A FIVE-SET Warrnambool Seaside Volleyball Tournament epic which included saving match point is being hailed as the ideal Victorian Volleyball League preparation for Melbourne University Renegades' men's team.
The Gus Cirillo-coached side fought back from a set down to defeat Austral 19-25, 25-17, 25-22, 24-26, 19-17 at the Arc on Monday.
Gus, whose son Michael is team captain, said it was an impressive display after a long coronavirus-enforced off-season.
Renegades did not play state league in 2020 after it was cancelled due to the pandemic.
Seaside was their first serious hit-out ahead of their 2021 season-opener on April 10.
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"We literally came back to training in December for three weeks, Melbourne Uni opened up the venue," Gus said.
"Then there was the Christmas break, New Year break and then we got back to full-time training about mid-January.
"It is a long time off and when you're playing a jumping sport, you don't get your jumping legs back quickly."
Michael said the team was happy to be playing together again.
"It's just fun to be back, that is the biggest thing," he said.
"It's good to be back with your mates playing some sport for a change rather than being in your house not doing too much.
"We are a pretty friendly club and we've all been playing with each other for six or seven years now, some of us even longer, so it's really good to be back on court.
"You miss the competition and you miss the fire of playing. It is just so different to training and mucking around, your competitive nature comes out and you really want to play hard.
"It is good to get that frustration out."
Gus said the topsy-turvy contest tested the Renegades' mettle.
"The expectation from us was it wasn't going to be as easy (against Austral) as it was in the first round (of the tournament) being a 3-0 victory," he said.
"In a time limit game in the first round there is a time where the team knows they're not going to win so they relax but with an unlimited time game (like the final), they were coming all the time.
"We were able to absorb it. At times in the last set we were in front by four points and all of a sudden it's even and then they had match point.
"It was a gutsy effort from us to recover."
Michael said dropping the opening set forced his team to "wake up a little bit".
"We needed to switch on, we probably took it a bit casually," he said.
Melbourne University Renegades defeated Henley Hawks Red by three sets to one to record a women's honours triumph.
Renegades mentor Tanya McInerney, who has been attending Warrnambool's seaside tournament for more than three decades, said her club was delighted to win.
She said her side's height at the net laid the foundations for the success.
"We're a strong attacking team. We worked hard on that. Particularly in the grand final, they had some really big hitters," McInerney said.
"We were playing very tall on the net, really focusing on our blocking, and we have got a tall team.
"That's one of our strong points.
"We have a great mix of defensive specialists as well.
"Defensively, our aim was for nothing to hit the ground."
Melbourne University Renegades, who also saluted at this past year's event, narrowly defeated Henley Hawks Red in their round clash.
"They had a huge winning semi-final so we knew we had to bring our A game," McInerney said.
"We lost the first set and had to find a little bit extra but our girls are a strong unit.
"We work really well as a team and everyone contributed.
"We couldn't have been happier.
"It's a great warm-up for us leading into the state league."
McInerney said the Warrnambool tournament had been vital given the impact of COVID-19 on sport.
"These have been our first games since (the 2020 tournament)," she said.
"It's the perfect warm-up. I think we're starting (Victorian Volleyball League) in three or four weeks, just after Easter, so it couldn't be more perfect in terms of the timing."