When Teoh and I were invited to be the Men’s National Team Interim coaching staff from the SVA Coaches Commission; to conduct three Sunday training sessions with the team in preparation for the Grimmbos tournament in Breda. Both of us never considered that three sessions were not enough, however when we noticed our opponents included Piet Zoomers the 2008 Dutch Champions, who were not even favourites ( no that honour did not go to us, it went to Red Star Belgrade!) we crammed in another two sessions.
We invited some 20 players to our training sessions, but with such a full SVA calendar, especially with the JNL being restructured, it was a problem for some players to attend enough sessions to consolidate their drive for a place in the final squad. The big problem was informing the six or so players that they had not made the final cut. By then I considered these guys were not only friends, but were damn fine volleyballers who had been instrumental in making our training sessions successful.
Our squad selection:-
Setters- Alan Krawczyk and Steve Todd
Quick attackers- Brian O’Neill, Vinnie Lyall and Ben Hunter
Hitters- Gordon Welsh (captain), Ali Galloway, Ryan McLeod, Mike Penny, Jonny Herley and Danny Traylor
Libero- Beach King, Barry McGuigan.
This was a fabulous squad of players and brilliant to coach however and whoever receives the honour of coaching the National Squad from here on in will have to solve the problem of the Scottish GB players.
• Who is available, and who is not?
• How do they attend Scottish sessions?
• Who pays for their travel etc?
We also completed another signing for the squad, Gina Logan, the manager of Scotland’s successful Commonwealth Games Swim Team and now assistant manager of the entire Scotland Commonwealth Games Team for Delhi.
Gina came onboard as our manager prior to the event. Gina sorted out everything from passports to flight details to track suits. At the event Gina was simply a revelation to me, ensuring that all Teoh and I had to do was coach. Gina ensured that the players competed to their best and demonstrated exceptional organisational ability.
“Every team should have a Gina.”
Arriving at the tournament, it was confirmed that it was a no show from Red Star Belgrade. We were all disappointed. The tournament format was now a double draw best of three sets, against hosts De Burgst, Polonia London and Piet Zoomers.
De Burgst were up first, we comfortably won set 1, then our control of the first pass deteriorated, De Burgst were much better at broken play than we were, as we lost sets 2 and 3. Damn, we were now under a wee bit of pressure against Polonia London. Even though Polonia were made up of foreign players from as far away as Argentina, our perception was that to lose to a London club would be unacceptable. However the guys were back in control of the ball, as Polonia were beaten 2 sets to 0. I seldom single out individuals, but mention has to be made of Mike Penny and Danny Traylor, both came on cold at key points in this match and both were confidently effective, both of them swung the sets back in our favour.
We then had to play the new favourites, Piet Zoomers. We lost set 1, won set 2 and were edged out in the deciding 3rd set. That first match loss to De Burgst was looking crucial. However we now had to play against De Burgst again to finish day one, now this was crucial, to get back into contention we not only had to beat De Burgst, it had to be by 2 sets to 0. No lack of concentration or overconfidence this time, 2-0 to Scotland, job done.
If Scotland could again win 2-0 against the improving Polonia, then their last match against Zoomers would effectively be a final. Scotland completed part one, Scotland 2, Polonia 0.
Defeating Piet Zoomers was a big ask, especially as Zoomers tightened up their game from our previous encounter. Zoomers made 0 service errors, this included one of them jump floating his serve so that it dropped unerringly within 3 feet of the net at our position 2. And their setter appeared to be setting faster than either Todd or Krawczyk. He was, but only because all the Dutch 1st passes went exactly at the same height above the net that the Zoomers setter could operate at. It was disappointing that we did not continue the improvement in the last match that we had built in every other match of the weekend. It may have been hubris but we all believed that we could have bettered Piet Zoomers, and truthfully we just could not raise our game to break Zoomers down. Zoomers won the final match in straight sets.
It was generally considered prior to the tournament that second place would have been commendable. At the tournaments end we were all a bit disappointed at missing out on 1st place.
I would like to thank the following people who ensured that our performance could be 1st class. Gail Campbell, the women’s team manager who kept the men’s team on track until the arrival of Gina, all at the SVA office, especially Kirsteen who is so efficient, John French for organising our training venues, Teoh and Gina, their support alone was invaluable to me. But especially all the players who attended the squad sessions, that their performances were always exceptional was expected but their support of Teoh and myself throughout the whole process was always supportive.
Interim Head Coach
Men’s National Volleyball Team.