A Week in the Life of the SWNTP: Two Years In The Making

The score is 24-23 to Malta. If they win the next point we’re intoLynne Beattie a fourth set. It’s our second match within four hours on the final day of the Small Countries Final 2013/World Championship 2014 Round 1 and energy levels are dropping. Malta serve and we manage to control the ball to create a hit through zone 4 but their defence holds firm and back come Malta. This time our defence comes up trumps and we go into transition through zone 4 and score with a deep diagonal winner.

Malta struggle to deal with our next serve and as a result are unable to hit with effect. We quickly turn the ball around and hit back through zone 4 again to score and snatch match point. A serve to zone 5 puts the Maltese passing unit under pressure and the ball flies off the passer’s arms and out of court. Scotland are bronze medallists!

That moment when the final point was won and victory was achieved took fractions of a second. In reality it was two years in the making.

We arrived at our hotel in Slienna mid afternoon on Thursday 27 June. We had stayed in the same hotel during the qualification round 12 months previous so our surroundings seemed very familiar. Spirits were high as we set out for our first practice session and this was reflected in the way in which the players went about their business on the match court. Things were looking good. Everyone seemed ready for the challenge the next day would bring.

We had a light practice session on the Friday morning but it was evident that nerves were setting in. The players were quieter and movements were a bit tighter. No matter how much preparation you put in there is always that little question at the back of the mind, ‘Will I perform on the day?’ Scotland Senior Women have never beaten Luxembourg in over 15 years. To achieve our goal we had to turn that statistic on its head right from the outset.

We had identified that there were two battles we had to win: serve-pass and at the net. We most definitely won the serve-pass battle in set one as we consistently broke their passing unit to cruise to a 25-11 win. We weren’t complacent in thinking that the rest of the match would follow the same pattern and our caution was merited as the momentum swung back and forth over the next three sets. Each one went to the wire 25-22 with Luxembourg winning two to our one. So, it was down to a fifth set decider to determine if our objective was still on track.

One area where the squad has made significant progress is in its resilience when under pressure. This was never more obvious than in set five when the players took control from the outset by re-establishing their pass-serve dominance. Luxembourg battled all the way but in the end they couldn’t control our serve and transition play. Day 1 ended on a high.

Saturday saw us face San Marino who had lost comprehensively to Cyprus in their first match on Friday. So it was going to be interesting to see how they would respond…and the answer was?….full on! Unlike in our match against Luxembourg our ability to deal with the pass-serve battle was lacking and our battle at the net was ineffective. We just didn’t get going at all and disappointingly had to take a 3-0 loss on the chin. On top of
that, our toughest day was still to come!

Cyprus eased past Malta and Luxembourg later in the day to clinch the Championship with a day still to go. San Marino went on to defeat Malta which put them in the driving seat for the silver medal. We needed to win both our matches on Sunday to give us any hope of pipping them at the post.

First up was the simple task of overturning Cyprus. To give a blow by blow account of the match might be entertaining and of interest but what is of more significance is the fact that as both teams warmed down at the end of play the Head Caoch of Cyprus agreed to hosting Scotland for a potential joint training camp next April/May because “…that is the kind of game we want to play in.” This opportunity would not have been offered to us 12 months ago. Cyprus dropped their first set and were pushed in every set they played. But for two errors at the tail end of the fourth set we could have taken them into a fifth set decider and then who knows what would have happened…? For interest Cyprus won 3-1 (22-15, 25-16, 22-25, 21-25).

The next scheduled match in the tournament was between Luxembourg and San Marino. In light of our loss to Cyprus we now knew that we couldn’t catch San Marino in second place. However, the result of this match would determine if we were to stand on the podium or go home empty handed. The international scoring system complicated our calculations. The system awarded 3 points for a 3-0 or 3-1 win while a 3-2 win equated to 2 points to the winning team and 1 to the losing team. Going into the match between Luxembourg and San Marino the table read:

Team P W L

Sets For

Sets Against

Cyprus 4 4 0 12 1 12
San Marino 3 2 1 6 4 6
Luxembourg 3 1 2 5 8 3
Scotland 3 1 2 4 8 2
Malta 3 0 3 3 9 1

If Luxembourg won 3-0 or 3-1 they would finish in the medals and we would miss out. Any win for San Marino and our destiny would be in our own hands.

Laura McReadySan Marino won the opening set 25-20 but Luxembourg levelled things after a tense 28-26 second set. However, they looked to have finally run out of gas when they succumbed 25-14 in set three. Things were going our way…but not for long! Back came Luxembourg in set four to level the match once again with a 25-18 win to take it to a fifth set. With the
score 8-7 to San Marino at the turn around we needed to leave the hall to get ready for our own match. We had to shut out whatever was happening outside the changing room and focus on what we needed to do.

As we made our final preparations and identified our strategies and targets for the Malta match our conversation was punctuated by shouts and screams from the hall as that match reached its conclusion. Eventually the Coaching Staff left the changing room to the players and their final preparations and made their way back to the hall. As they walked through the corridors the news reached them that San Marino had won 15-11. Our destiny was still in our own hands!

The rest, as they say, is history!

The players grasped their destiny in both hands and in a very clinical fashion dismantled Malta to win 25-22, 25-19, 26-24. The closing stages of what transpired to be the final set, described at the beginning of the article, encapsulated the level of progress that has been made over the past two years. We came to Malta to make history. Perhaps we didn’t quite create the chapter that we wanted to by not winning the tournament but we did become the first Scotland Women’s team to medal in the CEV Small Countries Division. History had been made.

It is difficult to convey just how much work and effort the players have put in over the past two years. What has been achieved has been the product of the commitment of a large number of players many of whom are no longer part of the Programme. While twelve players stood on the podium to receive their bronze medals on the final day of the tournament they were only able to do so as a result of the contribution of so many others. Every player now recognises and acknowledges this fact.

We now look forward to the next two year cycle and our next objective of finishing in the top two of the CEV Small Countries Division Final in 2015. It will require more hard work, commitment and determination but we most definitely have the players to deal with that challenge.

I will conclude with a personal comment to the players and Coaching Staff…….

Your commitment to the 20:21 Vision, your willingness to work and contribute to the steps along the way and the manner in which you represent the Scottish Volleyball community and your country make it difficult for me to express my gratitude effectively. I can only say ‘Thank you’ to each and every one of you.

Craig Faill
Head Coach
Scotland Senior Women’s Programme
17 July 2013