season diary
 

Playoff for Bronze - Game 3 and beyond

The less said about Game 3 the better.  We lost the match 3-0, the series 3-0 and finished 4th.  One journalist described 4th as the 'potato medal'.  I personally wasn't such a big fan of that description as I am sure it was intended to put a negative slant on our season which I think is grossly unfair.  If anyone wanted to make an actual objective judgement on our season (ultimately probably only the coaching staff)  They would point out that we finished the regular season 3rd and played a really close semi final series which left us only just short of the finals.  On top of that we made the cup final for the first time in club history and made the second round of the Champions League, again for the first time in club history.  AND we did this while losing 3 of our 4 best players from the previous season.  With the benefit of a holiday in the sun between the end of the season and now, I am reasonably comfortable with the final washup.  Which is not to say anyone else is, least of all journalists, but that is it.

The days after the end of the season were quite frantic.  There were a few going away drinks at my local with some friends.  And once we'd had a few, we settled in for a session.  I must say that for an Italian, the coach does a pretty good job.  Then we had meetings organised.  I had a very good offer from elsewhere and my initial communications with the club were not positive.  I went to the meetings fully expecting to shake hands and wish everyone good luck for the future.  To my surprise, after some initial head shaking and frowning on their part and some impassive sitting on mine we not only reached an agreement but I signed on the day!!  In all the possible scenarios I had envisioned, none of them ended in that way.

So there you go...  My season in Poland turn into two.  I am pleased for the opportunity to stay in one place and consolidate what I have and even more delighted not to have to move!  Maybe I'll have to change the title of my site!  Nah...  staying in one place isn't the same as settling down. 

Until next season... nazdrowie

Playoff for Bronze - Games 1 and 2

After a draining five match semi final we had to back up again three days later for the start of the bronze medal playoff.   Luckily we were at home, but we were concerned that our home court advantage might be negated by the fact that Olsztyn had an extra three days rest because they lost their series in four games.  And to cut a long story short, it was.  Despite the disappointment of losing the semi finals we played well in the first match.  We had our chances to go 2-1 up but couldn't.  We pushed it to a fifth set anyway, but it wasn't enough.  We couldn't stop their best players and couldn't dig up that little bit extra when it counted.  1-0 Olsztyn, home advantage gone.

In the second match, we were ready to play, but running on fumes we weren't ready to fight to the death.  We had some chances but not enough.  2-0 Olsztyn

On Tuesday we go north on nearly the longest away trip to try to win two games away and bring it home for a fifth.  Hopefully... 

Semi Finals - Game 5

There's not really much to say about this one.  My theory before the match was that they showed the pressure in the previous match and that would be more playing at home in the decisive moment.  It took three rallies for my theory to be eviscerated.  After one sideout and two aces, we were 0-3 and had literally only touched the ball once (the first serve).  The first set was a blur.  Both because it was over so fast and because the balls were flying past us so fast.  They were super confident, super aggressive and everything they did worked perfectly.  They were backed by the loudest, most partisan crowd I have ever seen.  The crowd started whistling our players before the start of the warmup and never stopped.  I have experienced something like this in Italy but never this much.  Our fans made the trip but were ushered into the top corner of the stadium from where their effects with limited.  It was tough for everyone.

In the second we managed to compose ourselves and claw back into the game.  We managed to eke our 5 or 6 set points but never had a really good chance to convert one.  After they won the set, there was never really much doubt.  We fought hard but their aggression kept us on the back foot and we could never get going.

So that was that...  In fairness, Czestochowa was a team we could never really come to grips with.  We ended up playing them 8 times in the season and won only twice.  And so we are confined to the playoff for the bronze medal, another best of five series to determine best loser.  I highly sought after title... 

Semi Finals - Games 3 and 4

I have a theory.  Actually I have quite a few theories.  But I have one in particular about sport.  I have a theory that one of the reasons that spectator sport is so popular is because it reveals humanity.  The pressures and stresses of the game cause the participants (and the spectators, but that's a different theory) to respond.  The responses (the great plays, the big mistakes, the emotions, the reactions) are what makes the games interesting.  And furthermore, how people respond is never predictable.  This adds more tension for the fans and perhaps most importantly of all, gives them something to endlessly debate all through the next week.  My theory goes on to say that that is why soccer is the most popular sport in the world, because it is the simplest game and so the responses are clearer.  It also says that is why fighting sports are always popular, because the participants are in physical danger the responses are greater.  

I didn't say it was a good theory.  But it is the best one I have.

And in that sense, games 3 and 4 were interesting.  In game 3, with the series 1-1 we had the advantage of being able to play the next two games at home and could potentially win the series without going having to go back to Czestochowa.  But for some reason we were the team that was nervous and stressed and arguing and making mistakes.  It was horrible!  They really pumped us.  We didn't play well in any aspect of the game.  In the aftermath, in the moment when coaches are clutching at straws searching for positives, the best thing we could come up with was at least the match was short and we didn't have to expend too much energy.  But even to us that sounded hollow.

So in game 4, the advantage was back with Czestochowa.  They could afford to be relaxed knowing that even if they lost this one, they would still have game 5 at home, while we absolutely had to win just to keep it alive.  So what happens?  They were stressed from the first point.  They argued with each other and especially the referees and proceeded to play poorly while we were concentrated and confident and played one of our best matches of the season.  So, after three relatively short sets we were right back where we started two weeks - equal.  And while the matches themselves might not have been memorable, the fans have something to endlessly debate for the next three days.  

So after 8 months, 18 league matches, 8 playoff matches countless hours in the gym / weights room / video room,and not a little bit of stress, the race to make the final comes down to a simple Best of One game in Czestochowa.  Winner takes all...who will respond?  And how?      

Semi Finals - Games 1 and 2

After learning who we would play in the semifinals, the next problem was when.  Due to some teams participation in European Cup tournaments the timing of the semi was determined by which team won the last of the quarter finals which was to have been completed on Tuesday.  To complicate matters, if one of the teams won, our first semi final match would be on Thursday.  Given that we travel the day before the match, that meant that we had to plan all our travel before we knew if we would be playing.  We left the guys with a 'if Olsztyn wins, we'll see you for lunch and we'll travel directly from there. If Rzeszow wins, we'll see you at 10am for training'.  In the end Olsztyn won in 5 sets at just after 10pm.  We were leaving the next day.

