Leicester Athena Volleyball Club's NVL squad won their last two matches of their inaugural season in the National Volleyball League become champions of Division 3 Central.
Athena first beat Coventry and Warwick Riga and then second placed Norwich Spikers in todays double header to finish the season with an 15-1 season. Athena’s precise defence matched with their powerful attack proved too much for Coventry and Warwick Riga as Athena started their day with a 3 sets to 0 victory. After a short break, they then took on Norwich Spikers and played magnificently to win 3-0 and clinch promotion to Division 2 North.
This is an impressive achievement for a club that was formed only 3 years ago. After winning the East Midlands league last year, the first team entered the National League and have dominated the division with some impressive displays finished with the highest number of points scored and least number of pints given up. In 16 matches, they only lost 9 sets which shows how their performances have dominated the league.
Next season, Division 2 North!!!!
Athena completed a double-header of victories to ensure they finished their first season in the National League as champions.
A month ago, Athena beat Norwich in a tense 5 set battle in Leicester but the feeling was that the victory had given the squad a massive boost in confidence and so it proved to be. Athena blitzed Norwich 3-0 demonstrating tremendous coverage and crushing attacks.
Athena started with Sarah setting, Adela as opposite, Karolina and Alexandra through the middle, Diana and Kristy as outside hitters and Petra as libero. And Athena were out the blocks fast.
Athena were clearly in the mood to seal the title and their hitting put Norwich's defence under all sorts of pressure. Kristy was hitting hard as was Alexandra and Adela's serving propelled Athena to a 25-11 first set win.
The second set followed the same path, as Petra and Diana's passing, Adela's mobile covering set up attack after attack. Athena won 25-13.
Athena's intensity dropped at the start of the third set and Norwich managed to pull away into a 16-8 lead but Athena were not to be outdone. Their consistent attacks and their determination to win even the long, scrappy rallies saw them pull back until they sealed the third set 25-22 to cue the celebrations.
Karolina won her second MVP of the day but there were so many great performances. It was a performance of agility, teamwork, effort and phenomenal power.
Athena are champions of Division 3C and can now spend the summer preparing for life in Division 2 North.
Athena showed no sign of nerves on a big day for the club. Needed to win both matches to be sure of promotion, Athena dominated Coventry and Warwick Riga.
Athena started with Paulina serving and Alysia as opposite. Teresa and Karolina played as middle hitters, Diana and Kristy played as outside hitters and Petra as libero.
Athena started strongly and built a big lead only for Riga to claw it back, but solid serving and a strong attack helped Athena to win their first set of the day, 25-19.
With that first set on the board, Athena then relaxed with Karolina in devastating form at the net, Tereza serving point after point and Petra solid in defence.
Athena sealed the match 25-19, 25-12, 25-13.
Karolina was named MVP.
The regional league team scrapped their way to victory in their home match against Hermitage. It wasn't a pretty match but their hard work and determination saw them home.
Athena started with Eli as setter and captain, Ioana as opposite, Sam and Amanda as middle and Edyta and Algi as outside hitters. The first set was close as both teams struggled for fluency. But Athena's ability to chase lost causes and win the long rallies helped them edge ahead to win the set 25-19.
Athena began the second set serving and Sam's serves helped build a strong 6-0 lead. Hermitage made a valiant effort to close the gap before Eli's serving and Algi's refusal to quit on any ball closed the match out 25-16. Milly came on for Sam late in the second set to gain more valuable court time.
Athena started strongly in the third set with Amanda and Ioana starting to serve well and with Sam covering back court. Once more, Hermitage fought back to 12-12, but Edyta's jump serves caused Hermitage a lot of problems. Alessandra came on for Edyta and made some good hits. Athena chased and chased and ground out the third set 25-22 to win their first match since beating Lincoln.
The regional league team has developed a consistent core of players and it has been reflected in some good performances and now a win. This team is growing together and has even coped with injuries to Julia and Marta. Well done to Edyta for her MVP nomination - well deserved for her hitting and serving ... but kudos to Algi for her covering and passing.
Athena's regional league team may have lost to Vipers 1, but they showed signs of how good they are going to be in a tremendous first set.
Athena started with Eli setting, Ioana as opposite, Marta and Sam as middle players and Algi and Edyta as outside hitters. And they started with a bang! The energy, commitment, teamwork was outstanding as they took the game to a very good Ashfield Vipers 1 team. Their plan to suffocate Vipers' dangerous attack worked as they blocked all cross court attacks, forcing Vipers to work harder to win points. As the set came to the end, though, Vipers showed their experience and began to claw back and only hit the lead in the final few points as they won 27-25.
