The sun was out in full force in Pnov for their national tour stop and we had a one day to get used to their national tour ball. It was bigger, heavier and the panels bloated out like those of a child’s beach ball. All of a sudden we were tragic. I couldn’t pass the ball to Chaim, I couldn’t hit the ball properly, my serve wasn’t effective and nothing felt right. Pretty horrific not playing anywhere near your potential 14 hours out of game time in a tournament you are expected to finish top 4 in!
We ate a lovely Czeach meal over a couple beers to recover (might I mention a dinner and a few beers cost us $8) and then we retired to our room to sleep yet again to make up for what was lost earlier that week.
Our first game was against a qualification team, however, for a national tour level these guys were solid. The Czech national tour has many veterans as well as beach volley enthusiasts since they have hosted many FIVB challengers and have a history of excellence in outdoor volley. For a small nation, their tournaments would rival, if not beat the NORCECA tournaments in terms of skilled teams and competitive spirit.
We won the first game quite handily with some good defense, consistent ball and patience on our end. The ball was still a factor as we didn’t look smooth, a detail that would prove important later in the day.
Our next match was against Lebl/Pavlas, a veteran team who both have made great results internationally. Lebl beat Jessi Lelliott and I in the finals of the Brno Challenger in 2007 and he is a highly ranked middle blocker in the Italian Premior league; you might have guessed it, he is a big boy!
We won the first set with some big plays and lots of hustle, but then the heat started getting to us. It was about 30 degrees and we had just come off a pretty heavy meal of borsch and bread prior to playing. We hadn't played in heat yet and all of a sudden my fitness played a roll in my decision making. I started to tire and then before I knew it we lost the second set and were down in the third.
When I am tired I focus more on hitting harder and Lebl being the excellent blocker that he is, read me like a book and shut me down. It was humbling because it was the first time I hadn't been able to think properly due to my fitness level. It was a bad loss, but I don't think we respected our opponents enough to realize they were a strong team. Chaim was quite disappointed and it took us some time to get back together and discuss why we lost and how we could prevent it from happening again.
We learnt some valuable lessons on how to support each other under pressure and assist each other when we aren't feeling great or getting the job done. A crucial lesson for games in our near future.
Now on the loser's side of the draw, we had to play two more matches that day! HOLY SMOKES!!! We hadn't played more than two matches in one day our entire pre-season training, especially in humid heat like what we were facing in the Czech that day.
The food was heavy and we ate what we could prior to the third match. We prepared with thoughts of reserving our energy for later and we wound up losing the first set through tentative play. Gosh, another lost set to a team we should have beaten; we just weren't able to get up and energized. We both felt dead, flat and unexplosive, but we had to deal with our situation and play the best we could regardless. We managed to pull our socks up a bit in the second and make some plays in a VERY tight set and won 24-22 (if I remember correctly) to push a third set.
We had worn out the other team and I was starting to feel a second wind as the hearty food from earlier was just getting digested and feeding my muscles and brain. Chaim on the other hand wasn't feeling too hot, and after a sip of Red Bull, he sank even further. I guess Red Bull doesn't give everybody wings!
We battled in a weak game back and forth and lead most of the way. We were up 11-9 and then came back to go up 14-12. Then, we lost a few points in a row to find ourselves losing a third set 14-16 to a team that was ok 15 years ago.
Anger. A deep rage began to rise in my body as a result of losing because I wasn't fit and trained enough. If there is one thing I can pride myself on, it is being a physical athlete. I work hard and enjoy winning matches through superior athletic plays. All of a sudden, I found myself losing to athletes I had no business losing to and I realized I wasn't prepared.
My entire pre-season in Toronto was slow skill based repetitions that didn't necessarily work with my body and the fitness portion was sub par due to lack of communication (due to time and not enough staff) and resource management. I was infuriated that the months I had spent in Toronto hadn't prepared me for battles like this one where performing skills under pressure, heat and fatigue played a HUGE role.
I then ran 4 sets of 4 x 30 meter wind sprints, did 4 x 20 split legged lunge jumps and then 4 x 16 single leg squat jumps landing on both legs. I destroyed myself, vowing to make up for lost ground mid season where normally my concern would be to maintain my fitness and prevent injury.
Unsatisfied with our performance and deeply distraught over my current physical prowess, I came out of that Saturday with a flame burning bigger than ever. I wasn't going to lose again this season for any other reason than being out played.