Junior boys bring back bronze
The Northern Ireland Volleyball Junior Boys’ team travelled to Andorra over the Easter holidays to compete in the CEV SCA (Small Countries Association) Championships. The team headed over for the U20 Championship in Andorra and got straight to work with a training session before the competition began at Complex Esportiu I Sociocultural d’Encamp. Encamp has become a reference in the world of sport – in addition to having a large number of associations in this area, it has become an ideal place for renowned clubs such as FC Barcelona to spend their pre-season stays. The perfect location for our junior boys to get in the zone.
Six teams in total entered the tournament and Northern Ireland were placed in Pool B with Luxembourg and Liechtenstein, while Pool A had Andorra, Ireland and Gibraltar fighting it out for top spot.
Northern Ireland waited until day 2 of tournament to face their first challenge against Liechtenstein, followed by a match against Luxembourg later that day.
The first match of the day was crucial for Northern Ireland which secured their first win 3-1, over Liechtenstein, sets results, 25-23, 25-17, 21-25 and 25-17. The first set was competitive and only at the very end did the team secure the 2-point lead needed, giving them the extra boost to win the 2nd set also. With the back against the wall, Liechtenstein came back taking the third set but in the fourth set, the Northern Ireland team had the stamina to secure their first win in the championships giving them the possibility to play for a medal while Liechtenstein ended their pool phase in the third place.
In the second match of the day, Luxembourg faced strong efforts from the Northern Irish team, despite its 3-0 win. The first two sets ended with 2 points victory, 26-24, 25-23 and 25-13. Both teams qualified for the final phase with a chance for a medal. Luxembourg went on to face Ireland in the semi-finals while Northern Ireland faced the home team of Andorra.
It was a great match with many emotions as Andorra secured its position for the gold medal match. It was a real clash between the teams, Andorra taking the first 2 sets without any major problems, 25-18, 25-14, but then Northern Ireland fought back winning the third set 25-16 and leading the way in the fourth set, aiming for the golden set when Andorra managed to battle back and win 27-25. It was tight in the 4th set and the Northern Ireland team was very disappointed and frustrated at the end after having come so close.
Following the loss against Andorra, and with Ireland losing out to Luxembourg it was going to be a familiar competition in the bronze medal match with Northern Ireland going up against Ireland.
The much-anticipated derby match offered a great clash between Ireland and Northern Ireland for the bronze. The Irish team led by the outside hitter Liam Corcoran claimed the first set 26-24, supported by the libero Mark Christie who made great saves at times. The Northern Ireland team showed great performance in the next three sets and their squad was in a fighting spirit, winning the second set 25-23, the third set 25-21 and the fourth 25-20.
This derby match revealed that the teams are very close in a performance like the sets results reveal but the Northern Ireland team had to pull out everything in their arsenal to secure this win and their strong outside hitters Jack McMurray and Luiz Van Der Feltz were constant in their play the whole match together with a strong block that outperformed the Irish squad in the end. The words of the team coach Callum Grieve summed up the match when stating: “We had to put everything into this match, what we had left in us after the first set and play as hard as we could. We matched their efforts, and we played better than them and in the end we were the better team.”
The team were supported by Bed and Bike Northern Ireland https://bedandbikenorthernireland.com/ – self guided and guided cycling tours through County Down, Northern Ireland. Using their knowledge of County Down in Northern Ireland they have crafted the perfect Self-Guided and Guided cycling trips, each culminating in Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland; birthplace of TITANIC; backdrop to Kenneth Branagh’s Oscar winning ‘Belfast’ and BBC2’s ‘The Fall’; and listed as the Lonely Planet’s best place in the world to visit in 2018. Give them a follow online or contact Hugo to book your next cycling tour with them – Lycra is optional!
A huge thank you goes out to the coaching staff, strength and conditioning team, and families for supporting this team through the tournament and the training in the lead up. Northern Ireland Volleyball are very proud of this U20 squad and we are very excited to see how they progress through to senior level in the future.