Game 1 - On the day of the match I had a really good feeling.  It was a bit strange and I didn't quite know what to make of it.  The guys were in a good mood and we had an energetic practice.  So despite the fact that we hadn't beaten Czestochowa, or even come close, in three attempts I was quietly confident.  For once my feelings before the match were right.  We played really well.  With our serve and block we controlled them in exactly the areas we planned to control them and on our side of the net we we played with precision and efficiency.  In the end we won 3-1 with them taking their starters off by the end of the match.  If was very nice to beat a team we hadn't beaten and also to go 1-0 up in the series.  A great start.

Game 2 - It never ceases to amaze me the effect the result of a silly game can have on the mood of grown men.  Even though last night's match finished late and we were up early for breakfast and practice the team was positively giddy with excitement.  I didn't really know what to make of that.  Game time arrived and began remarkably similarly to game three of the quarter final.  It seemed like Czestochowa were making the last throw of the dice.  They were super aggressive and seemed stressed by every little mistake.  On the other hand, we played with patience and control and took an early lead.  But then about half way through the set their aggression paid dividends and they one a couple of cheap points.  We lost a little patience and composure and the game was on.  We had chances to win both the first two sets but couldn't win the important points.  We won the third easily but ran out of puff in the 4th.  With a relatively, er, experienced team, we were always a little concerned about playing two games in a row in the playoffs.  This week at least those concerns were justified.  

And so the series stands at 1-1.  And we have nearly two weeks break until game 3 and three days free over easter.  That should help us recovery, regenerate and prepare for the last big push.  Money time as they say in the classics.

Quarter Finals - Games 3 and 4

Game 3 - As they say, there is no rest for the wicked and although we are by no means wicked, there is no rest for us either.  After three games in three days we had only a day free before we had to get straight back into preparation for the second half of the quarter final round of the league.  Friday saw us travel to Kedzierzyn with the score 1-1 in the best of five series.  After having played so well the week before we were confident but there were still nerves with the importance of the game and being on the road.  The first set was really full on.  In a way surprisingly so.  They played with absolute desperation for every single action, as if though they knew the start of the match was their last chance to win the series.  I say surprising because I expected a tough fight and for them to have more confidence.  It turns out that they were right.  We didn't play really well, but played tough and with confidence in the big moments and just won 26-24.  That seemed to really knock the fight out of them and we won the next two sets comfortably.  It got to the point were the crowd were whistling their own players.  But we didn't really care about that.  We were up 2-1 in the series.

Game 4 - Obviously we have had a tough program over the last week, with this being our 5th match in 9 days, and this match was always going to be a test of our physical and psychological limits.  It turns out that our limit is 4 matches in 8 days.  A quick look at the players on the court before the match revealed a tape manufacturer's dream.  Ankles, thighs, thumbs, calves, and backs all showed evidence of the various niggles that so many players have at this time of the season.  Whether because of the niggles or tiredness or whatever, the game was really awful. Both teams played without precision and power and concentration.  We won the first easily and they won the second easily.  It was a real fight, not least individually as each player struggled to play his best level.  We ended up winning the next two sets and with the whistles of the Kedzierzyn fans (those who stayed to the end) ringing in our ears we left the court as winners.  Our semi final appointment is with our old friends Czestochowa.  It should be fun.

WHEN we play is a big question.  Depending on the outcome of the last series which finishes on Tuesday, we could either be playing on Friday or not until April 2nd.  So we will train for two days not knowing when we play.   

Funny stories -  Sometimes people get what they deserve.  The top team won their first matches of the quarter finals against the 8th placed and expected to win the third match easily.  With that in mind, they travelled directly to the match (instead of a day earlier) and didn't train on the morning of the match.  They also chose to rest a couple of slightly injured players.  It hardly ever happens but this time it did.  And they lost, leaving them with a match the next day, but unfortunately without a hotel.  They hadn't bothered to book one...  That brought a smile to our faces.

Polish Cup - Final 8

Quarter Final - This game was a complete disgrace! We won it but our opponent should be charged with bringing the game into disrepute and fined. The Polish Cup final 8 is the showcase event of the league for the year. The top 8 teams come to one central place and play for three days. So how did Rzeszow treat the leagues showcase event? By leaving their best three players on the bench and not trying. It's obvious really. The first two sets were a complete debacle. We won both easily. The opposition coach should have been awarded a Razzie for Worst Acting in a Polish Cup match for calling timeouts and pretending to get mad at his team while secretly trying to work out if anyone would notice if he took two players off without replacing them.

Of course in the third set our guys competitive natures' kicked in and they collectively said 'hang on just a second, we can not try better than you can not try'. They were right, and so we won the third set too. In a way. But our coach really was mad.

Having proved our point the fourth was another debacle and we advanced to the semi finals without expending too much energy. There we will meet Belchatow. The top team, and current league and cup holders. Unfortunately I'm pretty sure they'll try so it will be a tough game.

Semi Final - The semi final was against Belchatow. Belchatow have won both the league and cup for previous three years. They are in the Final Four of the European Champions League and finished top of the league during the regular season. On the other hand, Jastrzebie has never made the final of the cup. On the bright side, we were one of only two teams to beat them during the season and probably played our best two matches against them. Plus, the cup is the cup and in best of 1 every thing is possible.

In the first two sets we played unbelievably!! Our serve and block was perfect and we made attack points from the worst situations. We made it look easy taking a 2-0 lead; 25-19, 25-15. It might have looked easy but it wasn't and when they picked up their play just a little bit, and the impossible balls that we made didn't drop for us anymore. Before anyone knew it it was 2-2 and everything came down to the last set. They were on a roll and had more energy than we did. The first two sets had taken a lot out of us. At 2-5 I thought we were done. But as I've written before, our guys are fighters and, well, we won. It was pretty huge. It is the first time the club has made the final of the cup. It is quite cool.

This is a clip of first half of the 5th set.

This is a clip of second half of the 5th set. This is pretty good volleyball


This is a clip of match point. You can see me in the bottom left corner being overcome with emotion.


Final- The final was against Czestochowa. As luck would have it, Czestochowa is the only team we hadn't beaten during the regular season. Indeed they were probably our two worst matches of the season. But we were still quietly confident going into the match. They are obviously a good team and finished second at the end of the season but they aren't a complicated team to play and we were pretty sure we knew what they were going to do. The question would be whether we did what we do as well as they do what they do.

The short answer to the question was no. For the whole match we were just a step slower. The were faster and more aggressive and countered everything we did. In the third we were down 17-19 and made a massive extra effort to win it. At the key moment our captain made an unbelievably inspirational that is the best play I have ever seen. I'm hopeful that someone will put it on YouTube. At that moment I thought it might be the boost we needed but we fell behind again in the 4th. We struggled and struggled and were down 19-21. But we fought back again to get to 23-23 with a chance to sideout. We missed that chance and they had match point 24 and 25. But again we fought back to have one set point. We didn't make it and ended up losing 30-32.

