The Scotland under 20 women can seldom if ever in the history of the Scottish game have undertaken a trip as arduous as the one they took to Flanders in Belgium at the Easter weekend. 15 players flew in to Charleroi Airport near Brussels on Thursday night of the 21st April to prepare for the Gooik Tournament where they were to meet 3 of the very top Belgian youth sides and a top Austrian youth side.
Our host Marc Vastesaeger of the Gooik club had ensured that the weekend got off to the most idyllic start with breakfast on Friday 22nd in the garden of the scenic Coloma castle, followed by a guided tour round Brussels. A training session at the home of fourth division senior side Zoon in the afternoon was followed in the evening by the group of 15 players being split in to 2 with one group of 8 ( Scotland Caledonia) taking on Zuun seniors and the other 7 plus 2 guest youth players from Gooik ( Scotland Alba) taking on Flemish Cup semi finalists Zuun juniors.
In the first set against the seniors, the travel and the long day plus a lack of experience at this level saw Zuun win the set comfortably, but a more determined effort meant that the next 3 sets were more competitive but Caledonia went down 4 sets to 0. In the other match Alba ( which contained some of our younger less experienced players) shared a fantastic 2 all draw with their top level opponents. A reception after the game meant that the teams did not make our accommodation before 11.30 at night , only to be up at 7 on the Saturday morning ready to play their first match at Gooik at 9 am. The schedule was already testing.
The two Scottish teams were to face the following sides in the Gooik tournament which was to be played on a round robin basis over 2 days. All round robin matches to be played to 3 sets and to 25 points per set.
Topsport School Vilvoorde ( The Flemish School of volleyball).
A residential school where the players train 22 hours a week with the intention of playing for the Belgian National Side or a Top professional Belgian Club side
One of the top five sides in Belgium at youth level , annually winning the ” Golden Youth Clubs Diploma”. They were the team with the highest average age at the tournament.
The absolute top club at youth level and favourites to win the Belgian Youth Cup this season
A sports specialist school where their volleyball players train more than 6 hours per week before joining their clubs in the evenings for further training.
The teams looked a little tired as Caledonia prepared to meet Herenthout but after a slow start they improved gradually against their tall, athletic fluent opponents as they went down 13, 18 and 16 . The Alba team ( still with their 2 Belgian youth guest players- Liese and Hanne) continued to defy gravity as they defeated the Austrian’s by 2 sets to 1 25-20, 27-25, 28-30.
90 minutes later and it was on to game 2. This time Caledonia had to face Gent. Performances improved but they were again defeated by the top quality Flemish side 16, 16 and 23. Alba again showed resilience and no little quality before going down to by 3 sets to nil to Topsport 13, 15 and 24.
The final game of the day saw Caledonia face TSV , every set was competitive against these ” professional school kids” and it appeared that lessons were being learned. A tremendously competitive first set was lost to 22 and sets 2 and 3 were both lost to 17. . Alba put up a fantastic battle before going down 22, 21, 21 to Gent.
On the Sunday Caledonia narrowly beat Alba and now had to win against Dornbirn for a place in the 3rd and 4th place play off .
This they managed and in a fabulous first set hammered the sophisticated Austrians 25-12 with a form of power serving, precision passing and smart defending accompanied by strong hitting that could not have been expected at the start of the weekend. No sooner was this in place than it was lost again as Dornbirn took the 2nd set comfortably. This proved , of course that theScots were playing against opponents of a high order. Fortunately, in the 3rd set something like the form of the first set was recovered , and the set was won 25-20 and with it the match.
Alba persisted with their plucky effort losing to Herenthout. 11, 14 and 21
Play Off Round
So the way had been paved for the titanic challenge of playing TSV ( the Flemish Volleyball School). It was a monumental struggle for 40 points as the Scots Girls displayed some amazing defensive and blocking skills which accompanied powerful hitting to get to 20-20 . A couple of unforced errors in picking up a poor defensive position and a rushed hit gave Caledonia too much to do and the set was lost 25-21. Across the course of the weekend the Caledonia side had played in 20 sets and only in the first of these did they not compete, but whether it was fatigue, a reaction to the close outcome of the first set or just the really tough perfomance of their opponents particularly in service but sadly the 21st set of the weekend went the way of the first and the team were soundly beaten 25-6. Alba had been denuded of some players for their 5th and 6th place play off match to give Caledonia it’s best chance, but still they went close before going down 25-19, 25-21.
Our host and tournament organisor Marc provided the setting for the most special weekend of volleyball and our thanks go very much to him. I am sure that the benefits gained will be shown in the matches against the England under 21’s at the end of May and in the seasons to come,
Squad Nicola McKenzie, Michelle Allen, Debbie Malden, Beth Parker, Eilidh Anderson, Caitlin McEwan, Hannah Grant, Steph McCall, Jenny Jones, Michalina Ognewa, Alex Dickenson, Emma Clarkson, Kirsty McLean, Kay Wheatley and Sarah Robertson.
Bearing in mind the travel, the crammed programme and the standard of the opposition for the Scot’s girls to be winning 4 out of every 9 points played for was something special.
The level of the tournament was unbelievable and the performances of the Scots girls grew as the weekend went on, whether it was the smart hitting, hard work in the block and sheer resilience of Alba or the hitting power and blocking power and increasing game awareness of Caledonia. Lessons of course need to be taken on board, not least the ability to deliver tougher serves and in turn receive these serves.
I am loath to and will not single out any players for special mention as every player gave everything they had over the course of the four days for Scottish Volleyball. Well done to you all for performances given and lessons learned and the way that you deported yourself over the weekend.
A final thanks go to Tom Rooney who did a really fine job coaching the Alba side and to Jenny Krawczyk for her assistance to both of us and to Linda Anderson who once again did an impeccable job as team manager in what may be her last outing with the under 20 women after 5 years of stalwart and much valued service.