I was overwhelmed with excitement as I read through the email and saw my name sitting on the team list. It had been a childhood dream of mine to represent my country and to be fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to wear the green and gold in a world championship against the top 11 national teams in the world, I was pumped! Although I had to try and contain my excitement, as there were a few things I needed to sort out first. One of them being the problem that my clubs weren’t willing to release me for the trip. After getting the email I informed my coach and we arranged to hold a meeting with the Landstede board. I told them what I had been selected for and what it would involve.
I put on my best manners, used my please’s and thankyou’s and hoped like hell they would say yes. But they didn’t ‘it would be during a very important time for Landstede as we would be playing some tough matches at the start of the season’. I tried not to show it in the meeting but I was feeling pretty down, I’d been given this amazing opportunity to fulfill a dream and goal of mine but not allowed to take it.
Although a week after there was a big swing, the club president pulled me out of the gym to have a meeting right away with my coach (mid way through squatting, this had better be important!) and it was, they told me after many emails back and forth from volleyball Australia they had reconsidered my involvement in the world championships. I was released to go!
The next thing to do was organize my Brazilian visa and after a pointless trip to Den Hague and two trips to Rotterdam I picked it up a day before my flight, just in the nick of time, one day later and I would have had to stay in Holland.
I flew out on my birthday and arrived the next day on the 26th of September in a sunny Buenos Aires. We had a training the next day then straight into our first match as a team against a world volleyball power house and current world ranked no 1 national team Russia. They were big, they were strong they hit the cover off the ball and that’s exactly how they came out and played against us. Although pushing them in all three sets we weren’t able to keep a consistent enough pressure, which really is critical if you want to take down a quality team such as Russia. You give them one small opening and they can tear teams apart with there big serve and block. Our net match was the following day against Iran; we were all very fired up to play these guys. Ever since they stole our socks from our washing load at the hotel on the second day, it became personal. No one steals a pair of my club socks and gets away with it! But they did, we played poorly losing in straight sets leaving the court with a bitter taste in our mouths and a fire in our bellies, a feeling that stuck with us, a feeling that could only be taken away by coming out the next day and playing well against Argentina. The odds were against us for this one, ranked no 5 in the world and coming into this match undefeated with a strong home crowd behind them, Argentina were looking strong. A real unit, Argentina with there silky smooth skills, fast plays and desperate defense, they are able to break teams down. We knew we had to play well and we did. After losing the first two sets we came out and played some of the best volleyball I’ve been a part of. We had a plan and we were executing it perfectly. We blocked there opposite out of the game, served their pass hitters off the court and tore them up though the middle leaving their setter with no real dangerous options. We won the 3rd and the 4th and continued to power on through to the 5th with the momentum snow balling, pushing us on with each point. All of a sudden its match point and I’m up to serve. I go back and ace the libero to land our first international win for the tour! It was a massive swing around from our match against Iran, the perfect response. The next day we had off. Filled with team meeting, video sessions and recovery we recharged our batteries and prepared ourselves for the final against Russia the next day.
We played better than our last encounter but lost. Argentina was finished, next on the schedule, travelling to Uberlandia, Brazil for the u23’s world championships.
It wasn’t the best days travel, waking up at 2:30am, getting to the airport late to discover that one of our players had left his passport at the hotel (yes that’s right of course it was a middle) finally we boarded. We flew out to Brazil, changed airports and only had one 2 hour flight to Uberlandia to go, or so we thought. Just minutes from landing in Uberlandia the pilot had to turn around and head back due to bad weather. It was around 4 hours of pointless flying and another 5 hours of waiting to board again then one last flight before we touched down in Uberlandia.
The world championships had begun. With my ‘pump up playlist’ pumping through my headphones we walked into the stadium for the first time as the nerves and excited flooded through me. The biggest tournament of my career was about to get under way and I could not wait. It was a really cool venue to play in. a big dome shaped stadium with thousands of seats surrounding the one court with the flags of the 12 nations hanging from the roof.
Before the tournament we had set a goal for the world champs of finishing in the top 8. For us this meant we would have to beat at least 2 nations in our pool of 6 to qualify for the play offs. This goal was going to be a tough one, there weren’t going to be any easy games here. Sharing a pool with Serbia, Iran, Tunisia, Mexico and Russia we were going to have to work.
Here it is our first match. It was a moment ill never forget, standing tall and proud, arms linked as the Australian national anthem played. Before every game this would happen, the two anthems would play, we would shake hands, exchange small gifts then game time. It was the best way to start a match, singing along to the national anthem with your teammates before the match just reminded you what it was you were doing, representing your country.
We had somewhat of a rough start to the world champs coming up against 3 of the strongest teams in our pool in the first 3 days, Iran, Russia and Serbia. Suddenly we were down to the pointy end. We had two more pool matches, first against Tunisia then last against Mexico, two must win matches for us if we were to reach our goal of finishing in the top 8. Coming into the final two pool matches we were feeling confident, although losing we had tested the top teams but just weren’t able to finish sets off and we had improved with each opponent we faced. Tunisia was up first. We had watched footage of how they played and had put together a strong game plan to take them down, it was now just a matter of executing it. We lost the first set but were able to fight back and take the second only to lose in 4. They defended really well and we weren’t able to keep on a consistent pressure. Our goal was gone but we still had one final match against Mexico. We went though our normal routine of team meetings, physio appointments and video sessions and took of to the stadium for our final match. Both Mexico and us were fighting to secure the 9Th place and the first win of the tournament. We started well winning the first two sets comfortably to 17 and 18. Mexico had to change something and they did as they swapped one of their pass-hitters that we had picked as our serving target. Mexico gave us a scare and won set number 3. Thankfully we were able to break them down in the 4th and final set to win our first world championship match! It was all over and we were stoked with walking out with a world championship win and a world top ten finish to our names.
One our last few days in Uberlandia we spent it watching the finals. First we saw Brazil take down Russia to make the gold medal match then Serbia beat Bulgaria. The next day we spent most of the day at a water park desperately trying to get some sun before I headed back to Holland, then took off to watch the medal matches. First we saw Russia destroy Bulgaria before thousands of Brazilian fans all kitted out in yellow flooded into the stadium. Brazil was going in as the underdogs but their strong crowd helped them get across the line in close 5 setter. The environment was unlike any volleyball match if seen before, there’s something about 7000 plus people going nuts for the game love that just makes you excited. We stayed for the medal presentation and left the stadium for the last time. The world championships were officially over.
It has been an amazing year for me and just when I thought it couldn’t have gotten even better it did at the world championships. Playing for my country at worlds was the most amazing experience of my volleyball career, playing against the worlds best with the Australian flag worn proudly on my chest will be something ill never forget and feel so lucky to have done.
The next day I was on a plane heading back to Zwolle, straight into the start of our season. I got off the plane in Amsterdam and was driven straight to training, No rest for the weary! Back into the routine in Holland ready to tackle the Dutch league season that lies ahead and I can’t wait to get started!
Well there its is guys, that was my amazing experience at the 2013 Under 23’s world championships in Brazil and the best three weeks of my volleyball career. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing it.