Losing is tough enough, but losing a final is worse. It is just a completely empty, drained feeling. Today in the cold, hard light of day, they played better than us and we just didn't have enough energy to get it done after the tough match the day before. So we move on as Cup runners up and continue our playoffs on Friday in Kedzierzyn.

Theoretically our season could be over on Saturday. Theoretically...

Quarter Finals - Games 1 and 2

Before the first match, the coach told me that in his experience the first match of the playoffs is never about volleyball. It is mostly about emotion and dealing with the extra pressure.

Phil Jackson, him again, is fond of saying that a playoff series doesn't really begin until one team loses at home. He would also be correct to say 'until one team wins away from home'. I wonder why he never does...

On Friday night, it turned out that our coach was right and the playoffs unofficially started. We played a very strange game. Despite our starting lineup containing four Olympians, having an average age of nearly 30 (the 20 year old brings it down a fair bit) and having won countless championships in I don't know how many different countries, we were nervous, tense and impatient. Basically we played without control in all phases of the game. In contrast our opponents, Kedzierzyn, played perfectly. They served well, blocked perfectly, defended everything and their best players made points on all the tough plays. We won a set, but the rest of the match wasn't really close. 0 - 1 wasn't exactly the way we planned it.

There were two positives from the first match. One, the series is best of five so one match doesn't make or break us. Yet. Two, we played the next match 24 hours later so there was no time to dwell on anything. From the start we played with much more concentration and much less emotion. Normally we are a fairly emotional team, but this time it was perfect for us. We controlled the match virtually from the first point. Our block and defence was light years better than the day before and we controlled their best players much better. In the end we won comfortably 3 - 0. It felt good to be back on track (kind of) and with the next day free we could relax. I don't know about everyone else, but I know I relaxed. Great night...

This week the playoffs are on hold as the top 8 teams travel to Poznan for the Final 8 of the Polish Cup. We play a straight knockout on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. This is a fairly big deal for us as the club has never won a Polish Cup. And people say the Final 8 is a lot of fun. Maybe. But I know winning is the best fun.

There are a few photos on the club site here.

The End of the Beginning

On Tuesday we played our final regular season match. It was at home against Warszawa who are in one of the relegation spots. Normally this should have been an easy match for us, but this part of the season is never really easy. Relegation bound teams are desperate for anything (as I well know from last season) and playoff bound teams are counting the days before the 'real' season starts. This is doubly so if the last match was only two days before and the playoffs start three days later. Strange results happen in these matches (as I well know from last season, see here).

We started strongly and won the first in a canter. We then continued to canter, but unfortunately Warszawa (as so often happens) didn't want to get completely blown out and played more aggressively in the second, winning it 25-14!! After that things settled down a little and we won in four sets, one of which was unnecessary.

If you need to see photos, you will find them here.

Tonight it all begins in earnest. We play our first quarter final match against Kedzierzyn. This is the fifth season in a row that Jastrzebski has played Kedzierzyn in the quarter finals, winning every time until now. On top of that Kedzierzyn is the team closest to us geographically and so we have played them 8 times in tournaments and friendly matches this season. To suggest they are familiar opponents would be an understatement. Every round of the playoffs is played as Best of Five, so we play two home matches this weekend, followed by two away matches in two weeks (the Cup Finals are played next week) and a fifth match at home after that.

It could be all over in two weeks or we could keep going. As they say, pressure makes diamonds. It should be fun!

Momentum

One of the most famous and successful basketball coaches in the world, Phil Jackson, constantly preaches to his players about the importance of momentum, both within a match and within a season.His basic philosophy is that winning breeds winning and that the ability to create and maintain momentum is what defines a good team.This season has been a huge lesson in the truth of that philosophy.Our longest winning streak was 9 matches and before today we had won 12 of 15 since the beginning of November.In several of these matches there were moments where a set or the match was in the balance but we always had the answer.Either someone stepped up to make a big play or we forced an error but we always won the key point and we knew we would.That is the confidence that momentum creates.

But today’s lesson was that momentum works in both directions.We played Radom away from home.Ironically Radom is the team against which we began our streak.When we last met them, they had just beaten the top team and were riding high.Since then they have only won once and are 8th.The way the league works is that the first 8 play playoffs and 9th and 10th play off for relegation.In short, 8th = good, 9th = bad.

With less than a week to go before playoffs and after a long period of stressful matches, our minds were not in Radom.I don’t know where they were, but they sure weren’t where our bodies were.Despite that we took an easy lead at 20-15 and were just cruising it home.Next thing we know it’s 21-21 and 23-23.But then weird things happened.On our first set point … our serve hits the net and rolls over for an ace.1-0 to us.

The second set was not nearly as good as the first and we were down 15-20.Next thing we know it’s 24-23 and again on our first set point we wrap it up.2-0 to us.

I shake my head, apparently we can’t lose this one.

Little did I know.

The third set was not nearly as good as the second and this time we were down 21-24.Next thing we know it’s 25-24 and again on our first match point we wrap it up.

I’d like to say that our guys stepped up at the big moment and made the plays they had to to win, but if I did I’d be lying. Radom just didn’t know how to win.They played well enough to win each of the sets but with their momentum and our momentum working together they had no chance.

So with one match to go on Tuesday, we are two points clear in 3rd place.Regardless of whether we maintain 3rd or drop to 4th we will start the playoffs on Friday and then it will be on for young and old.

Dare to Dream

In the knockout stage of Champions League each round is decided by the aggregate score of a home and away series.That means if each team wins one match, then the team with the most sets wins.If sets are equal, the team with the most points wins.Given that we lost the first match 0-3 and 55-75, the chances of us winning the tie roughly equal to that of one Buckley (the famous lost convict of finding civilisation) but just marginally better than the other Buckley (Nathan, of winning a premiership).So slim were our chances that we didn’t even talk about the possibility of winning and had a much longer practice than normal the day before the match.

Of course we won the first set 25-16.In hindsight it was obvious we would.We were completely free of pressure and expectation and our gym is a bit strange to play in at first.And that is not taking into account the fact that Russians are famous for their ability to choke.Winning by such a big margin meant that theoretically we were back in the tie.We could even afford one relatively close set from here on.But that’s the thing about dreams.They don’t exist in when you are awake.The second was close for a while but not really.We were playing against a very good team full of quality and experience and they weren’t about to throw this one away.After they clinched the tie, the intensity dropped and we were able to win in 5 sets.It was nice to win even though it didn’t count for anything and a couple of guys who were a little low on form played well.

