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
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.
National Shield - Round 1
Sunday 10th November
Tamworth Spartans 1 Leicester Athena 3 (21-25, 18-25, 25-14, 9-25)
Coming off the back of a morning training session, Leicester Athena travelled to Tamworth to meet Tamworth Spartans – a team that they played against in Division 3 last season. Going to the game with nearly a full squad, apart from 2 of our opposite players and 1 of our middles, was the most amount of players who had attended a game so far this season!
Athena's slow start strike again
The first set started with: Sarah setting, Saffron opposite, Kristy and Amy as outside players, Alexandra and Karolina in the middle, and both Algi and Michelle as liberos – the first time we have ever played with 2 liberos in the same game!
Prior to the match, Coach Gordon advised us not to let Tamworth get several points ahead at the beginning of the first set which has always seemed to be the “Athena Curse”. So what did we do? We, of course, let them get 5 points ahead… However, we then started to get into the set properly and just after the first technical timeout, Karolina came round to serve and scored a whopping 8 points to take us to the next technical timeout! That spurred us on even further and with some great first passes from the passing unit, we were able to steam ahead to a 25-21 win.
Back coverage ensures the second set
The 2nd set started the same as the first. We tried to not do the same mistake twice, but Tamworth’s #9 (and match MVP) served some very tough serves which got themselves to a 5-0 lead. When the first technical timeout came around, we were 8-4 down. However, we managed to turn it around once again and with some kill shots coming from all hitting options, and some great back court covering from both Algi and Michelle, a Tamworth timeout was called at 12-14 and 18-23 but this didn’t stop us and we finished the last 2 points and won 25-18.
Tamworth work their way back into the tie
In the 3rd set, Coach Gordon made a few changes to the starting line-up. Paulina came on as setter, and Petra came on for Kristy as an outside hitter. This meant that newcomer to the team, Amy, was given the role of being on court captain. This time, we didn’t let them start with a large lead and were neck and neck with them when it came to the first technical timeout. However, some lack of communication from our side, and good play from Tamworth, meant the opposition strode ahead to a 16-8 lead. This lead was hard to shake and shook the confidence of our team and despite fighting back, Tamworth worked their way to a 25-14 victory.
Athena clinch victory
Coach Gordon changed the starting rotation once again and put it back to the starting rotation from the 1st and 2nd set, meaning Sarah and Kristy were once again on court. Fuelled by motivation after losing the last set, Kristy led us to a 14-3 lead! The team were once again back to their winning ways, and were able to deplete the confidence of the Tamworth team. This didn’t stop us as we wanted to finish the set strong, so with some great pickups from the passing unit and cracking line hits from both Saffron and Amy, this meant that the team strode towards a win. Captain Sarah finished the set by serving the last 5 points and Athena were guaranteed to go through to the next round of the National Shield competition by winning the set 25-9.
Athena NVL now face Birmingham Volleyball Club on the 1st December in the next round of the Shield. This now guarantees that they have a game every weekend from now until the season finishes for Christmas. It will be a busy time, so stay tuned to see what’s next!
National Cup - Round 2
Sunday 6 October
Coventry and Warwick Riga 3 Leicester Athena 1 (26-24, 25-13, 22-25, 25-22)
The NVL team faced Round 2 of the Volleyball England’s National Cup on Sunday against another Division 2 team. This was the second time that they have faced another Division 2 team since stepping up into this division after winning Division 3 last season.
Arriving at Coventry & Warwick Riga’s venue off the back of a morning training session, we were hopeful that we had prepared enough to be able to face this new challenge.
First set to C&W Riga
The first set started with: Paulina setting, Alysia opposite, Alexandra and Karolina through middle, Petra and Kristy through the outside, and Algi as libero. The set started well, as Athena were able to keep it close to C&W Riga throughout the set. It was obvious that C&W Riga belonged in the higher division compared to the teams we faced last year, however it was also clear that we too, belonged. A strong left hander outside and opposite player from C&W Riga meant that we had to adjust our blocking system slightly to compensate for this, however it was done well by all players. After exchanging a lot of points and a fight at the end, C&W Riga just pulled ahead to win 26-24.
