Scotland has claimed a historic spot at this summer’s 2024 European Championships Finals in Serbia and Greece. After opening wins against Gibraltar and hosts Ireland on day 1, Scotland fought hard to remain unbeaten against Northern Ireland on Saturday, setting up a Gold Medal match against San Marino on the Final Day.
A young and inexperienced Gibraltar team were Scotland’s opening match, with coach Ally Jack using the opportunity to give all 14 squad members time on the court. The whole squad performed to bring home a comfortable opening win 3-0.
Rest and recovery followed before a test against the host in the prime-time evening slot. Ireland had beaten Scotland 3-2 in Dublin in October, before Scotland won 3-1 and 3-0 at home in Glasgow in December. Strong serving pressure and blocking determination gave Scotland a second consecutive 3-0 win.
A new day saw Scotland up against a resurgent Northern Ireland, who had struggled against San Marino in their opening match. Scotland started strongly, but Northern Ireland kept chipping back before poor serving in set three almost gave Northern Ireland the set. Scotland came together in the end to ensure a third, 3-0 victory and a chance at Gold on the Final day.
Taking to the court against San Marino, Scotland started poorly in set one but rallied strongly with runs of service and a wide-ranging attack to take the first set 25-20.
Scotland were once again slow out of the blocks in set two, but showed composure to defend well and rally a strong attack. Scotland took the second set 25-19 to lead 2:0, needing just one more set to qualify for the Championships. San Marino, however, were not down and out just yet, changing tactics to take set three. Scotland led comfortably in the fourth set, but a run of difficult serves, and some careless errors gifted set four to San Marino.
Scotland then countered with their own changes for the deciding set, leading at the eight-point switch, and led by Captain Ewan Ramsay, stretched the lead to 14-9. Ramsay’s final serve felt agonisingly long, but a strong defence and counterattack granted Scotland their dream.
The CEV Men’s Under-20 Volleyball European Championship have been held 28 times, with the inaugural event in 1966. The event is being expanded for 2024 to include 16 teams (up from 12 previously), with the Finals being held in Serbia and Greece this summer. Italy are the reigning Champions from 2022, after winning on home soil.
On making the European Championships, Head Coach Ally Jack said:
“The progress that has been made over the last four months since October’s defeat in Ireland is incredible!
“We will be looking to build on the good practice we have established to prepare the team in the most effective way we can ahead of the finals.”
Scotland join hosts Greece and Serbia, as well as Bulgaria (Balkans Zonal Association) Poland (Eastern European Zonal Association), Slovenia (Middle European Zonal Association), Finland (Northern European Zonal Association), and France (Western European Zonal Association). They will be joined by eight teams who lost in the first round and will play a second round of qualifying in April 2024.
Margaret Ann Fleming, MBE, Scottish Volleyball CEO, said:
“It was an absolute pleasure to watch our young men demonstrate true grit and determination matched with ability and skill to win the 2024 U20 Men Small Countries Association Championships in Dublin, Ireland.
“As chief executive, I want to extend a huge thanks to all of the players who came and competed in Dublin, to our Scotland squad, all of the parents, our coaching staff and office staff working behind the scenes back home, Dave Comrie – our referee delegate at the championship and to all the clubs for their constant commitment to developing our next generation of players.
“Finally, Scottish Volleyball looks forward to these young players historically representing Scotland in our first-ever European Championship in Serbia and Greece!”
Scotland has never reached the finals of a European Championships before and have only won their Zonal Championships three times previously (U20 Men in 2014, Senior Men in 2019, Senior Women in 2021). This qualification guarantees a top-15 spot in Europe and a mountain of World Ranking points. Scottish Volleyball is now seeking sponsors and partners as we enter a huge six months and a new Era for Volleyball in Scotland.
Scotland v Gibraltar 3-0 (25-10, 25-16, 25-19)
Scotland v Ireland 3-0 (25-16, 25-8, 25-15)
Scotland v Northern Ireland 3-0 (25-17, 25-12, 25-14)
Scotland v San Marino 3-2 (25-20, 25-19, 21-25, 21-25, 15-10)