4 middle hitters, 2 setters and one outside hitter. That was the available squad for the re-arranged final match of the season against Loughborough. To make matters worse, they had not had a training sessions for 5 weeks.
Athena started with Eli setter, Ioana playing opposite, Edyta and Tereza playing outside and Marta and Sam as middle. And they started well, keeping track with Loughborough Students up until 11-12. Then Loughborough pulled into the lead and Athena began to make unforced error after unforced error and they won only 3 more points in the first set.
Coach Paul decided to move things around and Tereza went to opposite and Amanda joined Sam as middle hitter. But the re-jigged team never gelled. Loughborough surged to a 14-6 lead before Athena began to find their feet. Whilst Loughborough, led by their MVP libero, were picking up everything in the backcourt, Athena struggled to pass the ball to Eli at all but they began to inch back into the set and only lost 25-18.
Having lost the first two sets, Athena changed things up again, Ioana returned to playing opposite, and Marta moved to outside hitter. Immediately, they looked more balanced and began to compete better. Their pass and teamwork improved and that put pressure back onto the Students. In a tight set, Athena won out 25-22.
Athena started the fourth set in the same way. Sam's hitting was making a difference, Marta and Edyta worked well outside, Ioana stepped into set really well when Eli was taken out of the game and Amanda's serves pushed Loughborough all the way, but this time, the Students managed to edge the set 25-22 and won the match.
It was a good match and Athena grew into the game and showed excellent teamwork. With a little bit more luck, they could have taken into a fifth set, then who knows.
Thank you to Charlie for coming to support, well done to Edyta for being nominated MVP and a big hug to Marta who leaves us now to go to university. You'll be missed.
Friday 26th April 2019
PVC 3 Leicester Athena 0 (25-18, 25-18, 25-8)
Athena's local league team may have lost to PVC 3-0 but they showed how far they have come with some excellent play. After a very nervy opening, they settled sown and played with real verve and togetherness. Unfortunately, they really struggled with one players serve and that was the difference in the first and third set, however, they kept going and kept chasing and, most pleasing, their positioning and movement showed how much they have learnt.
The local league team has developed a core of players and that consistency has shown in the performances. Charlie's leadership has grown and grown as the season has progressed and she encouraged and urged her team on throughout the match. Her setting has improved a huge amount as well, really impressive for someone only in her second season as a volleyball player. Nikki has really improved over the season to the point where she is a starting outside hitter. Aleksandra has grown in confidence, her hitting and passing and serving are all getting stronger. Ioana's setting has also improved a huge amount and has developed a consistent serve.
Amanda showed why she has now made the step up to regional league with some killer serves, great hits and a solid tactical awareness. Anna is developing as a player, although she does get very very nervous in matches so we are yet to see her best skills. Added to that, it was wonderful to see a couple of the newer players make their debut. After a very nervy start, Maria made an excellent contribution in defence and buzzed energetically around the court. Sue came on for Ioana in the second set as setter and she showed great touch.
With a couple of new players yet to get onto court, with the return of Eve from maternity to look forward to and with a few juniors starting to turn up to training, next season could be a very exciting one.
Well done, ladies.
East Midlands Volleyball League
Wednesday 17th April 2019
Leicester Athena 2 Derby Darkstar 3 (25-19, 23-25, 7-25, 21-25, 6-15)
For the second week running, Athena's regional team suffered fifth set heartache when they lost to Darkstar in another topsy turvy match.
Athena started with Eli setting, Julia starting for the first time in 4 weeks, Sam and Amanda through the middle and Alessandra as outside hitter alongside Adela. Both teams started slowly and serve dominated as neither team were able to consistently build an attack. In a close set, Athena managed to eke out a lead at the end and win 25-19.
The second set was equally tight. Kamila, Eli and Alessandra managed to put together a sequence of serves but each time Athena lost a rally, Darkstar came back hard and they managed to close out the set 25-23.
Athena brought on Kamila and Marta to replace Sam and Amanda and the team never looked balanced. Athena had been dogged rather than spectacular, but, in the third set, Darkstar awoke and they pummelled Athena with hard, deep serves and Michalczyk was hitting tremendously well through 4. Athena could not get going and lost the set 25-7.
If Darkstar thought that they were going to cruise to victory, they reckoned without a fabulous fighting performance from the Athena girls - exemplified by Julia. At one point, she hit and hit and hit until the Darkstar defence could resist no longer. Coach Paul had restored Amanda and Sam through the middle and all six players chased and harried and ground out points to win 25-21.
And so it went to a final set. Darkstar began brightly with their MVP Kaminskaite directing the attacks. At the turnaround, it was 8-3 and Darkstar run out winners 15-6 in the final set.
Julia is back from injury and picking up MVP awards, well done to her. Well done to Eli who is playing through the pain. Well done to Adela who has been playing as opposite for the NVL team for the past few months and playing outside caused her a bit of confusion once or twice.
One more match left, this time against Loughborough Students. Let's hope we can record our fifth win of the season.
East Midlands Volleyball League
Wednesday 10th April 2019
Leicester Athena 2 Nottingham Casualties 3 (28-26, 11-25, 25-22, 19-25, 7-15)
Athena's regional team played a match full of highs and lows in their five set encounter with Casualties.
