Nikaia causes surprise, wins volleyball Cup

Underdog Nikaia Athletic Union emerged victorious from last weekend’s «Final Eight» volleyball tournament for the Greek Cup in the southern city of Kalamata with a thrilling 3-2 victory over Panathinaikos in the final. It was the first major title for the newly formed team, which resulted from a merger between the Ionikos and Aris clubs two years ago. Staged as a knockout tournament series of quarterfinals, semifinals and the final, all at the one venue within a few days, the Final Eight format was introduced this season to generate greater attention and help raise the sport’s popularity. Currently placed fourth in league competition, behind Olympiakos, Iraklis and Nikaia, Panathinaikos created the tournament’s biggest stir so far in the quarterfinal by eliminating hot favorite Olympiakos. It was an even contest throughout. Nikaia took the lead twice in the sets, but a stubborn Panathinaikos rebounded both times before the outsider stood firm during the fifth set’s tiebreaker for an 18-16 score. «I’m very glad. When I first came to Nikaia I expected the team to do well, but hadn’t realized how far we’d go,» said Bulgarian Niki Zeliaskov, one of Nikaia’s many talented foreign signings. Teammate Giorgos Drakovic, a veteran player with eight previous Greek Cup titles to his credit, all with former club Olympiakos, said this ninth cup title ranked as the toughest to date. «With Olympiakos, we would go into the final as the favorite every time, but Nikaia was the underdog,» Drakovic noted. Panathinaikos coach Daniel Ritchie was philosophical in defeat. «I acknowledge when a team performs better than us. Nikaia played better and took its game further. The result justified the team which accomplished greater things,» Ritchie added. Nikea’s Argentinean signing, Jorge Elgetta, who registered 20 points with a 50 percent success rate in the final, as well as four defensive blocks, won the tournament’s MVP award, which was determined by journalist votes.