Spectacular that’s the only word to describe the festival of sporting excellence and fun that is the UK School Games. For a few days each year 1,600 of the best young athletes in Britain come together to experience a sporting extravaganza in a multitude of sports that sets their hearts racing, fully fills their sporting dreams and creates new ambitions along the way.
It was the Newcastle areas turn this year to host these games commencing on the 2nd of September. From the opening to the closing ceremonies they laid on 4 days of superb sporting opportunities to which the participants rose, turning in great performance at all the venues and in all the sports.
Volleyball is very fortunate to be one of the sports included in the event programme.
The newly opened Northumbria University Sports Central arena was the fabulous 2,000 seat brand new venue for the volleyball and the games on display matched the venue with so many sparkling and exciting matches in front of big crowds.
In the girls competition (under 16) set up on a round robin basis with a final to be contested by the top two sides, Scotland West got off to the best possible start in the first two days winning their first 3 matches against England North 25-22, 25-19, Wales 25-5,25-7 and Northern Ireland 25-23, 25-22. Coach Jess Reid could rightly be delighted with the way her team had gone about their business. Claire Ramage, Alex Dickenson and Michalina Ogniewa had provided all round games that created the basis for a solid start to the competition.
Scotland East, by contrast facing three tough starting matches lost all 3 opening games to Central England 20-25,25-22,12-15, England North 17-25,18,25 and England South 13-25,16-25. Having come in to the competition with no established setter or libero perhaps the results were to be expected, but taking a win in their tight first match against Central under the inspirational leadership of Sophie Hunter might just have been the springboard to greater things but sadly it was not to be.
Day 3 saw Scotland East matched up to Scotland West. Nothing quite like a local derby to excite the players and fans alike. It didn’t work out like that at the start though as Scotland West raced in to a commanding 14-4 lead. The East girls rallied a bit by the end of the set with it finishing 13-25 in West’s favour, Somehow or other the East found the resolve to fight their way back in to the match. The East passing unit was holding up now and Nicola McKenzie and Beckie Arthur the setters were able to give their hitters a platform and the set went their way 25-23. The third set was tight up to the turn with Hunter shining at the start but Ramage managed to compose herself at the right time to lead her side to their fourth win in a row by closing out the set 15-9.
To finish their tournament East had two relatively comfortable 2 sets to 0 wins over Northern Ireland and Wales, Ramsay winning 9 service points across the course of the two games. Overall it was a satisfactory performance from a team who had players from across the east of the country from Orkney in the North to the Borders in the South in their ranks.
Scotland West needed 2 sets or 1 win from their last two matches to make the final. The England South team with junior England captain Paige Nelmes in their ranks were by now playing some smart, fast and powerful volleyball and so it proved again as they disposed of West in straight sets. West did lead 24-19 in the second set but some sensational serving snatched the set from under the noses of the Scotland girls. Now a win was needed against England Central to secure a final slot. Unable to play a full strength team all the way through the match due to injuries, West put up a brave display against Central and with Lauren Devlin setting accurately and Ramage and Ognewa to the fore in defence and at the net they ran their English rivals all the way before succumbing 15-11 in the final set.
Not surprisingly England South defeated England North in the final but Scotland West had done enough to secure a highly merited 3rd place and bronze medal and Claire Ramage was very deservedly included in the best six players of the tournament.
In the boys competition ( under 17) also a round robin before a final, the two Scottish teams went in with different ambitions. The West under coach Ian Parker appeared to have a team that could challenge for the title with a few players back from the team that reached the final the previous year including GB training squad junior Ali Green, libero Dom Sirrant and Andy McGregor who was in fact back for a third year having been in a previous winning team. East coach Ian Brownlee had a mixture of very young quite experienced players and a group of six players with very limited six a side experience never mind top level experience under his control. So finding good level team performances was their primary target.
Day 1 saw the two Scottish teams in direct opposition. Not surprisingly based on their experience the West boys took the match 25-19, 25-16. Day 2 pitted the West boys against one of the tournament favourites England North. The pace of the North game took West by surprise and the English side scored a 25-16, 25-20 victory. The East’s first game of the day saw them face the team who would turn out to be the surprise packets of the tournament Northern Ireland and they went down once again 25-15,25-17, but invaluable experience was being gained.
