Department of Sport

University of Nottingham volleyball ride Headliner wave to victory


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University of Nottingham’s volleyball teams delighted a sell-out Headliner crowd, winning both their match ups against Northumbria University in two thrilling fixtures.

The Green and Gold squads overcame tough opposition from two very technical and powerful Northumbrian squads, fighting hard for every point to take their respective games 3-2 and 3-1.

Sponsored by RedBull, the Headliner series showcases a series of selected Green and Gold fixtures at the top level of university sport offering spectators a fantastic match day experience. Hundreds of viewers also joined the action following our professional live stream complete with match commentary on You Tube.

Hosted at David Ross Sports Village, University of Nottingham’s flagship sporting venue, the Women’s volleyball match was the first of the 2022 Headliner line up and part of an exciting double header with the Men’s game against Northumbria following directly after. 

In the women’s game, the visitors headed into the match up as the favourites, having won on home soil at their last meeting 3-1. However with key players returning following injury, including Czech junior international Martina Van Gorp, the Green and Gold were more than ready for the rematch. With a top four finish in the BUCS Premier North division already guaranteed for both sides, the match offered a final league game to prepare for the upcoming cup crossovers in the race to the national championship title.

The first set saw a tentative exchange of points between the teams as the stands at David Ross Sports Village filled up. Northumbria pushed the Nottingham defence hard, limiting the options available to setter and playmaker senior England international Mattea Goalen as she was pushed away from the net. The visitors kept their error count low and despite a double substitution from head coach Freddie Fairbairn to disrupt their rhythm, held their nerve to close the set out 25-23.

The second set saw a tidier and more determined Nottingham line up. US Sport scholar Ally Barber, playing in the middle position, presented an impenetrable wall at the net. In their efforts to hit round her, the Northumbrian wing players struggled to hit the court gifting Nottingham several points. Also now well into her stride was opposite hitter Martina Van Gorp, who served a crucial three ace balls to set up a 22-18 lead and Emma Valenti on the alternate wing, who found the floor on the cross attack beautifully several times. Northumbria didn’t give up easily, but the roar of the crowd and another double substitution from Fairbairn pushed Nottingham to set point and in the end it was their opponent's missed serve that drew the Green and Gold level - set score 25-23.

Northumbria now looked firmly on the back foot; Nottingham confidently picking holes in their defensive line with flat fast serves and clever attack placement. They raced quickly to a 9-2 lead in the third forcing an early Northumbria time out. It worked – the Northumbrian block started to read the attack better and under the pressure, balls started to fly long. Setter Goalen remained calm, spreading the ball well and returning several times to her England team mate Jess Tasker and crowd pleaser Van Gorp, who duly obliged with several kill attacks – balls untouched by the Northumbrian defence as they landed in court. Northumbria’s number 12 Rachel Cox however continued to pick up points for the visitors, hitting incredibly tight lines with precision. A missed serve gifted Nottingham their first set point, but Cox swiped her attack off the block to save it. It was alternate setter Lilly Gellard, who showed nerves of steel to jump set a flawless ball to middle Sabina Marvulli, who then had a free net to kill the ball – 25-21 Nottingham.

A disappointing early exit in the fourth set for key player Ally Barber at 9-9 visibly shook the Nottingham line up. With their captain looking unlikely to return, the reshuffled line up looked nervy and gave the Northumbrian attackers too much open space at the net, which they exploited quickly. Some momentum was restored in the closing points, but it was too late as Northumbria eased away to take the fourth set 25-14.

In the fifth set, a race to 15 points this time, the opening exchanges were jittery from both sides. Power hitter Martina van Gorp stepped up yet again, settling nerves with a huge kill followed by a shut out block to level the score 5-5. Co-captain and senior England international Martha Bullen also looked incredibly determined to lead by example, making some crucial shots to edge her team ahead including a spectacular back court attack. Bullen, Tasker and Van Gorp didn’t look back – setter Goalen choosing between them cleverly to stretch the Northumbrian block wide and gift her attackers vital space. A huge block, followed by another from Van Gorp, moved the score to 13-8 then the Czech junior international forced an error from the block to bring victory within sight for the Green and Gold. Under pressure, Northumbria hit wide and the crowd erupted from the stands with a deafening roar as the Nottingham players celebrated their hard earnt victory.

