Scotland Successfully Reach Round 4 of Olympic Qualification

The third round of the CEV Continental Cup took place in Baden, Austria 30th April to 1st of May has left a lot to feel happy about for both Scottish men’s and women’s teams.

The greatest adventure in which the Women’s Beach Volleyball team has ever embarked has finished successfully. A new right has been won for Scottish Volleyball as they qualify for the 4th round of the CEV Continental Cup.  The right for Scottish Volleyball to look every opponent in the eye.

To have qualified from a tough group for the fourth round, due to be played in September, is a massive achievement. Beating an established and well respected volleyball nation like Bulgaria is something that gives us pride. This will go a long way to putting Scottish Beach Volleyball on the world map. Looking at the saltire waving in Austria we couldn’t help thinking what newspapers had written days before “they face a daunting task in Austria, having been drawn against Bulgaria, Ukraine and Russia”.

And it was indeed a frightening scenario as two players who had competed in the previous round in Portobello were unable to join the team. Add to this the injuries and the uncertainty about the players’ eligibility and you have one of the most stressful Aprils you can think of. We took comfort in the thought that if we fail, at least we will fail while daring greatly.

The Austrian city of Baden is well known to the beach volleyball family for hosting a number of international events. Arriving at our hotel, we couldn’t help noticing how well organised this event was. Our hotel was lovely and within walking distance to the courts. The courts had access to everything we would require for our games. People were extremely friendly and Baden felt like a beautiful small city for a relaxing visit. The main arena was simply stunning, with the main court next to a huge swimming pool and many spectators enjoying the games in good spirit.

On Thursday morning our first game against the Russian first team was a very tough one for Katie Barbour and Gillian Lyall.  In the second game it was better for Lynne Beattie and Mel Coutts against Russia’s 2012 Olympians Evgenia Ukolova and Ekaterina Birlova.  Marko Solustri, the coach of the Russian team, and one of the real pioneers of Beach Volleyball in Europe, was very flattering in his comments, saying good things about our teams’ performance.

Our men’s teams also faced the might of Russia. First up were Barry McGuigan and Graham Riddle against 2012 Olympian Konstantin Semenov and his new partner Ruslan Bykanov. The Russians looked awesome in warm-up, but Barry and Graham took about their task with a gritty determination and executed their game plan perfectly, trading points toe-to-toe with the Russians. Russia narrowly won this first set and totally changed their game plan, which the Scots failed to adapt to quickly and they lost the match 21-17, 21-11.

Time for Seain Cook and Robin Miedzybrodzki to take on the Russian second team in veteran Dmitri Barsouk and his partner Nikita Liamin. Our boys started well and could have taken the first set, however eventually lost 22-20, 21-15. A really good performance against World Class opposition.

We had known the afternoon games against Bulgaria, for the women, and Friday’s matches against Ukraine, for the men, would be the most important of the competition. As if we managed to win then we would automatically qualified to the next round.

This is where Gillian Lyall and Katie Barbour made their best game against Asya Dinova and Svetla Angelova the Bulgarian first team preserving their dignity and giving a strong message that they deserve to be in this competition. Despite their loss, they raised the morale for our first team as they helped everyone realise that their opponents were not invincible.
After a slow and rusty start Coutts and Beattie did their duty against Bulgaria second team therefore a ‘golden match’ had to be played to determine the winners of this tie. Minutes before the game started a cold wind started to gather the clouds over Baden. If this was not a sign for Scotland then I don’t know what is.
In windy and rainy conditions 2012 Olympian Lynne Beattie and partner Melissa Coutts playing in a lot of pain, won a close and dramatic three-setter (21-12, 22-24, 15-12) against Asya Dinova and Svetla Angelova. Both Lynne and Mel played equally well and they were determined not to be defeated. They gave absolutely everything, and a bit more, and they were victorious. I have rarely seen such passion and such bravery in one game.

One of the most touching moments was the way our opponents congratulated whole heartedly our team at the end. Dinova and Angelova fought really well and lost and there was no shame to this.

On Friday morning the men’s squad faced Ukraine, with a chance to join the women in round 4. Barry and Graham faced a huge, and well drilled, Ukrainian first team who hit and blocked too high for our pair. Seain and Robin played a tall blocker and a small defender, who played really well and we just couldn’t side out consistently. Unfortunately the Scottish men finished 4th and didn’t make it into the 4th round, however we have learned a great deal from this experience and must take the positives into our next competition.

In the women’s event, Scotland still had to playoff for 2nd and 3rd place. Elizaveta Sulima and Darya Udovenko from Ukraine comfortably beat Katie Barbour and Gillian Lyall 21-10, 21-10. However as this was adouble elimination event, we knew that we could still have a chance if our first team could beat the Ukrainian second team. An injury to Mel prevented our first team competing, so it was 3rd place for Scotland.

Returning to the hotels, it was not just one but many international coaches who had a good word to say about Scotland. “We didn’t even know you had a team” said the Austrian coach…”Do you realise you just beat one of the greatest volleyball countries in the world”.  Gratitude is due to everyone at the Scottish Volleyball Association who have devoted their time and their energy to make this trip happen.

Special thanks to Colin Paterson for all his support, his good advice and mentoring for this tournament.

The road is long and the desire is great. The challenges ahead are enormous and we need strength to bear sorrows that may come.  Regardless of the opponents, regardless of the conditions, we will march ahead. This, more than anything, is what we hope the legacy of Baden will be. We can now regain our confidence. On a rainy afternoon in Austria we have witnessed the wonderful strength of our athletes who, despite being in pain, devoted every effort in mind and spirit to fulfilling their destiny.

For more pictures from the event click here

Ioannis Panayiotakis
Coaching Manager