The young stars of Scottish volleyball returned laden with trophies from the 3rd UK School Games Championships in Cardiff, and with smiles all round from a remarkable sporting spectacle.
The UK School Games is a unique opportunity for volleyball players to experience a sporting atmosphere rivalled only by the Olympics in terms of intensity; living away from home with team-mates and coaches, eating, resting and playing at unusual times of the day, meeting old friends and making new ones and rubbing shoulders with the sporting superstars of tomorrow from other sports within the UK.
The Games teaches athletes how to prepare for major competition on the international stage, playing high level matches both morning and evening, maintaining competitive focus over multiple days and dealing with unexpected changes to the itinerary like the bus not arriving on time for morning training or the match court being rendered unusable by accidental damage to the floor.
Things like these are outwith the control of the organisers (who were great, by the way) but lesser athletes would be daunted by setbacks such as these. Not the stars of Scotland. Smiles intact, they took on all that could be thrown in their direction, rising sometimes at 6am to be ready for early morning games and often not returning from the splendid match venue at the National Indoor Athletics Arena Cardiff (converted into a fantastic two court volleyball stadium for the Games, and featuring the first international volleyball played in Wales in many years) until well into the evening.
The revelation of the tournament was the form of Scotland East girls. With a young team featuring no fewer than ten players who remain eligible for future Games, they posted their best ever placing in the UK School Games of 4th, and were the only team to take a set from the eventual champions, England South. Scotland East boys also placed 4th in their event, losing out on the bronze medal by one set, despite significantly outscoring 3rd placed England North on game points.
Both Scotland West boys and Girls teams led the field in their respective competitions through the early rounds of play, before both lost their 100% records late on the second night to strong England teams. West girls unfortunately lost out on a final place with a second defeat early on the third morning, and had to settle for a merited bronze medal, while West boys bounced back to face their conquerors, England Central in the final. Despite taking the first set of the final, Central proved too strong for the Westies and left West with the consolation of the silver medal.
Although neither Scotland team won its individual event, the overall title of UK School Games volleyball champion is decided on the aggregation of all results for both boys and girls teams, and it was to considerable acclaim that Scotland West was announced as champion, outscoring both England North and England Central to claim the title for the first time.
A new feature of the championships this year was the introduction of a “super six” acknowledging the best players for their achievements, rather than focusing on one individual. There was further fantastic success for the Scottish Programme as Scotland West Captain Emma Clarkson was acknowledged as the Best Server of the Games. Emma was joined on the podium by fellow captain, and schoolmate Andy McGregor as Best Passer, and the outstanding Jamie McHardy of Scotland East who was named as Best Attacker.
And then there were the parents! The Scottish Parents descended on the volleyball venue in Cardiff in their droves. They cheered and stamped and sang, and supported volleyball, as well as their own kids – they were great! More than 100 young Scots have now experienced the unique atmosphere of UK School Games volleyball, and their vigour and enthusiasm permeates through all levels of Scottish volleyball. For some, the UK School Games is the starting point on a long and (hopefully) glorious international volleyball career. For others, it will be the pinnacle of their sporting achievements as they move into other activities on leaving school. But for all, the lessons learned and experiences gained at the UK School Games will never leave them for the rest of their lives, and will always be something to be reflected upon with pride.
With the dust hardly settled on Cardiff 2009, thoughts are already moving forward to the next UK School Games, in Newcastle 2010. Many of those who represented their country with pride will be too old to make a return appearance and there are vacancies on all squads. It would be great to increase the representation of the best young players from all over Scotland, and not just the central belt. Squad staff with shortly be meeting to discuss how to best progress the preparations for next year.
As a final note to this year’s event thanks are due…..To the fantastic Scottish kids, who were perfect Ambassadors for their Country and their sport, and did everything asked of them with a smile. To the tireless Scottish Staff who worked so hard and supported the players with such patience and enthusiasm. To Matt Rogers and his organising team who did such an excellent job. To the fabulous Scottish parents who were simply ‘the best’.
UKSG 2009 was a stunning experience……….I’m in for 2010 – are you?
UKSG Manager Scotland East Boys.