The growth of our junior section has to be one of the most exciting aspects of the 2019-20 season.
We started the season with 6 players and, by the end of the season, we had 18 players ranging from 11 years old to 18 years old.
They have been brilliant. They train on Wednesdays alongside the local league team which means we have to manage with two squads, but they turn up, have fun and take part. It has also been great to see people from the Regional League and NAtional League squads get invovled and give up time to train the juniors. A huge thank you to Eli, who has been wonderful and to Alexandra and Thereza who have helped deliver trainig to the juniors too.
Every single one of the juniors have improved. From the raw beginners to those who have played before, they have worked hard and got better. We have even started to introduce some of the juniors into the local league team. Nikki has been in teh team for a year, but it has also been rewarding to see Evie and Emily and Barbora starting to make the step up.
We even had our first Juniors social event when we took 6 players to Boost Trampolining for a bit of team bonding. When the Coronavirus lockdown is over, we will organise a big party for the juniors to celebrate the season.
We have talked to the more experienced players and we have agreed to create a second Regional League team next season. It will be very hard work and they will be up against much more experienced teams. They will lose a lot of matches, but we veleive it will help them grow as indivduals and as players. By the end of the 2020-21 season, they will be winning sets and pushing other teams hard.
At the beginning of this season, we were still coming off the high of winning Division 3 last season. We knew that this new league would bring about it’s challenges, but we were ready to put in the work in order to be successful. We sat down as a team at the beginning and created our goals for the year. Our top goal? Be placed at least mid-table by the end of the year, if not higher.
New faces/Strong core
We gained quite a few new people at the beginning of the year. This included Saffron, Michelle and Amy as players who helped us widen our team, create range in playing abilities, and important inter-team competition. It was nice that they all seemed to fit into our crazy, loud, and weird team with no issues. Another addition to our team was that of an Assistant Coach, Roland Szucs – a Men’s National League Player and Captain here in Leicester. He came onboard to help Coach Gordon continue to coach us throughout the season. With their help, we began to prepare for what was to become a mentally and physically challenging season.
A tough beginning
We began the season playing against what it is now the Leagues undefeated winners in the Volleyball England National Cup. This showed us that hard times were to come, but to also have hope tht, with a bit of training, we wouldn’t be that far off. The first half of the season was rocky, and we played 8 games in 9 weekends of both League and Cup games. A tiring affair for all. We were able to come out having won 4 games and losing 4 games.
One highlight of this year is that we were able to go farther in the National Cup and Shield competition then we have ever done before. We made it to Round 2 in both the Cup and Shield Competitions, which was a success in our eyes.
Finding our feet
After Christmas returning from our homes and holidays abroad, we started playing again and won 3 out of our 4 next games before the season ended abruptly. A much better percentage than the first half of the season. We seemed to be getting back to our previous motivated and winning ways – a recollection on where we were this time last season when we had won Division 3. It’s a shame that we couldn’t finish the season properly, with 5 games still left un-played.
However, we achieved our goal. We are currently 5th place – exactly mid table, in Women’s Division 2 North National League.
The secret ingredient
Don’t get us wrong, we’re all crazy volleyball players, but do you want to know the best part about this team? We’re friends. We’re mates, as Coach Gordon always reminds us during games and training sessions. We play for our friends. We win for our friends. It’s as simple as that. And that – that is what makes this team as great and as successful as it is. That’s the ethos that this club was founded upon, and it lived through us this season more so than ever.
The crazy and, slightly unhinged at times, love and passion that we show towards each other can be extended to all. Whether that be our teammates, coaches, club members, fans, or friends – it’s a definite in saying that we would not be where we are without the help from everyone else – especially in those challenging sets!
Thank you, Gordon
This love extends to arguably one of the most important people we’ve had with us throughout the last 2 years. Our Coach, Gordon Macdonald who has been with us from the beginning of National League. He has seen us win Division 3 and achieve our goal in Division 2. He has helped us to be the best players we could be, and has helped to achieve our goals in both years. He has been there through those hard sets. He has had a go at us when we needed it. He has been a beacon of calmness during those frantic games – despite being yellow carded once! He has let us dance and laugh things off when we needed to – as long as it didn’t involve any singing! Most importantly, he’s been our friend.
Gordon has a busy personal and professional life and trying to juggle that with the time needed for a Division 2 National League team has been difficult, therefore he has made the decision that most of us would make in his shoes. With a heavy heart, he has made the decision to step down from Athena. Although all of us will be sad about this decision, this won’t be the last time we see or speak to him though, as it is still very much expected that he cracks open a few beers with us from time to time!
And now, we look onto next season. When it will start, who it will bring us, or where it will take us is still unknown. But what we do know, is that we will get there together.