The 2nd set started with the same line-up, but our confidence dipped at the beginning of the set and it was difficult to bring it back after this. The lack of communication was a huge problem on court, particularly in the service receive, which has never seemed to be a major problem in previous games. Alysia was replaced by Saffron through opposite, but despite this change, C&W Riga won the set 25-13.
Athena fight back in the third
In the 3rd set, Paulina was replaced by captain Sarah as setter, but the rest stayed the same. The 3rd set went better than the last, mostly due to the fact that we knew we could play better than we had done in the 2nd set. We came back with a bit more ferocity, and started to make attacking headway through the blocks of the C&W Riga players, whilst ourselves were getting touches to the block more regularly which helped the receivers in the back court. With a great rally of serving by Kristy, who scored 8 points in service alone – the joint highest of the game, we started to push ahead point by point. We finished the set by winning 25-22.
In the final set, the line-up stayed the same as the 3rd set. We started off well but at the first technical timeout, we were behind 4-8 and with some words of encouragement from the bench, we went back on court with a positive frame of mind. At the second technical timeout, they had clawed it back to be behind 15-16. Now it was just a race to get to the end of the set. From the technical timeout until it was 22-22, both teams had only scored 1 point each until the service changed hands. However, at the 22-22 mark, we were on service receive and the pressure and lack of communication got too much as we lost 25-22.
Lots of lessons learned
We lost the game 3-1, but we have certainly learned a lot from the game. We were without our “great and masterful coach” – Gordon, who was enjoying the weekend back in Scotland. Whether or not that made a difference or not we won’t know, but the players on Sunday have certainly learned a lot and will take this learning forward to the rest of the season.
Next week (13th October), we play away to Manchester Marvels in their first Division 2 league game of the season. We are the newbies to this league, but now is the time to prove to everyone else of course, but especially to ourselves, that we belong in this division.
Thanks to Sarah for the match report
National Cup - Round 1
Sunday 15 September
Leicester Athena 3 Newcastle Staffs 0 (25-21, 25-21, 25-20)
Leicester Athena's NVL squad powered their way into the second round of the Cup with a clinical performance against Newcastle Staffs.
Athena will be playing Newcastle in Division 2 North this season and this was a good marker for the season ahead. With this match being held so early in the season, it was no surprise that both sides seemed to start a little tentatively, Athena started with Sarah setting, Adela as opposite, Karolina and Alexandra as middle and Kristy and Petra as outside hitters and Algi as libero. They soon began to settle into a good pattern as their first pass and movement meant they were able to create more chances to win points. Karolina's serve opened up a big gap halfway through the set and although Newcastle came back, Athena saw the set out 25-21.
Athena swapped Alysia for Adela (who had to rush off to work) for the second set. However, Newcastle came out firing and they were 8-3 up by the first technical timeout. But Athena began to raise their intensity: Algi was everywhere in back court, Kristy's hitting started to make an impact and the whole team started to move better and anticipate Newcastle's attacks. They clawed their way back to be ahead by the second technical time-out and went on to clinch the second set 25-21.
Once more Newcastle started the set strongly and were 8-4 at the first technical time-out this time. Saffron came on for her first appearance with Athena and replaced Alysia. Athena began to be more accurate with their first pass again and they worked their way back into the set and won it 25-21 to seal a very good victory.
Coach Gordon was really pleased with the effort and they concentration shown throughout the match and Athena now move onto the second round. Well done to Algi, in particular who was spectacular in the back court.
A number of the NVL squad went to Kettering at the weekend to be awarded with a trophy and medals for winning the National League Division 3 Central title.
From left to right are: Coach Gordon, Alexandra, Paulina, Kristy, Captain Sarah, Kamila, Petra and Karolina.
What a fabulous photo and what wonderful smiles!!! Welldone all.
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.