Overall, the Champions League was a great experience.For all of its flaws it brings the best together and gives teams and players the chance to measure themselves against their peers from different leagues.And our level?

Better than Italy, but not as good as RussiaJ

My joy at victory is clear for all to see here.

Other photos from the match are here.

Back on track

Last week was a tough week. We lost two matches, played poorly, saw three months of hard work more or less blown away and had a really tough travel experience to top it off. But the great thing about sport is that the next match nearly always comes up fast and you nearly always have a chance to get back on track. One of the tricks to getting through a season is to only move forwards and we have the added good fortune that we are playing so many matches right now that we literally don't have the time to dwell on the past. And the more matches we play the more chances we have to see something we've never seen before.

What a day!!! We started the day thinking we would most likely finish 4th which would leave us with a tough quarter final and the toughest semi final. Then something weird happened. The 3rd team lost unexpectedly at home. Then a whole bunch of other weird things happened. In the first set we played quite disastrously. At the end of the set we had won a grand total of 3!! spike points at a kill percentage of 19%. Normally 50% is good and below 40% is bad. Under 30% will normally cost the coach his job. But 19%... is just completely improbable. And the most improbable thing is that we actually won the set! I'm still shaking my head now. The main reason we won was that we had 7 block points. Normally 3 in one set is considered very good and 7 in a three set match is okay. But 7 in one set... is fairly improbable. At the end of the set I saw the stats sheet and said to the coach that we need to keep a copy of this one for posterity. We went on to win the match 3-0 and went back to 3rd.

Overall it was a highly improbable day and I saw a whole bunch things I have never seen before. Who knows, maybe the week will continue in that way. At least until the Champions League match on Wednesday. How improbable would that be...

Kazan

Our Champions League adventure is nearly over. We lost pretty badly and although we have the return match at home, the chances of going through are small. Apart from the match, it was kind of a cool adventure which I have written about here.

All Over

Whereas last time with the last loss we could at least claim some kind of moral victory by getting through to the next round of the Champions League, this loss well and truly broke the streak. After more than three months and 11 (and a half) wins from 12 matches (7 from 7 in the league) we lost again. Our streak had brought us up to equal 2nd and a win on Saturday would have almost guaranteed a top three finish for the season which is our goal heading into the playoffs. Our opponent was Czestochowa who were equal to us in 2nd and who had beaten us quite comprehensively in the first part of the season. The simplest description is that after playing at a high level of intensity with a lot of emotional games for a long period of time we were bound to have a bad day. And we did. Nothing really went our way and although the sets were close and although we had a chance to at least take it to a fifth set, the better team won in the end. This time...

Our focus now changes back to Champions League for the big match in Russia.

The guy in this photo has the look of someone who has just been named man of the match. He is also being booed by 1000 people.

The guy getting the yellow card here, was one of ours. But we won that set.

In my mind at least, I look more optimistic in this picture than our other staff.

More photos are here and here.

...done

The games are coming thick and fast now. We are playing twice a week now until the end of the season. Players like this because it means we train much less. Coaches hate this because it means we train much less. And to think we all the same goals.

Wednesday we played a cup match. We played at home against the bottom team, Bydgoszcz. Normally this shouldn't be too much of a problem, therefore for me this was a danger game. Especially because we have had so many pressure games against top teams that to play a weaker team can be a letdown. Plus bad teams can approach the cup in one of two ways. Either they don't worry about it to concentrate on the league or play with freedom and aggression because for once they have nothing to lose. Bydgoszcz played the second way and we had our letdown.

In the end we expended much more energy than we would have liked and squeezed over the line 15-13 in the fifth. After the match our team manager came up to me and shook my hand and said 'I won't say well done, I'll say done'. For an non English speaker I thought this was a very elegant, and entirely accurate, description.

The new streak is two.

And the club website has some photos.

A New Streak

After having our winning streak rudely interrupted by Roeselare we got on the bus and travelled for 9 and half hours to the north of Poland near Gdansk (home of Lech Walesa) to Olsztyn. This was a big match for us because we are fighting for a place in the top three and to do that we have to get past Olsztyn. With the Champions League match on Wednesday and the long travel, we didn't have a chance practice properly before the match and we started a little rusty. Patches of really good play, followed by a couple of mistakes, followed by good play etc. Olzstyn seemed to follow a similar pattern and during the first set it crossed my mind that there were two good teams playing well but below their best. But as so often has happened during our streak, at the key moment we made the plays and won the set. During the second we decided that we would watch the crowd and enjoy the atmosphere of the theatre-like stadium (click here). It seems the atmosphere was pleasant. The result less so and so it was 1-1. We won the third easily and were losing the the fourth just as easily (13-18 and 16-20). But then... Olsztyn blinked. And our guys don't much of a sniff to get back in the game. A couple of errors, a couple of great plays and suddenly it was 23-23. Our best server went back to serve, made a dig which we scored from and served an ace to finish it off.

So maximum points against a direct rival, on the road. Pretty much everything we could have wanted. And the new streak stands at one.

There are a couple of photos on the league website here. You might notice that the cheerleaders look like they are 15. They are. This seems to defeat the purpose to me. I hope it's only me...

And I also took a couple of photos of the stadium in Sosnowiec. This was a weird one.

News and Pictures

Our reward for making the next round of the Champions League is a 'dream' tie against one of the top Russian teams, Dynamo Kazan. I use the word dream in its loosest possible sense for two reasons. For one nearly all of the Russian teams are very strong, so it's a tough draw. For two, the volleyball world is full of stories of horror stories of travelling to matches in Russia. Why there are horror stories is not a mystery as Russia is really big so there is a lot of travel, Russian infrastructure is not always of the most modern standard especially outside Moscow and volleyball season is in winter. These factors combined pretty much guarantee travel horror stories. The ones that I have heard include fog, aborted takeoffs and landings, overnight bus trips, overnight train trips in sleeper cabins, overnight train trips in second class cabins with smoking, drinking, carousing Russians and late arrivals to games. Can't wait...

There are a whole bunch of pictures from our last matches.

Oddly I quite like this one of me. Perhaps because you can hardly see me.

On the club website are photos from our last league match against Sosnowiec and the Champions League match against Roeselare. There are also photos of our fans from the Sosnowiec and Roeselare matches.

The CEV website has some other photos from the matches in Roeselare and at home against Treviso. Among the Treviso pictures is a good one of the ice rink converted to international volleyball arena.

