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
Athena's local league team showed a lot of nerves at the start of their match against PVC, but by the end they were showing their skills.
Captain Charlie said, after the match "Out of the last three matches or so, this has been my favourite." Despite her strong desire to win, she recognises that this team is about development. "It’s about how we learn. How we practice. How we believe in ourselves, and that changes how we play ... individually and as a team."
Athena has Charlie and Ioana as setters, Amanda returning from a broken finger as middle hitter along with Anna and Alex. Alex had to play with a plastic mask after breaking her nose whilst playing beach volleyball on holiday recently. Edyta and Nikki were outside hitters.
Athena's slow start
Amanda started on the bench and the six on court just froze. They struggled to cope with the hard deep serves from two of PVC's better players and lost the first set 25-9.
With Alex taking her turn on the bench, Athena started to find their feet, they relaxed into the match. Anna made a couple of great blocks and Amanda hit some good winners - all based on the fact that the defence were able to pass the ball to Charlie and Ioana with some regularity. However, PVC's greater experience saw them edge a much closer second set.
For the final set, Anna stepped off and Nikki started to relax into the match and showed how solid she is when receiving the ball. The movement and teamwork were excellent and they took PVC very close.
Lessons to learn
As Charlie said, with such an inexperienced squad, this season is all about development and they showed that, when they relax, that they can play good volleyball and worry other teams.
Here is Charlie's assessment of her team mates:
Thanks to Charlie for her words
East Midlands Volleyball League
Wednesday 6th February 2019
Leicester Athena 1 Ashfield Vipers 1 3 (14-25, 22-25, 25-19, 11-25)
Athena's regional league match against Ashfield Vipers 1 was a mixed bag.
Athena started the first set with Paulina setting, Julia opposite, Sam and Kamila as middle hitters and Edyta playing outside with Alessandra making her debut. Marta, who had been knocked down by a flying ball in the warm up had to sit out the first set with Ioana and Milly. It was a tough beginning for Alessandra, as Athena started very slowly and looked out of sorts. Vipers served well and hit hard and strolled into a big lead. At one point, it looked like Athena would struggle to make it to double figures, but strong serving from Sam helped Athena get to 14 points by the end of the set.
Marta felt well enough to play. so Kamila replaced Alessandra as outside hitter and Marta played through the middle. Athena looked much more balanced and started to pass better and attack better. Their attack started to move Vipers's excellent defence around and the set was more even and of a much higher quality. Despite the improved performance, Vipers were still attacking from all points and they managed to sneak the set 25-22.
Athena's good play extended into the third set where they took the lead. Their movement and work-rate was excellent and they were playing their best volleyball of the season. Kamila's hits were towering, Julia constantly found holes in the Vipers defence and the blocking was keeping Vipers' attack contained. Athena won the third set 25-19.
Vipers seal the deal
Sadly, Athena could not keep the same intensity in the fourth and Vipers took control again. The introduction of Alessandra and of Ioana, her first match back after injuring her thumb last month, could not change Athena's fortunes and Vipers won the fourth set 25-11.
Coach Paul was happy with some of their play, with Athena looking very dangerous on the attack at times, but they will have to learn to play with more consistency.
Well done to Julia for picking up yet another MVP award. Like all good captains, she certainly leads from the front.
East Midlands Volleyball League
Sunday 4th February 2019
Lincoln Cannons 0 Leicester Athena 3 (21-25, 21-25, 17-25)
Athena's regional league team played a tough, smart match to beat Lincoln on a cold and crisp Sunday.
With neither Eli or Ioana available, Paulina, one of the NVL setters had to step in to take charge of Athena's attack. Julia played opposite as usual, Adela and Algi played as outside hitter and Marta and Milly played through the middle. With a new setter and with Milly playing only her second match of the season, it took a little time to settle down, but Athena served well and passed well to ensure that they were always within a point or two of Lincoln throughout the first set. For a team that has struggled to convert their chances this season, Athena then showed admirable calmness to close out the first set 25-21 with Paulina serving out the final 4 points.
Team work comes to the fore
Sam came onto replace Milly, who had played really well considering her inexperience, and straight away Sam's physical presence helped to put pressure on Lincoln's middle hitters. Once more, this was a tight set with the difference being that Athena had their nose in front for most of the way. Paulina had found her range allowing Adela and Algi to start hitting harder and the team worked hard to win a number of lengthy rallies demonstrating togetherness and determination. As with the first set, it fell to Paulina to serve out the set 25-21.
Edyta replaced Adela as outside hitter and slipped in seamlessly. Marta and Sam's blocking was taking effect as Lincoln's most effective attacks were now mis-firing. Athena pushed into a comfortable lead, even when the play became scrappy, they found ways to win points. Julia's serving and her cheeky little dinks were eye-catching but it was underpinned by a great work ethos. Athena won the third set 25-17, sealing a 3-0 win.
Paulina named MVP
Congratulations to Paulina who won MVP, but every player deserves credit, The post-match meal on the outskirts of Lincoln was a worthy reward.