“Another brilliant performance” from Scotland Junior Women, that’s what the Cypriot official press officer for the European SC Division Championships Finals wrote following Scotland’s third and last game of the Championships. How good that was to read as a quote about Scottish players by a neutral observer. It just sums up what these young Scottish women achieved in Cyprus on the weekend of the 4th to the 6th April 2012.
The team had travelled to Cyprus satisfied with their performance in the qualifying tournament back in January, but they were about to face the 3 other best sides in our European Division and were to be without that tournament’s award winning best hitter Claire Ramage, so there was undoubtedly some trepidation in the coaching and playing ranks.
Scotland had to play tournament favourites Cyprus in their first match and concerns could not have been greater as Cypriot power led to a 25-9 first set defeat for the Scots girls. Our girls are resilient however, and after a bit of rejigging to the team with Katy Sampson moving opposite the setter and Katy Barbour switching in to Sampson’s hitter/passer role the ship was steadied and the next 3 sets were much more respectable with the Scots even taking the third 25-23 to shake the host nation and indeed till 12-12 in the fourth a major shock was on the cards , but Cyprus were able to step up a gear to finish the set 25-16 and take the match by 3 sets to 1.
The Scots women scouted the video of the Luxembourg – Liechtenstein game and there was genuine belief that on day two the Luxembourg team who had won all the previous runnings of these championships could be beaten. The game plan in attack and defence had been set but there was a gap between knowing and doing and the Luxembourg women walked the first two sets. But the Scots girls had been learning as they went and now the defensive spaces were being filled not least by libero Michalina Ognewa and the middle was being run at every well chosen opportunity by setter Eilidh Cruse and her hitters Naomi Symonds and and Mhairi Agnew and for the next three sets the Scots were in control. The fifth and deciding set was tight though as the Scots led 10-9 but impact server and captain Gemma Ramsay came off the bench to serve 3 great serves in a row. The finish line was in sight for a very famous victory but in time honoured Scottish fashion the team was pegged back to 14-14. That famous victory or a tragic defeat awaited, but once again the Scots women showed great character and no little skill as Sampson and then Hunter hit winners to close out the game 16-14. The team and coaching staff celebrated as if they had won the World Cup, but then it was our own little world cup final. The Cypriot press officer wrote that our victory was ” stunning”.
On day three, Liechtenstein faced the Scots. As Liechtenstein had lost 3 nil to Luxembourg, the Scots team was now favourites to win and with it secure at least a bronze medal. Indeed a 3 nil win would have guaranteed silver. The team set about the principalities players in fabulous style, blocks were being made by Symonds and Agnew, hits were effective with Katy Sampson, Katy Barbour and Sophie Hunter doing well in that area and the passing and defensive units were operating soundly and service was proving a major weapon from the likes of Becky Arthur. The team led 24 -16 but a few Scots substitutions had been made and Liechtenstein were able to fight back to 24-22 before the set was closed out . Liechtenstein who still had a chance for the bronze medal with a win against Scotland came out at the start of the second with all guns blazing and took a comfortable lead. Eilidh Cruse again started to get her middle attackers going but it was too late and the set was lost 25-23. The team looked a little tired after their five set heroics the day before so Nicola McKenzie was introduced as a passer hitter for the start of the third set. Up until then she had only set for the team during the the finals. She made an instant impact in defence as much as attack and the Scots took control of the game again eventually winning the next two sets 25-20, 25-17 and the match 3-1 at the same time guaranteeing the bronze medal. It was against the backdrop of this and the Luxembourg match that the quote at the start of this article was penned – ” another brilliant performance ” by Scotland. How good does that read.
So all that was left was to see if Cyprus could beat Luxembourg by a big enough margin to ensure Scotland’s silver medal and they duly did in a high quality match by 3 sets to nil. Only once before had a Scottish team whether senior/junior/male or female won a silver medal at these championships and never before away from home.
To put icing on the cake , if any were needed Naomi Symonds took the best blocker award for the championship finals with 18 kill blocks – her nearest challenger made just 7 !!! and Sophie Hunter who had won the best server award at the qualifiers in Malta won the best receiver award. Sophie’s award was richly deserved because she was the corner stone of the team playing every minute of our 13 sets.
A number of thank yous are necessary . To our Cypriot hosts who looked after our every need so well and ran a great tournament. To Margaret Ann Fleming and the Scottish Volleyball Association for putting their trust in the group and entering them at significant cost in these championships. To the parents and guardians of the Scots girls who have had to ferry them to many training sessions for the last year and for their financial input to the players travel both in Scotland and to Malta and Cyprus. I hope they feel their investment has been well worth it. A special thank you goes to Becky Arthur’s mum Fiona, and Gran for being such good supporters in Cyprus! The group also received excellent financial support from the Scottish Sports Awards and the Robertson Trust which is much appreciated.
Tom Rooney and Aileen Hall have been a magnificent assistant coach and team manager respectively . I know my job was made much easier by them but I also know that they played a significant part in ensuring that the girls reached the finishing line in such good shape.
Finally, of course , I have to thank to the stars of the show. I wrote at the start of my two year tenure in the position of head coach that we were in a new era of extremely talented young female volleyball players, I also wrote before we travelled to Cyprus that I knew these young women would make the Scottish Volleyball community proud of them at the championships. I could not have written two more accurate comments. What a talented group of players , what a fantastic series of performances from each and every person ( because this was a real team effort) and what outstandingly smart and nice young women. Thank you very much girls for all your efforts. Girls you got the rewards you deserved.
Head Coach to the Scotland Young Senior Women