It’s All Academic for Scottish Students!

The SSS men’s and women’s squads faced English Universities opposition for the first time in eight years when they competed in the newly established Academies Tournament hosted by English League and Cup holders Northumbria on 20th January.  This new competition brought together some of the top teams in England representing the Volleyball England Senior Academy Programme, where the most talented English players are supported within university volleyball performance programmes at key institutions.

The players in the SSS men’s squad were selected from a series of trials in 2015, in which a record 38 players attended. A squad representing 11 different institutions was always going to be a challenge to integrate against such quality opposition but the 11 players who travel to Newcastle were definitely up for the challenge. 

The first game of the day saw SSS take on Sheffield Hallam, the 2015 English Super 8 Runners Up. With a strong passing platform to build from, led by captain Daniel Traylor and Libero Stuart McKenzie, the match was going to be won at the net but unfortunately the SSS team were not able to turn their opportunities into the points required, losing 0-3 (25-27, 18-25, 23-25).

A similar score line was the end result against British Champions Northumbria, however, it doesn’t tell the full story. Setters Marc McLaughlin and Rhys Arthur started to find a better rhythm with their hitters and some clever attacking play, especially from Moray West, saw the guys go point for point in the early stages of the sets. The greater experience of Northumbria shone through during the crucial points in the middle of the sets resulting in them running out straight set winners, 0-3 (18-25, 16-25, 18-25).

The bronze medal was still up for grabs going into the final game and

Nevertheless it was a very encouraging day with some impressive individual performance underpinned by a great team spirit.  the introduction of Codey Forrest brought a much needed calm focus to the team around the serve and block, which had been the weakness of the team’s previous games. The players were finally able to turn what had been very encouraging play in the first two games into points, taking the first set comfortably. Unfortunately, perhaps due to a combination of factors, the team seemed to tire a little but while still performing well, were not able to have the same impact as Essex at the net in the final two sets, losing the overall match 1-2 (25-17, 21—25, 22-25).

A massive well done to the players and a huge thank you to Assistant Coaches

The  women’s team, comprising players from eight institutions, came up against Connor Boyle and Lorena Tussis for their support, enthusiasm and time given towards the programme so far. 

 Northumbria A in their first match of the tournament and the speed of Northumbria’s offence, coupled with the limited training time and the fact that the Scottish girls had yet to fully gel as a team, meant that they were chasing the match from the outset.  To their credit, SSS made Northumbria work hard for most of their points through some good defensive play, but Northumbria’s strong blocking and powerful attack resulted in a 25-15, 25-13, 25-15 defeat.

The Scottish students’ second match against Northumbria B saw a much-improved performance, with Glasgow Caledonian’s Kirsty Barbour finding her hitting rhythm and strong, tactical serving causing problems for Northumbria’s passing unit.  SSS showed real determination in defence, with Giulia Hadjiadreas working hard in backcourt to keep her team in rallies, allowing setter Viktoria Rybnikarova to provide her attackers with a variety of options.  

With a 25-19 first set win in the bag, the SSS team looked to have the measure of their Northumbria opponents. However a breakdown in communication in the passing unit caused the SSS girls to lose confidence and Northumbria exploited this to take the second set 25-17.  A significantly improved passing performance and some real defensive determination in the third set allowed SSS to close out the match 25-20, giving them the opportunity to claim runner up spot in the tournament if they beat Essex in the deciding match.

A more stable passing unit in their third match allowed Rybnikarova to use her middle options more effectively and Emma Lawrie exploited this to score some important points for her team.  Captain Nicola McKenzie  from Abertay, showed her experience in defence and was supported by some outstanding chases and pick-ups by team mates that left Essex exasperated at times, and led to a 25-19 first set win.

A close 20-25 second set defeat took the match to the final set to decide the tournament runner up.  Encouragingly for coach Rooney, all his squad, whether starting six or otherwise, when brought on, fitted in excellently well and made a positive contribution.  The SSS block were now causing real problems for the Essex attack and with the Scottish defence keeping the team in rallies the Scottish students grew in confidence and closed out the set and match 25-18.

The performance of the SSS team against high quality opposition in the Academies Tournament was a credit to the players’ efforts and commitment. The team was an excellent advert for the high calibre of players that are involved in the student game in Scotland.  Particular thanks are due to Tom Rooney for his excellent preparation of the team both in the trial and preparation phase and during the tournament itself.

You can see some media from the event by following the Scottish Volleyball Association Student Forum Facebook page

Both men’s and women’s teams now move on to prepare for their challenge matches in April as part of the COCO5 Finals weekend at Edinburgh University.

Men  Institution Women Institution
Moray West University of Aberdeen Chloe Rutherford University of Aberdeen
Thomas Barr University of Dundee Victoria Rybnikarova University of Aberdeen
Cody Forrest University of Dundee Ada Holm University of Aberdeen
Will Pietsch Edinburgh University Nicola McKenzie University of Abertay
Craig Brown City of Glasgow College Mhairi Donnachie University of Abertay
Stuart MacKenzie Glasgow University Claudia Hendry Edinburgh College
Rhys Arthur Heriot Watt University Chiara Da San Martino Edinburgh Napier University
Marc McLaughlin New College Motherwell Katie Barbour Glasgow Caledonian University
Danny Traylor Strathclyde University Mascha Duken Glasgow Caledonian University
Darren Martin Strathclyde University Juliana Facanha Heriot Watt University 
Fraser Dunlop Strathclyde University Giulia Hadjiadrea Stirling University
Emma Lawrie Strathclyde University
Graeme Spowart Head Coach
Connor Boyle Assistant Coach/Team Manager Thomas Rooney Head Coach
Lorena Tussis Assistant Coach