After a pre-season filled with plenty of practice matches, we commenced the actual regular season back on Oct 4th on our home court. Opening night of a season (of any sport) to me is great. It's an exciting buzz to the air. Optimism like none that will be felt again during the season. Everyone has the same theoretical chance of winning the championship. Everyone is on zero wins and zero losses, favourites mean nothing, it's the most level the playing field will be. It was also exciting for us to get our first match underway. Having 3 imports on the same team has people very curious about how our team will go, and since we are an entirely new team everyone is eager to see how we go. Unfortunately our start to the season hasn't been as successful as we would have liked. Before the start of the season we have set a team goal. If we can finish in the top 6 (out of 12 teams) and make the playoffs then we will consider it to be a successful season.
We opened things up against Prins VCV who were a playoff team last season. We lost the opening set 25-16 due to some nerves, then bounced back to win the following set 25-23. After 1 set all the match remained very even, and they managed to take out the 3rd and 4th set 25-23. On the back of our very sweaty captain Sam Boehm who finished the night off with something like 26 points, it was close and you could tell that them being a more experienced team whose played together for longer definitely helped them in the closing stages of the match.
A few days later it was a mid week Wednesday match against SSS in Barneveld. It's only about an hour away by bus. This was definitely a winnable match for us. We versed SSS in the pre-season and won, but more so probably played our best. But it was going to be a tough task to do in their home stadium. There was probably only around 100 people who came to watch, but it was an awesome atmosphere. Every time we won a point you could hear a pin drop in the stadium versus when they won a point they went nuts. So it's fun to silence the crowd. It was a fun game that was very back and fourth. It eventually went to 5 sets, and at around 7-7 we managed to pull away thanks to some strong serving (and grunting) from our passer loper Jeffrey. Also a shout out to Max, who got his Michael Jordan / Mick Stevens flu game out of the way early in the season and despite not training during the week managed to be very productive considering he was fairly sick and looked a bit like a ghost.
A few more days passed and perhaps one of the bigger tests would come in the form of Landstede. They were champions of Holland last year. Despite losing some key players from their title team such as my beach partner and GMVA superstar Jordan Richards who decided to take his talents to the beaches of Switzerland, they were still a very solid team. It was pretty obvious to see that they train roughly 20-25 hours a week as a team, and we train about 7-10 hours a week. We lost 3-0, but it was great to see the level of the favourites to take out the title.
Time continues to move forward and our next step was an opponent Rijsomething. They lost their first 3 matches of the season so we felt like we had a good shot to beat them away from our home gym. I'd rather forget this match but we lost 3-0 and we can leave it at that.
The games flow again and the next opponent was Taurus. Anyone who plays sports knows it's cool when your friends or family come to watch you play. This match was special because the bearded one (or Liam Sketcher as some might know him as) came along to watch and cheer. It's always good to hear Aussie slang coming from the crowd even if 99% of the people in the gym have no idea what's being said. The match against Taurus was a big step forward. After we lost to Rijsomething we had a big team meeting about what we could do to stay on track, so how we responded to a bad loss a few days earlier would show some of our mental strength. We had our chances in this match. Unfortunately we were a bit short staffed. One of our middles was in Paris for the weekend with his girlfriend. I thought it was to elope but just for a holiday I'm told. That left us with 8 players for the match, so thankfully we had a spare of shoes for Sketch if something went wrong. In about all 3 sets we got to about 20-20, but then struggled to finish sets off. We would go down 3-0, but we definitely improved our play and despite the loss the performance was a good bounce back.
So having dropped to 1-4, now we would only play matches once a week on Saturday nights giving us a full week of training and no mid week matches. After the Taurus loss, on Monday night before practice our assistant coach Vic decided to take a direction with practice. Setting an individual technical goal of one aspect of each players game. If we can all improve in one small area then all of a sudden that huge improvement to the team. This really helped have a focus at training all week.
Then we had another home match on Saturday night. Against Lycargus (try and say it out loud). They have a pretty good team. A Canadian and an American pass-hitter who were very consistent. An opposite who had tattoos so pretty much all the makings of a good team. I was really impressed by them, and they are easily the best team I've seen so far. We were competitive at times but unfortunately went down 3-0 bringing our team record to 1-5 early on.
However despite all the losing it really isn't panic station times. With 22 matches in the season, we still have a long way to go. We've played some pretty good teams, so when we start to play teams who aren't favourites to win the league I think we will have much more success. Of course the competitor in me wishes that in one match we can just turn our record around but this won't happen overnight. For now we just take it one practice and one match at a time and try to put ourselves in the best position to continue to raise our level of play which will eventually lead to success on the scoreboard. We managed to play better in October than we did in September. So if we can play better in November than we did in October, heading into the Christmas break I think our record will be better.
Besides our win-loss record, I've been blessed to have a few Aussie friends visit me over the last few weeks. We had Frank (aka Nathan Roberts) stay with us for a week while he was still waiting to hear word if he would secure a contract in Europe for this season. Old man Liam Sketcher has visited as well. It happened they were here at the same time, so Rotterdam seems to be getting more Australian by the day. Our coach Victor (an Aussie) works with the national junior beach volleyball program. And who is the strength and conditioning coach of that program? Well you guessed it another Australian. Ex-Heidelberg and Victorian player David Jones. So we managed to have lunch all together. Who would have thought, 7 Australians having lunch altogether in The Netherlands. I guess our secret mission to take over is slowly working.
Then of course a brief over night visit from the captain of Yarra's back-back premiership team Steve Wallace a few weeks later. It's always good to hear some accents of people who speak normally and catch up on what's happening back in the Southern Hemisphere.
I'm mostly settled into a routine here now. I'm getting used to the weird intricacies of the Dutch way of life. Such as the terrible (and I mean terrible) liquid that passes as coffee here. We had to make a smart investment and buy a coffee machine. But there's also lots of different looks I receive when I pull out my point of relief at trainings. No one knows what it is or what it does, so they just stare at it, not really sure if it's a holy device or some kind of Australian version of a tennis ball. My English explanations haven't really worked so hopefully when I start speaking fluent Dutch it will all make sense.
Until next time, peace be with you.