A Week in the Life of the SWNTP: 2013 Novotel Cup – The Results
Sometimes you just have to stand up and take it on the chin. There’s no escaping the raw figures. No matter how much you try to paint a rosy picture the scores scream out, ‘We lost badly!’
The Christmas Camp held at The PEAK in Stirling was a resounding success. It started slowly, primarily due to the fact that the National League had shut down some three weeks before and many of the players had not touched a ball in that time. But by day two we were up and running with a clear increase in the intensity of the performance level. The squad was boosted by the addition of Laura McReady, back home briefly from her European adventure with Toulon, and Anneka Hastings who had been drafted into the Novotel squad in place of Jill Runciman after she picked up a serious knee injury in the final club game before the break. Anneka’s experience from playing in Denmark and with her current French club Vannes was seen as a positive addition to the squad.
The Camp ended on a high with the players all very positive about the competition that lay ahead.
Our opening match on Friday 4 January was against the hosts Luxembourg. Both teams will go head-to-head in the CEV Small Countries Final in Malta in June so it was a bit of a battle to determine bragging rights before the main event. Right from the outset it was clear that Luxembourg were gunning for us. In effect they served us off the court. We simply couldn’t establish any kind of consistent passing platform and, as a result, struggled offensively. In contrast, we served weakly allowing Luxembourg to score with relative ease. It was a frustrated group of players that sat at the end of a 3-0 loss (18-25, 14-25, 15-25), frustrated in the knowledge that we had simply not performed in the way we know we can. Advantage Luxembourg.
Saturday saw us face Norway who were always going to be a step up. They had comfortably disposed of England the previous day and we knew the speed of their game would be the telling factor. Norway play at what effectively is ‘B’ Division level, the level that we have set out as our target in the 20:21 Vision, so it was going to be interesting to see what we need to aspire to. The Norwegian setter really set the tempo for the game and stretched our block-defense to the limits. Her speed of release created a succession of one-on-ones (or one-on-nothings) at the net leaving her hitters with consistent scoring opportunities. While our serving improved from the previous day the ability of the setter to repair a bad pass and create a good scoring opportunity meant we were always under pressure. Sets one and two passed in a flash (13-25 and 10-25) with a bit of a resurgence in set three as Norway ran its bench. However, as we narrowed the gap in the closing stages of the set the Norwegian coach re-introduced his starting players to close it out 22-25.
The final game against England early on Sunday morning would determine who would finish 3rd and 4th after England lost a tight five setter to Luxembourg late on Saturday evening. Again, a poor start to set one meant that we were always chasing the game and too many unforced errors allowed England to ease to a 17-25 set win. But in the second set the real Scotland Senior Women began to appear as we pushed England onto the back foot with some tough serving and good use of first temp middle attacks. Elaine Krawczyk made effective use of the improved passing and transition play to create scoring opportunities for middle hitters Cathy Smy and Kay Wheatley, while Linsey Bunten, Jen Thom and Anneka Hastings began to create problems on the outside for the English block-defense. However, just as it appeared as though a real battle was about to appear Scotland succumbed at 23-21 with a number of errors to allow England to steal the set 23-25.
From that point on there was no way back and England finished off the final set without having to deal with any real pressure and secured a 3-0 win (16-25).
Scotland’s record over the past three Novotel Cups has been played 9 won 0, sets for 0 sets against 27. Not pretty by any manner of means. As Head Coach I don’t think that this is a coincidence. Having had time to reflect my belief is that it is not feasible to expect players to play their last International in June, have a summer break, play the first half of the National League which is well below international standard and then expect players to step onto a court and flick the switch that allows them to perform at the this level. This is not to make excuses it is simply fact.
The detailed analysis is slightly more complex than this as there are a number of other factors involved. But, the main lesson to be learned is that if we are to enter this type of competition in the future we need to be better prepared. The practice environment has to make up for the difference in the playing level between club and country. It is a huge challenge which has to be tackled face-on. This is the joint responsibility of the players and the coaching staff.
We now have six months to prepare for Malta. In the grand scheme of things this is not a long time so there is a lot of hard work to be done between now and June if we are to replicate or better the performance from last summer. Tough call?…definitely! Impossible?...not in the slightest!...but we have to be prepared to fight for what we believe in.
Scotland Senior Women’s Programme
11 January 2013