SPORTS

Iraklis intent on continuing winning streak

In any sport, for a team to go through the whole season winning every single match is a rare achievement, but that is exactly what Iraklis volleyball club has managed so far this year. The Thessaloniki team can boast 28 victories from 28 domestic league games. They are facing Olympiakos in a best-of-five playoff, starting today, to decide the title. Three more wins will give the Iraklis players their own little piece of immortality. However, as Lloy Ball, one of Iraklis’s star players and a setter for the US national team, told Kathimerini English Edition, there is still a long way to go before the team from northern Greece can be crowned champions. Although Iraklis has five victories from an equal number of games against the Piraeus club this year, Ball expects it to be a tough final series. «It is really difficult. Having beaten any good team like Olympiakos five times, it is only in their favor the more we play them,» said Ball. However, speaking as part of a team that has taken one of the strongest and most competitive leagues in Europe by storm this year, Ball is also confident in the squad’s ability. «I think our team will be prepared and I see no reason for us to buck the trend and lose any matches in the finals against them,» he said. Iraklis has already beaten Olympiakos, who finished second, comfortably, three times this month with the most notable win coming at the beginning of April in the Greek Cup final. It was Iraklis’s second successive cup win and fourth in the club’s history. According to Ball, the balance on the team has been the driving force behind its success this season. «We have seven Greek players, well-known players internationally with a lot of experience and I think over the course of this championship that experience has led us to achieving 28 games undefeated in the Greek league and three in the cup. More than anything, I think it is the experience of the team as well as the players’ will to win,» said Ball. The only blot on the record books was at the end of March when Iraklis was deprived of this season’s European Champions League title by French club Tours in front of their own fans in Thessaloniki. The six swift wins against the teams that placed second to fourth in an end-of-season playoff went some way to making up for the disappointment. However, the four-team mini-league did not have any impact on deciding the two teams that would play for the title as they were so far ahead of the rest before it began. Ball is certainly not a fan of the system. «I think the Greek Volleyball Federation should think about changing the way the playoffs were set up this year. There really has not been any kind of bonus or benefit for us going undefeated or being so many points ahead of other teams. We still ended up playing the teams numerous times in this mini-playoff, where the matches really do not mean anything. They should look into giving some kind of benefit or bonus to a team, like us this year, which has been so successful,» he said. It is Ball’s first year in Greece and there has been one characteristic that helped him feel at home here – the tendency for people to call him «Lloyd» rather than «Lloy.» «You would be surprised, I have traveled all around the world and everyone wanted to put a ‘d’ on the end of my name. I am actually named after my grandfather, whose name is Lloyd. My parents wanted me to be a little bit different from my grandfather so they decided to drop the ‘d’ on the day I was born,» he explained. With Iraklis being overwhelming favorites to complete the league and cup double and Ball being tipped by some experts to be named the league’s most valuable player, it seems that while others add an extra letter to his first name, he will probably be busy adding accolades to the list of those he has already received.