Final result: University of Nottingham win 3-2 (23-25, 25-23, 25-23, 14-25, 15-9)

University of Nottingham squad: 1. Sabina Marvulli, 4. Millie Cattell, 6. Ally Barber, 10. Lily Gellard, 11. Emma Valenti, 12. Martha Bullen (captain), 13. Mar Vives, 15. Abby Hogan, 16. Mattea Goalen, 18. Jess Tasker, 26. Martina Van Gorp.

In the men’s match up, the Green and Gold were expected to come out on top. As well as being victors in Northumbria earlier in the season, the visitors were forced to travel with a shoe string squad with no substitutes available to head coach Sam Shenton.

Enjoying the noisy crowd, fresh off the exciting victory from the women’s squad, the home side looked calm and in control from the start. Captain and England senior international Ben Lucas in particular rained attacks down onto the Northumbrian defence and it was a huge kill down the line from Nottingham’s #6 which closed the first set 25-15.

The second set proved to be an epic exchange of points, with neither sidemanagint to create a cushion for themselves. The crowd were treated to some spectacular pick ups with Noah Goalen and then Lucas throwing themselves across the court to save loose balls. As the teams approached 25, nothing separated them and service errors from both sides sent nerves jangling. The Nottingham block started to look stretched with Northumbria’s Redas Masterbrockis making the most of the clear net. As the teams traded points, a moment of confusion in the Nottingham ranks cost them the set 27-29.

Nottingham returned from the side exchange looking determined – crowd favourite Noah Goalen was effective on the wing and the team built a cushion of points allowing them to relax. Despite a brief service run from Northumbria and Masterborckis once again proving tricky to handle, Nottingham stayed ahead. Sport scholar and former NCAA athlete Tristan Santoyo fired a huge jump serve past the Northumbrian pass to take the set 25-20 and earning him perhaps the loudest roar of the night from the fired up crowd.

In the final set, Nottingham once again looked strong. #13 Santoyo served hard once more and setter Adam Adie picked out his wing attackers superbly, with Lucas and Goalen hitting the Northumbrian court with ease. Confusion in the Northumbrian ranks gifted Nottingham their first match point, but a mix up on the home side allowed the visitors a glimmer of hope. A glimmer quickly shut down by Goalen, following a perfect pass to setter Adie, he fired Adie’s lay up straight between the Northumbrian defence to seal the set 25-23 and the match 3-1.

Final result: University of Nottingham win 3-1: 25-15, 27-29, 25-20, 25-23

University of Nottingham squad: 2. Rayan Akram, 3. Reuben Fernandes, 4. Iraj Bugarib Batista Safaee, 5. David Hodgson, 6. Ben Lucas, 10. Noah Goalen, 11. Adam Adie, 13. Tristan Santoyo, 15. Shahrouz Farhadi.

Head of Performance Volleyball and head coach, Freddie Fairbairn, commented:

“I’m absolutely delighted with these results – one of our best performances so far. The huge crowd today really made a difference – having everyone behind us really pushed us to play hard and fight for every point. We can’t wait to take this momentum into the championship run.”

Women’s captain Martha Bullen told us:

“We’ve been training so hard ahead of this game, and it meant so much to play so well in front of this incredible crowd. We felt them right there with us, pushing us to play hard the whole way through the match.”

“Ally’s injury was a big blow to the team, she’s our captain and has been such a positive influence for the squad this season. I’m really proud of the way we bounced back and made sure that we won it for her, we were not going to let her down!”

Ben Lucas, Men’s captain, added;

“The Headliner has definitely got to be the highlight of my University volleyball career to date – it’s going to be a tough event to beat. It’s so positive to see so many people here watching volleyball.”

“My favourite moment of the game was definitely that last point. Northumbria were throwing everything at the point, then Noah [Goalen] came in and took over. Great pass, great swing and then the emotional high of winning!”

Next up for both University of Nottingham squads are their quarter finals in the BUCS championship competition – with the finals to be hosted as part of BUCS Big Wednesday here at David Ross Sports Village on 22 and 23 March 2022.

Missed the games? Watch the full stream back now on University of Nottingham Sport’s You Tube channel


For more information about performance sport at the University of Nottingham, visit

For media enquiries, please contact Benjamin Summerscales-Grant at

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Posted on Wednesday 2nd February 2022

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