“Be confident in your abilities. Work through the challenging sets and never give up. Mindset is everything. You are part of an exceptional team. I know you’ve got this”.
– Gordon Macdonald.
Thank you to National League captain, Sarah Booth, for the end of season review
This season was definitely good for Regional Team. We ended up 2nd in the league with 22 points. We won 6 matches and lost 4 - which was far above our goals for the season.
The team grew stronger throughout the season. After a disappointing loss to Ashfield Vipers, we managed a few wins in the row which really helped with confidence. Although defeats were hard to take, we worked harder at training and came back stronger.
Every single player improved significantly over the season but, most importantly, we learned how to work together. Sometimes we faced lack of communication on the court and a lack of self-belief meant that we weren't able to play at our best. This season definitely helped every one of us to develop our skills and grow individually but most importantly it helped us to bond together and grow as a team. We learned to help each other overcome issues and came out with friendships stronger than ever.
Despite season being cut short, we had a lot of fun and made so much memories. We can’t wait to play together and have a laugh at trainings again.
Thank you to Regional League captain, Julia Golinska, for this end of season report.
The Local League team has made amazing progress this season. We have seen players return and had new players arrive.
The spirit of the team is something that has developed the most and in the best possible way. We have not won a single match this season - but that didn't get us down. We have played some excellent volleyball during our matches.
In previous seasons, we have had much more experienced players step in to play with with us in matches when we have struggled to get players together. But this season, each and every one of our matches has had the same "core-team". Because of that we have developed a very good team spirit and a feeling of camaraderie. The commitment from the Local League players has been amazing throughout the whole of the season with players regularly turning up to training and helping out to referee and score matches for both the Regional and National Teams.
Despite starting the season by losing match after match 3-0, we have slowly begun to turn the tables and managed to take a set from our last two matches. This is the proof that our teamwork is beginning to come together - to gel and solidify. I genuinely believe that, had we not cut the season short - there was a good chance we could have won one of our last matches this year.
Grit and Determination
Not only have we developed as a team, we have also developed as individuals. Some of the Local League are beginning to show signs of potentially moving up into the Regional League squad thanks to their regular attendance and hard work. It takes grit and determination to progress - and that is something that the Local League has buckets of.
Thanks to Charlie for the end of Local League season review
Monday 9th March 2020
Loughborough Students 2 Leicester Athena 1 (25-19, 25-22, 25-18)
Decked out in the super new kit from Sportsway Management, Athena’s local league team took on Loughborough Students on Monday night and showed how far they have improved this season.
Athena started with Charlie and Rachael setting, Alex and Anna middle hitters and Ioana and Maria as outside hitters. Athena started nervously and the first set was a story of little mistakes and errors. The first pass was wayward and there were a few serve errors, but when the ball was in play, Athena’s movement and precision was very impressive. Anna, in particular, caught the eye with excellent serving and strong passing and Ioana’s covering was excellent. Sadly, there weren’t enough fluent periods and the Students won the first set 25-19.
The second set was completely different with Athena playing with confidence. Alex was dominating play in front and back court, Maria was hitting well and the whole team clicked. Their movement and cohesion showed how hard they have been working in training. Athena were well ahead in the set when they had a little wobble. After losing so many sets and matches, it was to be expected for them to get a little excited as the finish line appeared, but they calmed themselves down and won the set 25-22.
The final set began in much the same vein, but with the scores at 9-9, one of the Students started serving and her hard, low, accurate serves caused problems for Athena. She took the set to 17-9 when she was substituted by the Student’s coach, but the damage was done. Athena traded points with Loughborough as Rachael showed how much she is developing in her first year and Charlie was there urging players on. However, Loughborough saw out the match by winning the final set 25-18.
Coach Paul was delighted with the overall performance. It was a clear demonstration of the effort in training and they are developing into a good team that plays well-structured volleyball. Junior players, Evie and Barbora got some valuable court time as did Sab, who was returning after a stiff shoulder.
East Midlands Volleyball League
Sunday 8th March 2020
Leicester Athena 2 Lincoln Cannons 3 (25-20, 25-21, 23-25, 18-25, 12-15)
Leicester Athena’s regional league team blew a commanding 2 sets lead to lose to a well-organised Lincoln Cannons side on Sunday.
Playing in their fabulous new black and red kit from Sportsway Management, Athena started with Eli setting, Ioana opposite, Sam and Tereza middle, Edyta and Allie as outside hitters. With Joy injured, they played without a libero for the first time this season.
Athena cruise into the lead
Athena started well, they showed great defensive organisation to overcome a stubborn Cannons side who, themselves, repelled some great attacking plays from Edyta and Tereza. Allie was hitting really well, connecting with some fabulous wide sets to hit down the line. The first set was a little scrappy with passes going awry, but Athena worked their way through it to take control. Coach Paul had the luxury to blood debutant Emily who, despite only playing for a couple of months is showing a wonderful ability to learn. They won the first set 25-20 and looked even more fluent to win the second set to 21.