We have also changed the team so we have a new team photo. In contrast to the photo above, you can see me far too clearly.

10 (kind of...)

I read an interesting line from the US about baseball a couple of days ago. 'If you spend an afternoon at the baseball, you will see something that you have never seen before'. It's meant to be about the unpredictably and infinite possibilities of a baseball game and I quite liked the idea behind it.

Last night we played our last group match in the Champions League against Roeselare from Belgium. From the beginning of the season we thought that this would probably be the most important game of the group phase and if things went as 'normal' the winner would progress to the next round. However as described below, things often don't go as 'normal'. After we beat Treviso, Roeselare lost to Apeldoorn and instead of a winner take all match, it turned out that we needed to win only 1 set to progress and Roeselare needed to win 3-0.

Although we avoided mentioning this throughout the week everyone knew exactly what was required. We started nervously and found ourselves a few points down. But then our best players did what best players do and made a couple of points, and then a couple more, and suddenly we had won 25-20. Easily. We were through. Although we never mentioned. In the second we started relaxed and playing really well. Everything we did was perfect, or worked out perfectly. At 16-10 we were really cruising. And then that baseball thing happened. Five minutes later we were behind 16-19 and we never recovered. Even the lights in the gym going off didn't help us and we quickly lost 3-1.

Afterwards were mixed emotions all around. We lost but won. Roeselare won but lost. And after much concern about whether we could convert an ice rink into a volleyball stadium, the problem turned out to be with the lights.

If you spend an evening at the volleyball, you will see something that you have never seen before.

And on Saturday we have to start a new streak.

9 - THE HARD WAY

After two tough, emotional wins against top teams in the last week we had to get back to the business of the league with an away match at Sosnowiec. Sosnowiec are 7th on the table, and although they are a good team and have had some good results this seasons, in many ways all of our previous wins would been for nothing if we didn't win this one. As has been the case often this season, we started the match serving and defending well and took an early lead. As has been the case often this season, the score didn't accurately reflect that we weren't actually playing very well. We were tired and sluggish and and as a consequence lost the 2nd and 3rd sets too easily. As I've written before, luckily our team is full of tough, experienced guys who just prefer not to lose. And so we were able to get rolling and win the last two sets and so the match.

The win leaves us 3rd in the league with games coming up against the teams 2nd and 4th. The results of these two matches will go a long way to decide where we finish. But first we play our next Champions League match. On Wednesday we meet the Belgian champions. After the match one team will go through to the next round. I know you're on the edge of your seat waiting to find out who it will be. But you will have to wait...

REALITY

The traditional, romantic, Australian (amateur) view of sport is that sportsmen (not athletes!) with noble intentions compete against each other exhibiting exemplary fairplay while giving 100% effort at all times regardless of the start of the match or season or the relative likelihood of winning.

This is, of course, complete crap!

Ignoring for a moment that sport is played by human beings and therefore the above could never be true, the reality is that not every match is equally important. This is especially the case over a long season, and even more so if teams play in multiple competitions. Not all competitions are equally important to sponsors and different competitions can vary in importance at different moments in the season. Teams playing for the championships have a completely different priority profile than teams playing against relegation. Therefore the likelihood of two teams facing each other with the exact same importance riding on a single match are very slim indeed. Which brings us to the European Champions League. While it is the showcase event of the European federation it is a weird competition. Strong teams from weaker leagues can concentrate most of their resources on this tournament knowing it will make little if any difference to their ability to win in their league. On the other hand teams from stronger leagues must really juggle their priorities to try to get through with the minimum of disruption to all of the their goals. This means that the actual best team in Europe rarely wins the Champions League and there are always some odd results. This is the reality. It isn't good. It isn't bad. It just is.

Actually, I tell a white lie. It is good. Especially if you are a good team, are riding a wave of good form, are high on confidence and travel to Italy to play the Italian champions who have already qualified for the next round. And so it was that Jastrzebski Wegiel won against Sisley Treviso on Tuesday night. Despite all the qualifications above, it was pretty cool to win against a top team on their court. It was made cooler by the fact that a bus load of our fans travelled 16 hours each way to see the game. They outnumbered Treviso fans by about 10 to 1 (even the prioritise the games) and sang and cheered their way through to the end. This time they finished with a 'We love Jastrzebie' song.

And to make it even cooler, we were staying in a hotel on the beach and on Wednesday even the mist rolled away to reveal glorious sunshine (click here to see for yourself).

And now our streak stands at 8...

Here and here are some photos from our last match against Belchatow.

7

I don't really have the words right now. This afternoon we restarted our stop-start season exactly as we finished the last two periods; with a win. This one was our 7th a row. We haven't lost an official match since November 7th. And this one was against the current Polish champions, Belchatow. Nice.

I thought it might be an interesting match when the gym was nearly full an hour before game time. For our last match there were about 50 people there at the same time. In the end it was a full house and they were pumping. Together we got off to a great start and won the first set. After that there was a big lull on our side of the net which, not unexpectedly, a champion team was able to take advantage of and we soon found ourselves 1-2 down. But while we may be maddeningly inconsistent at times, one thing about this team is that it is never beaten. I don't know if the older guys need some real to find unique and difficult situations to peak their interest but whatever it was we bounced back and won the next two. With the help of our fans. In the fifth we couldn't talk to each other on the bench and when it was over, they chanted 'we thankyou'. I thought that was sweet!

On Monday we travel to Italy to test our winning streak in the only real way left to challenge it ;) Against the champions of Italy. Should be interesting...

A NEW RECORD!!!

It is now official. We rock! Yesterday we travelled to Rzeszow (pronounced Sheshuv, if you're keeping track at home) to play a team that was ahead of us on the table but with the same number of points. We pumped them. We won the first two sets to 18 and 16 and played a close third set set to win it 27-25. That means we go into the Christmas break with 6 wins in a row including 5 in the last two weeks. And that is a record. Not a world record or anything, and probably not even a club record, but definitely a record for me professionally. What has been particularly pleasing is that we played really well in the last match. It has been pleasing the improvement we have shown. Plus, over the last few matches we have had several situations where we could have lost our heads and some sets, but won all of the sets that went to advantage. All good signs.

With all the breaks we have had / will have, by the time we play again we will have not lost an official game for two and half months. The next two games will test our streak though. In our first week back we play the champions of Poland in the league and the champions of Italy in the Champions League. But we don't have to worry about that for a while. First things first. We are free for Christmas and will meet up again in Belgium on the 27th for a tournament before we start the serious business of preparing for the second half of the season. Once we start again we will be playing virtually twice a week for three months. That will be a real test...