After such a close set, Athena were clearly a little deflated but they kept within a couple of points with Vipers through the first half of the second set. A strong serving set from Sewell pulled Vipers ahead as Athena started to make mistakes in the service receive. Alessandra came on for Ioana as opposite but Athena could not turn it round and lost the second 25-15.
Alessandra stayed on for Ioana and Amanda came on for Marta but Athena fell 12-0 down at the start of the third set as they struggled to return Smith's serves. Milly then came on for Sam but that was the set and match over as Vipers closed things out 25-5.
Despite the result, the first set showed that this inexperienced Athena team can play high quality volleyball and they will improve as they continue to gel together.
Well done to Marta for her second MVP nomination in 7 days, well deserved for her good serving, big blocks and smart hitting.
Ashfield Vipers' young team were fresh from reaching the semi-finals of a national U18's schools tournament and they showed their skill and their togetherness as they beat a patched up Athena.
With Julia injured, Ioana started as setter and captain for Athena. Eli played as opposite, Amanda and Marta played middle and Alessandra and Edyta were outside hitters. It was an inexperienced team: Eli playing her first match as opposite, Alessandra and Amanda were playing only their second matches of the season.
Athena started very well, matching Vipers blow by blow until Viper's #10 came to serve at 8-7 down. Her hard, deep, accurate serves caused huge problems for Athena who could not build a telling attack. Her impressive serving display took the set away and Vipers 2 won 25-11.
Athena came right back and built a steady lead, helped by great serving from Edyta, some massive blocks by Marta and Eli and by some solid hits from Alessandra. Athena won the second set 25-14.
Edyta and Alessandra switched sides for the third set to help Eli out at opposite, but the change unsettled the team with Eli and Alessandra losing their place in the rotation. As their focus began to slip, Athena's first pass struggled and it was the turn of Vipers' #12 to put together a serving set that built an unassailable lead and they took the third set 25-15.
Athena's struggles with formation continued into the fourth set as minds began to tire and Vipers 2 sealed the match 25-10.
At times, Athena's play was excellent and they played better than any time this season, so there was a lot of positives to take from the match. They did lose their way too many times as they struggled with the rotation but it was merely a reflection of the patched up team with new players and people playing out of position.
Congratulations to Marta for a well deserved MVP nomination and a huge thank you to Milly who didn't manage to get on court today but provided relentless and noisy encouragement from the bench. That is true teamwork.
Athena's chances of beating Lincoln Cannons were hampered by injuries to captain, Julia, and setter, Eli.
Athena started with Eli setting, Julia playing opposite, Marta and Sam middle, Edyta and Algi playing as outside hitters. But Athena started very slowly. Their passing was inaccurate causing Eli problems with setting. Lincoln's serving was not dangerous but it was accurate and when Athena did build an attack, their defence was well-organised enough to cope with anything that Athena threw at them. Late in the first set, Julia went up to block and came down hard on her right ankle twisting it. She was carried off court in tears and taken to hospital for x-rays. Ioana came on for Julia in an unusual position for her. Lincoln won the first set 25-11.
Athena swapped Kamila for Sam, and they played with greater intensity and built a strong lead. The pass was more consistent, giving Eli the chance to feed Kamila whose hits caused Cannons problems. It wasn't great volleyball, with lots of swinging arms and desperate lunges, but hard work and determination drove Athena to win 25-16.
Lincoln came back stronger in the third set and took a big lead, but Athena re-grouped and started to eat back into the lead. Marta's serving finally clicked and she produced an excellent display that pushed Athena to within 2 points. Coach Paul, then brought Amanda on for Marta in the back court but Lincoln stretched away again to win 25-21.
Athena brought on Sam for Marta and both teams worked hard with barely more than 3 points between the teams in the fourth set, but Athena could not close the gap and Lincoln won the match 25-20.
With Julia's injury and Eli struggling with a long-standing injury, it was a difficult evening for Athena but it did feel like an opportunity missed considering the players who were on court. It felt like a disjointed performance with a lack of fluidity. Thankfully, Saturday brings another match and another chance to build up a head of steam.
UPDATE: Julia has a badly sprained ankle and it is likely that she will be out for up to 2 months. Take your time Julia and come back even stronger!
That's what it meant to Athena's National League squad to win against Norwich and it was a phenomenal performance against excellent opposition.
For the last home match of the season, Athena played their best volleyball. They started with Paulina setting, Adela opposite, Karolina and Tereza middle, Diana and Kristy outside with Petra switching to libero.
