Our last few games before Christmas have been good and bad. We played SSS at home, a team who we beat back in October. This match up would essentially be a must win match. SSS has a similar record in the ladder to us, so as we progress into the latter part of the season, these 10th vs 11th matches type of matches will be really important as to who can gain an edge to qualify for playoffs. We managed to pull off our first home victory which was huge. We haven't won at home all season, so to finally get that mini-monkey off our back was huge. There's a lot of work that goes into home matches; not just us playing but the volunteers setting up the court, ball kids, towel wipers not to mention all of the supporters that come out to support us and cheer us on. It was great to be able to string together a strong performance in front of them and get a result at home.
The last match was against Landstede in Zwolle. A nice 2 hour drive, we got to see the nicest volleyball stadium I've ever seen. They had stage lighting on the roof, which blacked out of urging the Zwolle player introductions and had some sweet stage spotlights going. Unfortunately we got crushed in under an hour, but oh well.
As I'm writing this, were on the bus back from our last match of the season which was a 'Beker' cup match, which is separate to the league. It is a national cup, that everyone in Holland regardless of division is eligible to enter. It's a single elimination style, where the highest division teams will enter the tournament bracket later on. We entered the tournament in the round of 16. We had a great opportunity, playing against a team from Hengelo who play in the Top Division (which is the division below us). If we had have won that, we would play in the round of 8 against another Top Division team, with a good chance of making the National Final Four which would have been cool. However none of that was to be. We lost 3-0 on their floor, and unfortunately struggled to really get into a rhythm and never really got going. It felt like we lost a chance to progress to the next round, but as tomorrow we're on break it's time to soon forget that match.
So now I've seen and played against every team in the league, I've got a really good idea of the landscape who is favoured. It seems there's 2 teams a class above everyone else (Lycargcus and Landstede), another 1-2 decent teams (Orion and Dynamo), then 8 teams who can all pretty much beat each other on any given night, and even push those top 4 teams on a good night. So anything is possible on any night which means you have to be on your game always. The biggest difference I'm noticing transitioning from AVL and state league, is that anything short of my and my teams best probably isn't good enough to win as silly as it sounds, it is a reality. Every night the performance on court that we give has to be pretty darn good or else we will struggle as we've shown. As I've been the only setter with our team full time, I have started in every match, often times without a second setter present. This is also an added pressure of knowing that most of the time I'm the only setter, so if I'm playing badly there is no one to sub. But this is great cause I know it means I will be able to work myself out of tough situations, something that is really important in building experience as a setter I believe. This is a huge part of building yourself as a player and it's a cool situation to find yourself in for your rookie season in Europe.
The next part of the season will be important as we strive for the post-season, but I think a really important thing is that we keep trying to improve as players and a team. I've been immersed in a lot of new ideas and concepts from my coaches and team mates and early on what I needed to improve on most was pretty obvious. And I think I've made steps forward in the last few months, so as long as we keep trying to strive to be a better team I think good things will happen.
Learning about the Dutch culture has also been fun too. As an outsider you can take at look at their traditions with fresh eyes. They have a tradition called 'Sinterklaas' (that's spelled correctly, not Santa). Basically Sinterklaas comes on December 5th, and leaves presents in kids shoes if they've been good or sends them to Spain if they've been bad. Unfortunately my room mate Max got sent to Spain, but me and my other room mate got a nice visit from Sinterklaaswith some nice chocolates. Here's where it gets interesting: Sinterklaas has some 'elf' type workers called 'Black Pete'. Take a look at the photo and form your own opinion but it is really controversial. The locals say it's not offensive because the black comes from the chimney smoke when delivering presents. However this issue has been taking to the UN before because many considered it to be racist. But the Dutch say it's just tradition. Intriguing to say the least.
I'm really excited for my week off though. I'm headed to see Jordan Richards Swiss team play Sunday night. I haven't seen Jordan play in real life in over 18 months so I'm really looking forward to seeing my wall/beach partner go at it. Then we're off to Prague to see my good friend Gerrard 'Lily', who I haven't seen in over 18 months so it will be great to catch up with him! Then maybe a few days in Austria or Germany (it still feels weird to be able to just say you'll take a train a few hours and be in a completely different country). Then back to Holland for New Years, some mid-season (I think that's the term) exhibition matches and straight back to league play on Jan 10th, in what will be a 10 week sprint to the end of the regular season.
But for now that's an eternity away. I will enjoy my time off, have a merry Christmas and a happy New Years. And I'm hoping that you nothing short of exactly the same.
Stay safe ya'll.