In the meantime, I hope everyone has a great Christmas and New Years. May Santa bring everything you wish for and the New Year bring all of your resolutions to fruition.

WINNING

There is a saying among coaches that 'winning hides a multitude of sins'. The basic meaning of which when you win people only see the victory and not the performance. That of course can be a good thing because winning tends to make people happy; fans, officials, players. Normally only coaches are miserable enough not to be satisfied. So when you win five in a row and win your second Champions League match in a row everyone is even happier. And that is what happened after we beat Apeldoorn again on Wednesday. It wasn't the best match anyone ever played but for the most part we were in control. We lost a bit of that control in the third and found ourselves down 21-23 but toughed it out and won. I liked that we fought our way out of difficulty. It is a problem that we often found ourselves in difficulty of our own making, but that is another story. By winning we give ourselves an excellent chance of progressing to the next round of the Champions League or at the very least the consolation round of the CEV Cup.

Today we are off to Rzeszow for our last game before Christmas. They are equal on points with us so it is a big game. Like all of them. I don't know why I even bother saying one game is bigger than any other...

If you've seen photos of our cool brown suits and have been wondering how I look in it, click here and your prayers will be answered / nightmares will be confirmed.

For the other match photos click here.

ON A ROLL!

After a very entertaining 11 hour trip home from Holland (actually not at all entertaining), we were pretty pumped to play again (actually not at all pumped) (that whole sarcasm thing again...). Luckily we didn't have to play for two more days. Today we played against Bydgoszcz. For those keeping track, that is the first match of the second round. In the first round we barely scraped through with a 3-2 win. This time we were much better prepared (notwithstanding the travel from Holland) and won easily. It was our best win of the season and also our best performance. Apart from a few shaky moments in the second we won easily. And so added a fourth win to our winning streak. I can't remember the last time I won four in a row. It certainly wasn't last season. Probably in Belgium. It is quite a good feeling.

The most entertaining part of today's match was our crowd. They were really fired up today and seemed to be particularly against one of the opposing players. I have never heard our crowd so aggressive. It started from the pre match introductions and continued throughout the match almost every time he touched the ball. I love games like that. It makes everything seem a little more important. But the question was why they were so pumped. It turns out that this particular player used to play in for us. At some point in history, however, he referred to Jastrzebie as a village with a bad smell and stated that he never wanted to play there again. I understand the crowd.

Click here for a couple of photos from the 'building site' in Apeldoorn and the newest fan club banner in our gym.

GLORIOUS VICTORY

You see what I meant before? This headline is exactly the same as the previous one but has a completely different meaning. No sarcasm at all. On Wednesday we travelled to Holland for our first Champions League match after the big break. For us it was a particularly important one as it was against the team that we have to beat if we want to progress to the next round. The travel wasn't that great. We couldn't get a direct flight so ended up with a 10 hour trip for only about 1100kms. It would almost have been quicker to go by bus, and there would have been a lot less stuffing around in airports which is one of my pet hates. One day I'll write about that. Another day...

The game itself wasn't really entertaining. The gym was a nice gym but attached to a building site, so it was no exaggeration to say that the floor was covered in dust and we had to step over bits of building materials to get around. On top of that, the crowd was really quiet. Kind of like an Australian crowd. I got the impression that they were mostly volleyball fans rather than Piet Zoomers Apeldoorn fans, so they were just hoping for a good game. We won the first set really easily, making 7 block points, even though we didn't actually play very well. As you would expect they couldn't play that badly for long and when we didn't pick up our game we had problems. And so the second set was just as quick but not for the good guys. After that we steadied enough to win the last two sets more or less easily. Our captain, Dawid Murek, played a great match and everyone was pleased to get our first Champions League win and extend our season best winning streak to 3!!

I got into a bit of trouble for posting this so late. I promise it won't happen again ;)

GLORIOUS VICTORY

One of the drawbacks of writing as opposed to speaking is the difficulty in adequately putting across sarcasm and irony.For example, the heading of this post gives no hint that it is in fact absolutely dripping with sarcasm (okay, maybe if you know me).Last night we restarted the season after having had a four week break for international competitions.As luck would have it we played the bottom team, Warszawa, whose best player had just left because the club isn’t paying the players’ salaries.That should have ensured a more or less easy three points but of course sport never works out like that.The atmosphere before the match was a little strange.Neither team seemed to have much energy and it is sometimes quite amazing how little noise 2000 people sitting in a single room can make.Normally a match without energy favours the better team, in this case us, but we lost the first set in a really awful display.In the second and for most of the third the world was in order again until a couple of dumb errors gave them a sniff.We ended up swapping 14 set points before we won 38-36.Oddly in keeping with the general atmosphere of the match, there wasn’t much tension even though the set was close.It was more mild annoyance that we had stuffed up in giving them a chance.Eventually though we won it, perhaps with a little luck, and the fourth was more or less easy. Luckily for us because it was a long drive home and winning is the only thing that makes returning from away trips palatable.

So with that less than glorious victory we restarted our season.On Thursday we travel to Holland to restart the Champions League season as well.It should be fun.

SOME PHOTO LINKS - 12th Novemeber

Nothing particularly interesting but I poke my head around the corner of a couple.

Two galleries from the club website from the matches against Kedzierzyn and Radom.

One gallery from a fansite from the match against Radom. There are a couple of interesting ones here from the top deck of the grandstand and you can get a bit of a sense of how high above the court the fans are. A 'fan's eye view' if you will.

HAPPY SMILEY BOY - 11th November

Yesterday we played against Radom. After being postponed and unpostponed twice, this was definitely our last match before a weeks break. Why was the game postponed and unpostponed? It was postponed because we have two players away with National Team commitments and didn't think it was fair that we had to play given that the league had changed the draw after the start of the season. It was unpostponed because we have two players away with National Team commitments and some people thought it was a good time to play against us. Wednesday's match proved that was not a bad idea but yesterday the stars aligned, justice was served and the good guys finally won another match.

If losing is bad (see below) then winning is the cure for many evils. It has been a difficult period for us. We have played many matches and the structure of the league here is that we play a different time every week. So on top of the accumulated toll of losing too many of those matches, we haven't been able to get into a rhythm of training and playing regularly making it difficult to address the problem areas we have. But yesterday we had a more or less comfortable 3-0 win. The performance wasn't fantastic but it was good and a win's a win. It was a great way to end this period and go off on holidays and few days of uninterrupted sleep. Next Monday we return to training for the next two week period in December when we play five matches before another months break.

