Thursday, August 20, 2009

Final European fight

Somehow beach volleyball has taken us to Aland, an Island just off the coast of Finland where past Swedish player Simon Dahl has established an FIVB open joint with the Swedish Fedration.
A lovely event in a place that reminds be of a less beautiful Gulf Islands in the Southern Vancouver Island region.  It is colder and the architecture is far inferior to the artsy and natural wood norm in BC.  

The weather has decided to comply after our first day of cold showers and winds, our qualification draw has lined us up against one of two swedes; we are pleased. Our second match had the possibility of being a heart wrencher as the winner of us vs the Swedes lined up with the winner of Josh and Matt of Canada and a solid Russian team.  

Our physical preparation for this event was minimal to keep fresh as being on tour for 7 weeks can wreak havoc on your body if you don't treat yourself right.  This is usually the time when my body decides to break down but this year I am still strong and feeling excellent aside from an reoccurring ankle injury I suffered in the first tournament.  My preparation in Brazil has served me very well and I am excited to say that I won't need much time off this year before starting my 2010 season. Anywho, taking proper rest time before this event gave us an edge and we felt great moving into the first round of the qualy.

The Swedes have been around the game for a while and I have seen them in training camps around the world.  We chose to serve the taller of the two as he was more of a direct player and our strategy of playing straight up defense on him worked out as he played right into our pockets.  I served light because the wind was quite gusty but Ahren went for his jump serve.  We made some great points with blocks and transition digs and we held our sideouts well enough to take the game convincingly.

As we played our game, our crossover match was determined as the Russians were victorious over our Canadian friends. I was pleased with this result because we were actually bunking with them and it always adds extra stress when you play your fellow countrymen, especially in single elimination format. 

The Russians have been around for some time as well but are my age.  I had never played against them but we scouted them well and decided to put the pressure on the big left side player for he was less versatile and more readable. The wind was present but not a huge factor which for me is perfect conditions for ripping my jump serve harder and deeper.  We started the match with a 5-2 switch us and built on it from there.  I served 6 points in a row and wound up with an 11-3 second switch.  I was blocking lights out and when the ball passed me it either went out or into Ahren's bread basket. We were executing perfectly and I felt I could do anything I wanted; we played flawless first set ball. The set ended at 21-10 and going into the timeout we didn't know how we could improve our performance. This is always the toughest position to be in because clearly the other team will make an adjustment and come out more aggressive and the pressure is on you to continue the pace you established.  We came out the second set as pumped as we could and we held onto a 7-7 switch with a crafty play. We went up 12-9 but then something interesting happened, we eased up.  They had started serving Ahren because my sideout game was impeccable in the first but mid second, the tested me and I made an error.  All of a sudden the sideout game was in my hands and things weren't as easy as in the first! We battled back and forth, giving up two points here and then making them back in a heart beat.  The game was tense, full of emotion and power as the big boys on each team battled at the net. We lost the second set 22-20. We weren't able to recover our lead and as they picked up confidence, it evaporated on our side just as quick. 

The third set started with three simple errors on our side of the net. They served me deep and I didn't adjust so I wound up putting myself in an inferior position to attack.  We took at time out and recovered to make it 3-2 but they immediately pounced back to a 5-2 lead.  Shaky was the name of the game and we ended the third set at 15-11, unable to make points and hold onto them.

It was a devastating loss and it really hit me hard. We had it with ease and then we questioned ourselves because it came so easy and then lost our grip.  There have been few times in my life I have been so disappointed and it took me quite sometime to recover mentally. I was so displeased with myself because it was all an internal battle, the other team didn't change their strategy to challenge us. It is always tough when you blow out a team in the first set because the second is a completely different game.

After the match we had some time alone and allowed some of the dust to settle.  There were no teams missing so a lucky loser spot wasn't going to happen. Our final European event of 09 ended with a non-qualification but we had to look at the positives in the situation.

Ahren and I partnered up a week before worlds and had that time to prepare to play at the top international level.  We were competing against teams who have been playing together for years or at least a full off season to gel. We did our best to make adjustments on the road and to adapt to each other but without a 3rd party to break it down for us it was difficult to tell each other what to do or how to change.  We competed against great teams but weren't able to pull out some close victories, victories which are sealed by well oiled teams who trust in each other. 

We have developed a team that battles and we came closer and closer to upsetting to seeds as the season wore on. We are now back in Canada preparing for our National Championships and we are confident in our current play. We have learned a lot in Europe and the 2009 Nationals will be our time to shine.

I will keep this blog updated with National results this weekend!!!



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