The first weekend in June saw the Senior Men’s National Team Programmehost their English counterparts. Although the sides have met regularly over the past several years, it was a fantastic feeling for the entire Scottish squad to be able to play on home soil in a full international for the first time in several years. The teams met on Saturday 1st June for a full international to compete for the Carol Russell trophy in Perth College UHI Academy of Sport and Wellbeing.
The build up to the match was exciting for all those involved in the Scotland squad which should be the norm for an international match – the added bonus this time around was the addition to the squad of 6 players looking to earn their first cap. In truth, the squad was inexperienced! Niall Collin, as captain and most experienced player, could probably deduct his age from his number of caps and still hold more than the rest of the squad combined. The important thing is that the players making the step up saw the game as an opportunity – and they made it clear they did.
The attitude from before the first ball was one of focussed enthusiasm. The team meeting before the match set the tone with the players taking the responsibility of setting targets for behaviour and performance.
Unity. Courage. Belief.
These were the 3 non-negotiable building blocks that all aspects of performance would be achieved through.
With England fielding a squad mixed with experienced professionals and youth, the Scotland players knew that showing intent from the service line was important whilst ensuring that their own passing unit allowed variety in attack. The Scottish players stuck to their task well taking the first set 25-23. Scotland managed to maintain the momentum in to the second and added some solid blocking from the returning Sean Hendry and some tactical hitting from Niall Collin. Setter Fraser Brown increased the volume of middle attacks with Darren Martin and debutant David Mexson with libero Liam Darling providing a stable platform to build on.
In the third set the experience of Alex Jenkins began to show as he ran a more effective offence and the Scottish defence was under much more pressure. As is often the case in volleyball, confidence leads to much tougher serving and the Scotland team found themselves 20-13 down. Since Harry Potter was unavailable to provide some assistance, the Scotland
coaching team looked elsewhere – to the subs corner.
Describing a blow by blow account of what the Scotland squad achieved next would be over kill and probably a little boring but it can be easily summed up – Unity, courage, belief. There is no harder task than setting foot on court and trying to add confidence to a group of players who have found themselves 7 points down but every single sub made an impact.
Jack McKelvey and Jack Anderson provided 3 perfect passes which allowed Fraser Brown to control the end of the match. Mark Cathro and David Mexson applied pressure with their block and Jonny Black provided the winning spike.
If some of the players mentioned don’t seem too familiar it is probably because 4 of the 6 players that managed to see out the third set under increased pressure were all gaining their first cap. None of them were brave enough but you can imagine some of them may have been tempted to refer to veteran Niall Collin as ‘Dad’.
Robert Micallef-Eynaud from South Ayrshire VC was another who made his debut during the match whilst Euan Gibson, gaining his second cap, almost looked like a veteran compared to some of the younger players.
The Scotland squad have now managed to win all three international fixtures in 2019 without dropping a set. What is more encouraging is that in the 3 fixtures no less than 12 players have secured their first cap.
So what next? Well, over the summer the Scotland squad will be focussing on strength and conditioning in preparation for competing in the CEV SCA finals in October. With a squad containing so many young players it is clear that there is a lot of potential which was showcased well against England. There will undoubtedly be speed bumps but if the unity, courage and belief is maintained and combined with the necessary work ethic away from the court then the next few years promise to be very interesting.
The England match was only one game but the players loved it. They now need to bottle that feeling, remember it and work to achieve it again.
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step” Lao Tzu, Chinese Philosopher.