Captain Julia returned to the bench after her ankle injury with Alessandra playing opposite Eli. Amanda and Sam played middle and Edyta and Algi were our outside hitters. Athena started slowly but managed to keep pace with Casualties. Halfway through the set, Athena seemed to step up a gear and start to dictate the set only for Nottingham to peg things back and Athena managed to clinch the first set 28-26. It was to be a foretaste of the whole match.
Athena fell asleep in the second set. Their service receive was very poor and Eli was suffering with the amount of running that she had to do. Casualties won 25-11.
For the third set, Julia was restored to opposite and the team clicked and showed some really good play to 25-22. Amanda looked very solid in the middle both in front court and back court and Edyta's serving caused problems.
Despite starting the fourth set well, Athena began to get stuck and Casualties clawed their way into a lead. Alessandra replaced Edyta as outside hitter and her extra height provided a cutting edge to Athena's attacks but the first pass continued to let them down. Eli's had to come off injured late in the set and that thrust Edyta into the unfamiliar role of setter.
Into the fifth and deciding set, Casualties started strongly as Athena struggled to pass cleanly to Edyta. At the change, Casualties were 8-2 up but Eli came back on to set and Athena began to find a way to penetrate their defence. However, Casualties held out to win 15-7 and clinch the win.
Eli won MVP - a well deserved effort for her hard work, strong serving and determination. Thank you to Edyta for gamely going to set when Eli was injured.
East Midlands Volleyball League
Thursday 4th April 2019
Hermitage 0 Leicester Athena 3 (22-25, 19-25, 13-25)
A strong regional team put in a good performance to beat a resilient Hermitage to complete the double over them.
Work commitments stripped Athena of a number of players so Tereza was drafted in from the NVL squad to play as an outside hitter. Athena started with Eli setting and Ioana as opposite, Kamila and Marta as middles and Edyta and Tereza as outside hitters. Good serving from Edyta and Kamila helped Athena build a big lead until Hermitage called a time out. Hermitage came back on court and regrouped and began to claw back Athena's advantage through some solid defending and great blocking from their MVP Dominique. Eventually, Athena regained control and saw out the set 25-22.
The second set was a closer affair from the start with neither team able to gain a distinct advantage. Athena's pass was becoming wayward and Hermitage's strong middle blocking meant that Athena had to find other avenues to attack. Thankfully, Tereza began to find her feet playing in this unfamiliar position and began to consistently hit winners through 4. The pressure of Athena's attack began to tell and they won the second 25-19.
Coach Paul said he wanted his side to thrill him in the third set and they did not disappoint. Edyta was in the groove, hitting from back court, jump serving and covering every inch of the back of the court .. she was well-deserving of her MVP nomination. Marta's passing was spot on, Ioana was covering and stepping into set when Eli needed help and Eli was beginning to set wider to Tereza's left hand to create more chances. Amanda came on for Kamila and hit winners through the middle. Athena won the third set 25-13 to finish 3-0.
It was a very good performance, everyone contributed and the togetherness and effort on court shows how this team is steadily improving. Well done to Edyta for her MVP nomination, even the referee remarked at how well she played.
Finally, thank you to Sarah for coming to support and for bossing our Instagram story feed with videos and photos, check them out here:
East Midlands Volleyball League
Sunday 31st March 2019
Derby Darkstar 3 Leicester Athena 1 (21-25, 25-22, 25-17, 25-12)
Athena's regional league team made an excellent start against Derby Darkstar but could not hold on to secure the victory.
Athena started with Eli setting and Adela coming in as opposite to cover for the injured Julia and absent Ioana. Kamila and Marta began as middle hitters and Edyta and Algi were outside hitters ... and they started with a bang. They served hard, fought for every ball, chased every mishit pass and hit hard. From the noise and court and the smiles on their faces, you could see that they were in the "zone" and they put Darkstar onto the backfoot. It was close but strong serving by Kamila sealed the set 25-21.
We knew that Darkstar would come back strong, they are a talented team and they didn't disappoint, but Athena held their nerve and carried on fighting and hitting the ball when it was there to be hit. Marta was immense at the net and Eli's setting was on teh money. It was another incredibly tight set, but this time, Darkstar managed to put in a set of strong serves at the end of the set to pull away 25-22.
Alessandra replaced Algi and provided a different attacking dimension. Once again the set was close up until Darkstar's setter and MVP Kaminskaite sent over a series of devastating serves to pull ahead 16-8. It was a deficit that Athena just could not close and Darkstar closed it out 25-17.
Sam now came on for Marta but Darkstar quickly jumped into a 10 point lead. Suddenly, Athena were looking tired and were no longer passing with the same relaxed fluidity. Milly came on for the visibly tiring Kamila and played well but nothing could stop a rampant Darkstar winning the fourth set 25-12 and winning the match 3-1.
As Athena's MVP, Adela, said "We became too cautious in the second set, that is why we lost". That should not detract from the fact that, once again, Athena showed flashes of excellent play and there are signs that next season could be a very good one if this group stays together.
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.
East Midlands Volleyball League
Wednesday 20th March 2019
Leicester Athena 3 Hermitage 0 (25-19, 25-16, 25-22)
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.
East Midlands Volleyball League
Saturday 16th March 2019
Ashfield Vipers 1 3 Leicester Athena 0 (27-25, 25-15, 25-5)
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.