But that is a story for another day...

LATEST - 8th November

Last night we played. There is a long story about the lead up to the game and whether it would be played or not. We wanted to get the game postponed because we have players away with National Teams but the league hummed and hahed. They told us it would be postponed, then that we would have to play, then maybe not etc etc. We didn't know for sure until last Friday. After three guys, including me, had booked flights for holidays leaving on Sunday. We have another match this Saturday that was originally postponed. And then on Monday night they told us we have to play it anyway. After three guys, including me, had changed our flights to leave today. Takie zycie. Which means such is life in Polish.

So we played. I don't really know what to say about the game other than reiterate a point I have made many times before that losing is horrendous. It seems a harsh thing to say given that in the greater scheme of things it is absolutely not horrendous but ... I texted a friend of mine after the last match that we had finally won again. He replied that all HIV positive children in Africa would doubtless be relieved when 'Medicin Sans Frontiers' passed on the news.

He is absolutely right. It is spectacularly unimportant.

It doesn't really make me feel better.

WINNING IS BETTER - 4th November

Yesterday was the next step of the journey of our season. After losing three matches in a row and not having won in three weeks there was a little tension in the air before the game. Nothing serious but losing takes a toll. Our opponent was Resovia who have had a good start to the season and were top of the table before the last round. Despite their good results they are a team that in the normal way of things we should beat. However these are not normal times.

The match started at a pretty high level and neither team could get any sort of break. Resovia led near the end of the set but we made a couple of great plays to win it. It was good start but we won the first set in the last match as well. The second and third were really similar. Again neither team could scratch a good lead and even though we lead we made a couple of mistakes at important moments and found ourselves 2-1 down. This was definitely not the plan. We had been playing well but were still losing. After the third Resovia lost a little bit of rhythm while we kept playing well and we ended up winning in five sets.

After the match there was mostly just a sense of relief. In this league they give 3 points for winning 3-1 or 3-0, 2 points for winning 3-2 and 1 point for losing 2-3. So we won 2 points but given that we lead each set it felt a lot like a point lost rather than 2 points won. On top of that we had to fight really hard to win against a team that wasn't really that good. Still, a win's a win especially after three weeks. On Wednesday we play again. This time without two of our starters who have left to play with their national teams at the World Cup. After that we have a months break. Can't wait for that, but first things first...

COMFORTABLE GUY - 1st November

I might not have mentioned that I am not actually allowed to sit on the bench during matches. Depending on the gym we are playing in I sit as close as I can to the bench so I can communicate with the coach and team. On this particular occasion, I found a seat on the stairwell of the grandstand behind our bench in the middle of some Czestochowa fans. As you can see here.

This is just one of the photos from the club website showing exactly what a good time we had on Tuesday. Click here.

GOOD TIMES - 31st October

Actually the title is a complete lie. Sorry about that. There is nothing good about the game we played last night. Wait.... no, nothing. After over two weeks when we played only Champions League matches we finally got to play another league match. The match was against Czestochowa who are one of the big traditional clubs in Poland and apparently our natural enemy. We had high hopes for the match after the performance against Treviso last week and I was pretty excited leading into it. There was a packed house of over 2000 spectators, including a bus load of our flag waving fans and the match started pretty much how I had envisaged it. Our control was off, but we blocked the lights out and won the set. After that it was all downhill. The second was a disaster. The third set we were up 23-20 before losing and we also had an advantage near the end of the fourth that we blew. All in all a tough day at the office.

I have read stories by famous NBA coaches that the best thing they can do is to win on the road. Something about leaving town knowing you'd beaten their team. The bit that he didn't mention was the converse of that. The bit about how horrendous the bus trip home is after you lose. It is just awful. Long, boring, uncomfortable with only your thoughts for company, just when they are the last things you want to listen to. And if you can't stand your thoughts and want to look at the match, your computer battery runs out because the bus has no power. Ah... good times....

TREVISO - 25th October

I'm glad I wrote yesterday how unpredictable Champions League is. In an attempt to prove my point Treviso started the match last night with a lineup that they would never dare try in a league match in Italy. Not they played without their stars (they have more than enough of them to go around) but they did play with an unbalanced lineup that we were quite excited to see. We did a good job of taking advantage of that in the first set but did a terrible job of controlling the ball and lost pretty easily. The second set was best forgotten, so I will. In the third and fourth we played about as well as we have all season. We did an especially good job blocking, which has been our main focus all season, and were able to sideout well. By the time we got to the fifth we were feeling confident even though they had changed their lineup back to the more balanced version. Unfortunately we lost the first three points on bad plays or errors by us and that was pretty much it. It was a disappointing end because we had played well for a long period and knew it was probably our best ever chance to beat Treviso. I think there are some positives there, but I will wait until I watch the video to say for sure.

Trying to be objective for a moment it was a great occasion. The ice hockey arena scrubbed up well as you can see from the photos below. There were about 10 empty seats and once we started playing okay the crowd was great. After all the stress of the previous few days that was a big relief for the club. The only slightly disappointing thing is that we had dancing girls between sets but I didn't get to see them. Apparently, you can't have it all.

So with this match Champions League goes into a recess for six weeks and we can concentrate on the league with four matches in 11 days starting from next Tuesday. After this period we'll have a much better idea of where we stand.

treviso

Match photos from the club website are here.

There are some pretty cool photos of our fans in action here.

THE NEXT CHALLENGE - 24th October

The thing about playing in Europe's premier volleyball competition is that it is bigger, more important and you tend to play big, important teams. In about three hours we are playing against the Treviso, the champions of Italy and perhaps the biggest and most important team of all. It is also our first home game so it is even bigger and more important than the others. And to make it ....you get the picture, one of the coaches from Treviso was the coach here last season who took the team from nowhere to the final of the league so we got the chance to play in this competition in the first place.

It has been a pretty crazy week around the club. Aside from it being our first home game, our gym is too small for Champions League so we have had to temporarily convert the local ice hockey arena for the day. As good as it in theory, we hadn't done it before so there was some nervousness. But it seems that it has turned out well. The gym is warm enough and we should have a full house or about 3,000. It will be a fun game. One of the great things about Champions League is that it can be quite unpredictable, so although we are playing the best team we feel like we have a good chance. We will know in about five hours...

Because this is a big important competition there is even more attention than normal. Which means lots of cameras. And with the internet, communication is fast. So if you want to know exactly what an assistant coach does at training the day before an important match, click here. For the whole album, click here.

I've also got a few photos from the Roeselare trip here.