Athena's strong start
Once again, they started strongly, buoyed by their earlier win and by the chance to pit their wits against a team that had only lost one match all season. Karolina's and Kristy's serving, Karolina's monster hits opened up Norwich so many times and some terrific blocjking blunted Norwich's dangerous attack. They sped into a big lead winning the set 25-13.
But Norwich showed why they are top of the league coming back in the second set. They put on an awesome display of fast-paced attack and committed defence that had Athena all at sea. Two sets in and the match was level.
Close rallies and fabulous skill
From then on, both teams played their A game and it was tight all the way through. In the third set, Sarah came onto set and her nous made Athena a little more street tough. Adela's passing, coverage and hitting through opposite were excellent, and Kristy and Karolina continued to show why they are two of the best attacking players in this division. Athena kept their noses in front to win the set 25-21.
Athena started the fourth set brightly, playing with confidence and commitment. There were some excellent long rallies with both teams recovering the ball time and time again. Norwich seemed to be able to hit from anywhere and put the Athena defence under constant pressure, but Athena held firm right through to the closing points of the set .. until Norwich fought back to win the set 27-25.
Athena shows true resilience to win
It was a heart-wrenching feeling to miss out the fourth set when they had been ahead for so long, but Athena showed true resilience to burst into a 6-2 lead in the fifth and deciding set only for Norwich to fight back once again. But Athena kept their composure and sealed a memorable and fabulous 3-2 win 16-14 in the final set.
It was a high quality match where both teams played great volleyball and it showed how far Athena have come in such a short time to take on the table toppers and beat them ... it showed great technique, great togetherness, great resilience.
Athena started their final home triangular of the season with a convincing win against Telford.
Athena started with Sarah setting, Alysia opposite, Tereza and Karolina through the middle, Petra and Kristy as outside hitters and Diana as libero.
Athena have been guilty of slow starts so far this season but not this time. They leapt into action from the first point. Sarah's smart serving helping pull out a quick lead which they never looked under danger. Their pass was consistently accurate which allowed Sarah to feed Karolina and Kristy for big hits.
The second set started off in a similar vein, but after the first technical time-out, Athena started to freeze. Their pass became jagged and inaccurate and they were undone by Telford's smart attacks and lobs and dinks. But after the second technical time-out, they re-found their focus to seal the second set 25-17.
Kamila had come on for Tereza in the second set and she started the third and came up with a couple of excellent hits. Alysia was as accurate as ever hitting opposite and, b the third set, Petra was hitting hard and flat. With everyone playing with a really relaxed and calm attitude, Athena powered to the win 25-9.
It was an excellent performance against a dangerous opponent who started the day in fourth position.
Training today saw a lot of new faces, some brand new! Today was Bethan’s’ first day, with Jelanshi, Sue, Ann, Adele and Sabine’s second or third training session with Leicester Athena. This meant we had a very mixed bag of players of all abilities. We also had players from our Regional and National Squads join us in this practice session!
To start off and to warm us up, we did some fitness drills with some cones and small hurdles to work on agility. We then we moved into our usual warm-up that we do at each and every session, whether it’s before training or a match.
Then, Coach Paul took the newcomers to one side to practice some of the basics. They started with hand-eye co-ordination by passing the ball back and forth, and then moved onto some volleying and digging practice.
The more experienced team practiced a drill involving blocking, receiving, serving, setting and spiking the ball. The drill involved the team having more precision in their technique. Due to the sheer volume of players, people weren’t keeping warm and the accuracy of the volleyball wasn’t up to scratch ~ so Paul switched things around. We moved onto a drill involving digging which warmed up the team a lot more! We built up a good sweat practicing our receiving!
Paul then ran some positioning drills including where on court each player is meant to cover during the rally. When the attack was through the outside (position 4), the middle (position 3) or through the right side (position 2), players had to move fast into their defensive positions.
After all the drills were done, we then had a couple of practice matches to put the positioning into action. Anna enjoyed working on our positioning on court the most this week, since it’s something that will keep the ball in play for longer.
Sue said “There were a lot more continuous volleys this time! Made it good fun!”
Some of the new players feel that training this week will leave them aching, and I know that will make coach very happy. ☺
With a bit of time left afterwards, we played “Queen of the Court” and some of the newcomers participated to have a small taste of how fast things move during play.
All in all it was an amazing turn out, with Charlie, Ioana, Alex, Anna, Eli, Paulina, Jelanshi, Emma, Edyta, Ann, Adele, Beth, Sabine, Sue and Nikki at training ~ 15 players!
Let’s keep it going team!
Charlie ~ Local League Captain