The 24-year-old also spoke on his India ambitions for the Asian Games.

LM Manoj, 24, has been a constant presence in the middle of the court for Ahmedabad Defenders. The Defenders shrugged off a defeat against Hyderabad Black Hawks to complete a comeback victory against hosts Bengaluru Torpedoes. LM Manoj won the player of the match award and put up an all-round show.

Last season’s runners-up showed a lot of faith in the six-foot-nine blocker, bringing Manoj back on their books for Rs 8.75 Lakh following a bidding war. Ahmedabad Defenders’ star LM Manoj spoke to Khel Now about handling expectations, balancing his workload, and his preparations for the season.

Pressure of expectations

Manoj’s name sparked a bidding war among the franchises in the VPL season 2 auction, but he was confident about a return to the Ahmedabad Defenders. The player spoke of the pressure that comes with such a price tag, “I expected there to be demand among the teams for me. I knew that Ahmedabad Defenders will not let go of me that easily.

“Now that I have got a higher bid than last season, I need to show the franchise a different aspect of my game and show improvements. I feel responsible to do well as a player, so there is pressure.”

Managing work-load

Manoj has been associated with Chennai-based Indian Bank since 2018, and mentioned that the transition from a Physical Education BSc student to an employee has been a smooth one, “I studied in SRM. There it was morning practice and college in the afternoon, and practice again in the evening. This became a set routine.

“After joining Indian Bank, the transition was not too difficult. Going to the office is compulsory, but I have been able to manage the workload without much trouble.”

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Playing under two head coaches

Manoj played under the watchful eyes of veteran coach Dakshinamoorthy Sundaresan during his college days. While the coach has been a part of the Ahmedabad Defenders since the beginning, Sajad Hussain has also taken up dual coaching responsibilities of the team. Manoj indicated the differences between the coaching styles:

“Back in 2016, I came under the tutelage of Dakshinamoorthy sir, while representing DYSS. Then I got selected to SRM Chennai. I was coached by him for two years, so I got used to his teaching style and he developed my technique. Under Sajjad Bhai, he was very involved in identifying mistakes and correcting them.”

Interactions with foreign players

Manoj also highlighted the fundamental differences between Indian players and overseas players in their approach to volleyball, and that he is constantly in touch with his foreign teammates to clarify doubts, “I also went to the Maldives for a practice match and interacted with their players. They have their own schedules, and unlike us do not have to balance work with their playing careers.

“That is the primary difference, along with the way they think. I am in touch with all my foreign teammates, even from the Pro Volleyball days. If I have any doubts, I get those clarified from them.”

Run to the finals last season

Ahmedabad Defenders soared to the top of the league standings last season, losing just one match against the Bengaluru Torpedoes. They beat Hyderabad Black Hawks 3-1 in the semi-final but were blanked 0-3 by Kolkata Thunderbolts in the final. Manoj analyzed the league performance last season and the night of the final. “We should have remained unbeaten in the league, we lost out only to Bengaluru Torpedoes.

“We defeated Kolkata Thunderbolts in the league in three sets in the league. The team should have approached the finals with a more positive mentality, not with the fear of losing. On the other hand, such a league run gave us a bit of over-confidence. Another factor was playing back-to-back matches, as our players were fatigued.”

Prime Volleyball League’s financial assistance

The soft-spoken Manoj credited the Prime Volleyball League for achieving stability for his family and himself, and hopes to continue helping those close to him, “I come from a very humble family background, and they are dependent on my salary. Last season helped me to clear some outstanding loans, and now I am able to stand on my feet and help my family too.”

Improving his towering block height numbers

The man from Hassan, Karnataka, boasts of possessing an incredible block height upwards of 375 cm, and said that he has improved his fitness levels, “You can certainly expect some surprises in that regard. I have not checked the numbers, but I am fitter than last year. Maybe could be more, maybe less.”

National team goals

Manoj represented India in the 2019 South Asian Games and helped India beat Pakistan in the finals. With the Asian Games scheduled to take place, He aims to nail down a berth in the starting six for the national team, “I want to be a part of the main six, there are some players who are more senior to me. I have only played two international matches, so want to feature in the starting six more regularly for India.”

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