The wheels begin to fall off
Athena started the third with Julia replacing Edyta as an outside hitter. They continued to plug away as Lincoln Cannons upped their game and made some more dangerous attacks. Athena’s focus was beginning to wane as the set continues. Things looked very finely poised when a moment of misfortune seemed to change the momentum of the match. Tereza fell in back court and twisted her ankle. Emily was brought on again, but this time into the more complex middle hitters position and Edyta was brought back on for Julia. However, the disruption affected the concentration and Cannons won a very tight set by 2 points.
Lincoln grab the initiative
With their tails up, Cannons began to punish Athena errors with Athena looking tired and disorganised. Tereza was back on but her ankle was hindering her. Sam, though, was beginning to hit very well and won some crucial points, but Cannons greater consistency helped them pull ahead to level the match with a 25-18 set win.
For the final set, Julia replaced Ioana as outside and Emily came on again for Allie but Cannons were not to be denied. They quickly forged a strong 7-3 lead and, although Athena rallied, they sealed the match.
Well done to Lincoln who played really well and created a fabulously entertaining macth with long rallies and lots of skill and endeavour.
There were some high points:
Athena's local league team had the chance to practice their defensive positioning in a friendly match against University of Leicester's 2nd team.
Athena brought 10 players: Charlie, Alex, Ioana, Eve, Racheal, Evie, Sab, Priya, Maria and Nikki.
The match gave a lot of players the chance to improve their confidence. Sab excelled through the middle as did Maria playing outside, both playing some of their best volleyball of the season. Rachel had the chance to grow into the role of setter as did Evie.
Athena struggled to settle in the first set but began to ease into the match in the second, with much improved movement and positioning. By the third set, they had found their groove and won the set easily - despite battling the low sun glaring through the windows of the Danielle Brown Sports Centre.
Coach Paul was really pleased with how the squad worked and put into praxtice the stuff they have been doing in training.
A big thank you to University of Leicester for hosting us, it was much appreciated.
Monday 17th February 2020
Loughborough Students 2 Leicester Athena 1 (25-13, 19-25, 25-18)
Athena's local league side won their first set of the season with a great display of teamwork, scrambling and hard work.
Due to a number of players not being available, Athena had to mix and match with Charlie playing her first ever match as an outside hitter, Eve playing her first match through the middle this season and Priya making her debut.
Athena started with Ioana and Rachael setting, Eve and Alex playing middle, Charlie and Maria as outside hitters but they struggled to control their nerves and were quickly behind. The first pass was poor, too few attacks were generated and too many serves went out, giving Loughborough a big advantage. When the ball did get to the setters, Athena matched the Students in the longer rallies but the Students won the first set 25-13.
Priya replaced Maria for her first match with us and her industry in the backcourt meant that Athena were able to pick up the loose pass, recycle the ball and force Loughborough into mistakes. Charlie grew into her role including the champagne moment of the match where her serve receive went high to the setter, who pushed a great set wide for Charlie to leap and drive an excellent cross-court winner. Athena won the set 25-18.
Maria came back for Priya and Evie came on for Rachael for her third ever match. Loughborough picked up their play and their serving again put Athena under pressure, but this time, they carried on chipping away, thanks, in part, to some excellent serving from Alex. Despite that, Students sealed the match 25-18.
Rachael had a fabulous match belying the fact that she started playing in September, Priya showed that she is going to be an excellent addition to the squad and Charlie's leadershisp was brilliant as always.
National Volleyball League - Division W2N
Saturday 15th February 2020
Leicester Athena 3 Manchester Marvels 1 (17-25, 25-16, 25-20, 25-21)
Athena overcame their customary slow start to impose themselves on a very organised and dangerous Manchester Marvels 1 side.
Slow start gives away the first set
Athena began with Sarah setting and Adela opposite, Kristy and Amy played as outside hitters, Alex and Karolina through the middle and Algi as libero. From the first point, Marvels looked up for the battle as their libero made a great save from an attack by Karolina and their serve caused lots of problems to a very static Athena service receive team. The poor first pass transmitted through the team to cause nervousness and confusion which gave the advantage to Marvels. It wasn't until the first technical timeout, where they were 8-4 down, that Athena began to put together attacks to worry Marvels and at 10-8 Marvels called a time out to give themselves a chance to regroup. Marvels to rediscovered their form with Paschali leading from the front with her hitting, awareness and her serving and Marvels saw out the set 25-17.
