbolts will play against Bengaluru Torpedoes in one of the semifinals at the Regional Sports Centre (Rajiv Gandhi Indoor Stadium) in Kochi and Ahmedabad Defenders will face Calicut Heroes in the other, to determine the two teams that will lock horn in Sunday’s big final to determine the titleholders of the second edition of the competition.

The last match of the regular season proved to be a direct clash for the first place in the final standings and pole position ahead of the playoffs. In a remake of last year’s final, Kolkata won the first three sets to secure the victory and went on to shape up a 3-2 (15-7, 15-4, 15-13, 8-15, 11-15) final score against Ahmedabad. Kolkata’s opposite Vinit Kumar was once again named Player of the Match. He scored 13 points towards his team’s success, including a super serve, an ace that counted for two, and registered an 83% success rate in attack. His Ahmedabad counterpart Angamuthu Ramaswamy finished with 12 points, including three aces.

Thunderbolts finished top of the table on 12 points and a 6-1 win-loss record. The only match they lost during the regular season was the one against Calicut. In their semifinal, Kolkata will meet fourth-placed Bengaluru, who qualified for the playoffs for the first time, after finishing just below the cut-off last season. This season, they tallied eight points and a 4-3 win-loss record and lagged behind third-placed Calicut on set ratio only.

Thunderbolts will have less than 24 hours to recover for that game as it is scheduled on Friday at 19:00 local time (13:30 UTC). They lead the head-to-head against Torpedoes by two wins to none. During the 2022 regular season, they took a 4-1 victory. This year, they claimed a 3-2 (15-11, 15-11, 15-14, 10-15, 14-15) win in the season opener, with Vinit Kumar delivering a match-high 13 points, all in spikes.

“Our team has played exceptionally well this season. The players are fully motivated and are looking forward to the playoffs,” Kolkata’s Vinit Kumar said. “My approach is that I consider every match in the tournament as the last one and the better I perform, the more I can build trust and confidence for myself in the team.”

“It is an important game and everyone will give their best to secure a place in the final. I want to give full credit to the support and coaching staff for the comeback that the team has shown after the first two matches,” said Bengaluru’s Pankaj Sharma. “Each team has a different strategy depending on their opponents. It might change according to the situation, but everyone will be doing their homework. We are doing the same so that we are well-prepared for anything that comes our way.”

At the same starting time, but on Saturday, second-placed Ahmedabad will take on third-placed Calicut. Defenders finished the regular season on 11 points and 5-2. They managed one of only two 5-0 straight-setters during the regular season, against bottom-of-the-table Chennai Blitz, but also lost to fifth-placed Hyderabad Black Hawks.

Last year, Ahmedabad took a 3-2 victory over Calicut before finishing the regular season in first place. Heroes, on the other hand, finished third, just like this year, before losing to Kolkata in the semifinals. When the two teams met again this year, on Monday of last week, Defenders claimed another hard-fought 3-2 (15-13, 13-15, 15-13, 13-15, 15-11) win over Heroes, with Ahmedabad’s Iranian middle blocker Danial Noatazedi and his Calicut counterpart Jose Antonio Sandoval of Cuba sharing the top scorer honours with 14 points each.

“I believe that our team has a lot of potential. We believe in our skills and game and we know that if we stick to our plan and execute them properly, we will easily cruise along,” commented Danial Noatazedi. “We are not changing our strategies, but we are focused on blocking the ball better and converting our negatives into positives. We are also watching our opponents closely, how they have been playing, and what are their strengths.”

“We are looking forward to giving our best in the playoffs. We are focusing on a win that will take us to the final. It will definitely be competitive,” added Calicut’s setter Ukkra Pandian Mohan. “It’s a do-or-die match for us. We have to win at any cost. As one could see from the table, it was so tight between the top four teams. We will give our 100% and hope that the result goes in our favour.”

The winners of the two semifinals will clash for the title on Sunday, again at 19:00 local time (13:30 UTC) in Kochi.

Unlike the regular season, when all games lasted five sets regardless of the score, the remaining three matches, the semis and the final, will be played in a regular best-of-five format, again with sets to 15 points.

The RuPay Prime Volleyball League powered by A23 is telecast live on Sony Sports Ten 1 (English), Sony Sports Ten 3 (Hindi), Sony Sports Ten 4 (Tamil and Telugu) and Sony Sports Ten 2 (Malayalam) channels in India and is streamed on **VBTV** outside the Indian subcontinent.

RuPay Prime Volleyball League playoff match schedule in Kochi:

Mar 3, 19:00 local (13:30 UTC): Kolkata Thunderbolts v Bengaluru Torpedoes

Mar 4, 19:00 local (13:30 UTC): Ahmedabad Defenders v Calicut Heroes

Mar 5, 19:00 local (13:30 UTC): Final