West now had to face a few make or break matches to stay in contention for the final. The managed to keep their hopes on track with a fine 2 sets to 0 win over England South 26-24, 25-20. Sam Revie was introduced to the passing unit allowing Grant Gwynne to find his powerful outside hitters, Green and McGregor, with regularity and to bring his middle hitters in to play.
East now faced Wales for a game they had targeted as a potential win. Wales were playing a street smart game against the inexperienced Scots boys and took the first set 25-20. Trailing in the second set the Scots finally found a few good services and taking heart from that they powered their way to take the second set 25- 18. They led for much of the third through fine passing from Jedd Hunter, setting from Matt Agius and the hitting of Scott Caddick, Liam Murphy, Ross Kirkwood and Connor Boyle, but just as they looked set to finish off the match lack of experience failed them and hits went astray allowing Wales to close out the set and with it the match 15-13 and 2 sets to 1.
Day 3 found West having to face the previously unbeaten Northern Ireland. West controlled the first set and were easy very impressive winners 25-17. Perhaps, they took their eye off the ball allowing Ireland back in to the second set but still they served for the match at 24-23. The hugely improved Irish , however, were not prepared to go down and they played some great defence to turn things round and steel the set 27-25. Now it was all to play for but with Numeth outscoring the best of the Scottish hitters the momentum was with Ireland. They led all the way to take the set 15-11 and with it a place in the final probably it appeared at the expense of the West side.
East’s first game of the day saw them go down 25-13, 25-15 to Central but in their second game they delivered a fantastic performance against a good England South side. For inexperienced players like Caddick and Kirkwood to find the quality that they did was sensational and it was good to see young Agius and Hunter have their best games of the tournament.South were given an almighty scare before winning 20-25, 25-13, 15-13.
West had a comfortable 25-14,25-16 win over Wales before East played their last game of the day losing to England North 16 and 17. A victory which clinched North’s place in the final at the expense of Scotland West. Despite that disappointment West raised themselves for one last time impressively beating England Central 16 and 17.
So it was left for Northern Ireland to turn in an immense blocking and powerful attacking performance against the fast attacking play of the North of England to clinch the title for the first time ever by 2 sets to 1. The West boys ended up in third place taking a bronze medal but they were agonizingly close to securing a place in the final. Andy McGregor for the second year in a row was ranked in the top six players in the tournament. A great achievement by him
It is impossible to describe in print what a fantastic feast of high quality volleyball was served up in the girls’ and boys’ tournament. The boys tournament in particular served up some great technical, tactical, powerful and controlled volleyball involving extremely tight and exciting matches.
We can only hope that the incredibly talented Scottish players who took part will take great pride in their performances and are inspired to stay in and help develop the Scottish game and that those young players still eligible whether inside or outside the current squads are inspired to compete for a place in next years games in Sheffield.
A few words of thanks to some very important people are required here.
Firstly to the players who were great ambassadors for the Scottish Game and who were a great support to each other across the four Scottish teams (listed below).
To the parents, family and friends ( some who were previous games participants) who supported the players so fully.
To Sainsbury’s and all the others who provided the financial support to make the games possible.
To the Games organisors. To the organisors of the volleyball event and their squadron of referees, line judges, scorers, statisticians, stewards, team assistants, ball persons, floor moppers etc. etc. who made the competition such a high quality affair.
To the Scottish Volleyball Association for giving its wholehearted support to the Scottish training squads.
And finally to the team of coaches, assistant coaches and managers who worked tirelessly to bring the Scottish players to this event in such good condition and who led them across the course of the competition days. They were Jess Reid, Jenny Krawczyk and Linda Anderson for the West Girls, Vince Krawczyk, Heather Darling and Linda Anderson for the East Girls, Iain Parker , Tom Rooney and Ivor Jones for the West Boys and Ian Brownlee, Ian Cook and Gordon Cree.
Scotland West Boys
Scotland West Girls
Scotland East Boys
Scotland East Girls
Report from Vince Krawczyk
Coach to the East Coast Girls