Athena power back into the game
Coach Gordon made a couple of small tweaks and brought Michelle on as libero and, straight away, Athena looked more composed. Suddenly, their attack clicked into place with Amy looking particularly dangerous with a fine range of power hitting and smart placement. Karolina was working hard to find winners through the middle but Marvels' libero was always in the right place to get the ball back. A strong set of serves by Alex pulled Athena into a commanding lead which, despite a late fight back by Marvels was enough to see them win the set 25-16.
Athena see out the match
Backed by a small but vocal support, Athena now had the bit between their teeth and began to impose themselves on Marvels. They started the third set with Paulina as setter and their serving, back court coverage and hitting wore down Marvels. Adela’s work in the backcourt was fabulous, covering everything, she seemed to see the game better than anyone else. Added to that a couple of crucial blocks was enough to gain her the MVP nomination. Kristy began to fire now, hitting booming winners from out wide and Athena saw the match out, winning the third set 25-20 and the fourth set 25-21.
Athena lost to Marvels in their first match in Div 2N but showed how far they have come by this confident and powerful display. Once they shook off their first set nerves, they looked imperious and now have a 5 and 5 season and look well placed to push on.
Well done to Adela for her first MVP nomination of the season, her all action display certainly warranted such an accolade.
National Volleyball League - Division W2N
Saturday 8th February 2020
Tameside 2 Leicester Athena 3 (23-25, 25-22, 25-27, 25-12, 12-15)
Leicester Athena travelled North to Manchester, to play against Tameside VC for the first time this season. They took with them 7 players and 1 coach with neither of their 2 libero players available to make the journey.
Athena edge the first set
In the first set, Athena started with Sarah setting, Amy and Kristy as outside, Karolina and Alex through middle, and Adela as opposite. In true Athena fashion, they got themselves to a 6-1 deficit. As we were just warming up, this continued until a second timeout was called by Coach Gordon at 12-20. This seemed to be the motivation that we needed to really get our head in the game properly. Kristy then started serving at point 13 and continued until Tameside called a timeout at 23-21. Backed up by the rest of her team, Kristy continued to serve until we won the set 25-23.
Tameside even things up
Gordon kept the same line-up in the 2nd set as the 1st, and this time round, Athena didn’t give Tameside the lead they wanted. Throughout the set, the movement and communication on Athena’s side of the court was much better than the 1st set. However, this could also be said to be the same for Tameside. They brought on a different and clearly more experienced middle player who caused us issues within our defence, however she was very closely matched with the likes of Karolina through our middle. The entire set was neck and neck, with timeouts being called by both teams at 20:20, 22:22, and 22:24. However, Tameside got the final 25th point, and the game scores were reset to 1:1.
Athena win third set cliff-hanger
In the 3rd set, Petra was brought on as an opposite for Adela. Although Petra plays as an opposite player at her university, she has not played as an opposite with Athena for over 2 years and is most commonly an outside player. This however, didn’t seem to phase anybody. Having started the set with a 6-0 lead, thanks to Alex’s controlled and accurate serving, which continued until Tameside called a timeout at 2:11. This seemed to spur them on, however we were able to fight them off to the next technical timeout. We continued our day full of great serving, with Sarah serving 5 points to take us ahead of the opposition. This combined with some great back court defence thanks to our newly back court middle players, we managed to close the set out 27-25.
Once more, Tameside roar back in the fourth
We kept the same line-up for the next set, however our communication and defence just wasn’t in the game like it had been before. Tameside had changed their setter and were picking up a lot of the scrappy points. We had some good moments in this set, including some amazing defence work from Amy, but the set finished 25-12, making the scores of the game even once again at 2:2!
Athena win in 5!
We decided to leave the last set in the past where it well and truly belonged! Having received first service once again, we gained an initial lead, followed by swapping courts at 8:7. Throughout this set, you could see the wish and desire in people’s eyes to win this game as the service kept swapping sides after 1 point each. A Tameside timeout was called at 7:11, where Coach Gordon advised us to change our defence strategy as Tameside were constantly tipping the ball into our centre court catching us out. Therefore, our back court middle player was changed to stand in the middle of the court with 1 job only – pick up those tips! This worked, and we sailed through the rest of the set to win 15-12.
Sarah wins her first MVP of the season
To say the team were happy about winning was an understatement! There have been many times this season where this team have been so close to winning games, but have lost out at the very last minute, leaving them proud of their accomplishments, but disappointed at the same time. This was well and truly something to feel accomplished by, and has proved to be one of the best game they have played so far. Congratulations to our Captain, Sarah, for gaining her first MVP nomination of the season. However, further congratulations go out to the rest of the team for believing and trusting in each other both on and off court.
They move onto play Manchester Marvels next Saturday, 15th February at home.
Thank you to Martin Henfield of Manchester for the use of his amazing photographs. See more of his work on Flickr by clicking here.