Volleyball / 'Special' Tel Aviv Completes Comeback to Take First Championship for 11 Years

Minutes before the start of last night's fifth and final match in the playoff final between Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hod Hasharon, Maccabi chairman Shraga Shemesh looked around him at the arena with satisfaction.

"When I arrived at Maccabi six years ago," he said, "I vowed that I would fill the bleachers with fans - and that's what has happened."

Backed by more than 800 fans, Maccabi Tel Aviv duly wrapped up its sixth championship - and its first in 11 years - completing a league and cup double for the first time in its history.

The match started with the visiting team in the ascendency, storming to a 15-11 lead, before Maccabi coach Zohar Bar Netzer took a timely time out and brought Sean Fayge off the bench. From that moment on, the game was always going to belong to Maccabi.

Hod Hasharon started the playoff series with back-to-back wins, but things went wrong in Game 3 and, according to coach Yisrael Hilo, that was the beginning of the end. "The game between Games 2 and 3 was too long," Hilo explained yesterday, "and that ruined our momentum."

Ariel Hillman, one of the stars of Maccabi comeback, had a different take on the victory. "In Game 3," he said, "we were fighting for pride. In the fourth game, we surprised them with new tactics, which they couldn't find an answer to. Tonight, with the fantastic crowd behind us, there was no way we were going to lose."

After the game, the Maccabi fans waited behind in the arena for nearly an hour, celebrating their team's victory with the players and coaching staff. For their part, the Hod Hasharon players vowed that they would be back again next year to challenge for the league title.

After lifting the championship plate, Tel Aviv captain Omer Rubinstein described his team's season as "something special. We kept on telling ourselves that we are a special team and tonight we proved it."