12 months on from their historic first gold in the SCA finals, Scotland women headed to Luxembourg to try and repeat the result in a strong European zonal event. With Iceland and Luxembourg both boasting European Silver League experience, coach Danny Traylor assembled a squad he hoped to challenge for a second gold medal.
Scotland’s first game was against the experienced Icelanders, and it proved to be one of the best matches of the tournament with Scotland coming out on top in a 3-2 thriller which was finally settled in the fifth set 22-20. Scotland were back on court the following morning comfortably cruising past Northern Ireland to qualify top of their group securing their place in the semi-finals. Once again, the Scots delivered a solid performance racing to a 2-0 lead against Malta. In the third set the Maltese showed resilience to fight back but Scotland regained control and sealed their place in the final with a 3-1 win.
Hosts Luxembourg met Iceland in the other semi-final on Friday evening, in a match that both teams were confident of winning. It proved to be an even contest which Iceland eventually won in the fifth set, 15-12. The semi-final results set up a rematch of the first day clash of the titans, Scotland v Iceland.
Scotland managed to build a lead throughout the first set, but Iceland made a dramatic comeback form 17-23 down to take the first set. Scotland were disappointed at conceding the first set and showed their mental toughness in set 2 comfortably taking it 25-12. In the third set, Iceland regained control, delivering a strong performance to take the lead again. In the fourth set Scotland had to hold their nerve in a tight battle (25-23) to take the match to a deciding set. Iceland started the decider strongly and although Scotland rallied, they ran out of time with Iceland finishing the set with a three point advantage.
Whilst there was disappointment throughout the Scotland squad, they can hold their heads high after providing such an epic spectacle in both matches against an experienced Icelandic side. There is no doubt this is the first of many quality performances under Danny Traylor and Fiona Welsh.
The medal ceremony saw Scotland’s performances recognised with both Mhairi Agnew and Captain Laura McReady honoured as best in their position throughout the tournament. Mhairi reflected on the tour: “As always, it’s an absolute honour to represent Scotland, and although I’m deeply disappointed we didn’t manage to defend our title, I am very proud of the grit and determination we showed throughout our games.
“On a personal note, I was delighted to be selected as the best middle blocker but I’m only able to play at my best due to the teammates and coaching staff I have around me”.
On receiving her 59th cap, Laura McReady became the most capped female international player in Scottish Volleyball History. Clearly an emotional moment for Laura, she described how she felt as the tournament unfolded: “Pioneers. A word used to describe our team by one of our loyal, travelling supporters.
“16 years ago, Scotland finished in last place at the SCA Championships in Glasgow, having only won one match (3-2 vs Iceland ironically), and this weekend we missed out on gold by the same scoreline.
“I know where I’d rather be. We travelled to Luxembourg with aspirations and determination to retain our SCA championship title, and we gave everything for it.
“After beating Iceland in our opening match, our spirit and confidence were higher than ever before, and we enjoyed dominating our second pool match against Northern Ireland and semi-final against Malta.
“Sadly, the rematch with Iceland did not go in our favour and only 3 points separated us in the final set. The time, money, blood, sweat, and tears invested by the players, coaches and staff over the last few years have paid off with 2 silver and a gold – showing Scotland women’s volleyball to be a dominant force at this level. Iceland and Luxembourg are heavily funded teams with Silver League experience and we more than compete with them.
“I could not be prouder of the team for the performance each player delivered over the weekend and the dedication in training in the build-up. To be disappointed to not win gold shows how much we have grown and improved, and I have every faith these women will continue to strive for better and have more successful tournaments.
“A huge thank you to Danny Traylor, Fiona Welsh and Gail Wilson, our staff who have been incredible – pushing us out of our comfort zone, whilst supporting and believing in us. Finally, a massive thank you to our friends, family and fans who travelled with us or watched online, playing every point, and celebrating with us. We appreciate you all so much.”