Roeselare

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE ADVENTURE BEGINS - 18th October

The European Champions League is the premier volleyball competition in Europe in that it brings the top teams from each of the major leagues, and some minor ones, together. It aims to match the football Champions League for importance and profile, but of course with varying degrees of success. Overall it is a prestigious competition and one that I've never played in before. That was one of the obvious attractions of this position. To top it all off, the first match was a return to Belgium where I spent a year and have many great memories.

The Belgium part was great. We stayed in a beautiful, quiet hotel in the country and yet less than 10 minutes from the gym. I got to reacquaint myself with Belgian fries and Duvel and Leffe (just one of each :) ) and the smell of 'fertilizer' from the nearby farms. The Champions League part was less good. We just didn't play well. Except for a short period in the first set we never played at our normal level and it was quite a frustrating game. The crowd didn't really help. It was more or less a full house of about 2,500, but they seemed just as distracted as we were. At times they were almost silent, which was eerie with such a big crowd.

All in all if the 'adventure' from the title could be likened to, say, one of the early Australian explorers, this would be the one where all the horses died in the first three days after leaving Melbourne. That's not to say we can't still find the great inland sea, but it will be hard. And next week won't be any easier when the Italian champions come to visit. All in all I'm just glad it's a game and not a real 'adventure'. I'm not sure of the actual hierarchy of these things but I suspect the assistant coach is one of the first ones that gets eaten by the rest....

I will post some photos in the next couple of days but in the meantime click here for photos from our website of our last home match. There's no good shots of the bench though, just the game...

GOING THROUGH THE MOTIONS - 14th October

Last night we played our second home game in 4 days. Our opponent for the day was Sosnowiec. Sosnowiec has had a pretty rough start to the season. For some reason that I don't exactly know, they entered the preseason with only two passer hitters under contract. This proved to be too great a risk as three weeks before the start of the season one of the passer hitters slipped so violently on a patch of sweat that he broke his leg / ankle in three places. Needless to say, his season was over. They managed to sign a good replacement but still had only two. Unfortunately in the second match the replacement landed awkwardly after a spike and tore the ligaments in his knee, ending his season as well.

Somewhere they managed to find a young player to sign and so were spared the embarassment of trying to play against one of the better teams with a non receiver playing a receiver's position. That embarassment averted, about the best thing you could say about the match was that it wasn't on TV so that only the people actually in attendance will have to try to forget it. I am probably exaggerating a little bit. The fans were happy that we won 3 - 0 and didn't seem to be bothered by the quality of the opposition or the game. We were happy to have three points and can now look forward to first our Champions League match on Tuesday. Back to Belgium for me. Should be fun...

One of our fans has a blog (in English) which she has updated with match reports from our last three matches. Click here.

FIRST HOME GAME - 11th October

After two away trips we got to play our first match in front of our own fans last night. The opponent was the team we beat last year in the semi finals, Olsztyn. I was really looking forward to it because everyone everyone had been talking about how good are fans are and how good the atmosphere for our home games is. And they were right. Our gym is small and old and only has spectators on one side, but that side has two tiers and fits about 1000. It wasn't quite full, but there were banners and flags and drums and singing! I'd never seen that one before. All the drums and other noise stopped and the fans sung. I'm more used to incessant, unrelenting noise so it was actually a little eerie. Cool, but eerie.

The match was a weird one. We came out with all guns blazing and won the first set with six blocks and four aces. It turned out we were playing almost solely on emotion and once Olsztyn started to play a little better our lack of control started to tell. We got pumped in the second and third with a few refereeing controversies adding to the emotional level. One particular mistake was a dreadful lack of knowledge of the actual rules which I hadn't seen for a many, many years and never at this level. But I digress... We squeaked out the fourth and got to 10-10 in the fifth. From that point we made one complete rotation, six servers. Five of these were unfortunately errors which more or less precludes the possibility of winning. And so it came to pass, 15-17.

So, after three matches we have won one, and lost two. Not exactly where we were hoping to be especially with Champions League starting next week. But the season is young and as the director told us after the match, we'll be fine for playoffs....

If you want to see a photo gallery of the match from our club website click here.

If you don't want to look at all of them but want to see an 'action' photo of me, go directly here.

A WISE MAN ONCE SAID... - 7th October

...'It's not important whether you win or lose, but how you play the game'. Or something to that effect. If this person was in fact a man, he was certainly not wise. He was an idiot. It absolutely IS important whether you win or lose. Last night we played the second match of the season, with three new starters from last season, recovering from a bunch of injuries in the preparation phase, away from home, against last season's champions (Belchatow). Any of those factors, let alone all of them, could lead to a good performance being recognised as a moral victory. And indeed we did play well. The best match we have played so far. We had chances enough to win every set, but didn't win any of them and lost 23-25, 23-25, 23-25. But there are no moral victories. We lost a game that we could have won and that sucks.

On the bright side, we played in a nice new stadium in front of full house of about 2000 fans, including 100 or so who travelled the three hours from Jastrzebie to support us. And at least we get a chance to play again on Wednesday to make up for it.

Here is a link to some photos of the really nice gyms we played in for the first two matches.

Bydgoszcz & Belchotow

PS There is one thing worse then losing. The bus trip home after losing an away game.

PPS There are two films called 'Crash'. One is an Oscar winning movie with an all star cast including Matt Dillon. The other is an older movie starring James Spader about people who are sexually aroused by car accidents and being in car accidents. Try not to get them mixed up.

DISASTER AVERTED - 2nd October

Well, noone ever knows how the first match of the season will go. Noone has played a real match, everyone is equal and you don't get the chance to prepare as you normally would. In that regard this first match lived up to expectations. We started out extremely nervously which is not really what you'd expect from a team with several Olympians and World Championships participants, but nervous we were. We made too many easy errors, didn't take the chances that were presented and couldn't block a thing. The first set was over fast, and the second almost as fast. So in the first match the reigning league runners up found themselves 0 - 2 to a team that almost dropped into 2nd division last season.

At that point it suddenly dawned on all the participants that we were playing much worse than we can and they were playing much better than they can. Or at least so it seemed. We won the next three sets more or less easily and ended up with a win on the road to the start the season. And on a purely personal note, I got a win in my fourth different country!! Not counting Australia. And so the eight road trip home ended up being not nearly as bad as it might have been.

Another match report in English

A link to our team list with a team photo

48 HOURS TO GO - 29th September

After 8 weeks of work we now have less than two days until our first match of the season. Tomorrow morning we head off on an eight hour bus trip that will take us to Bydgoszcz (pronounced Bidgoshtch, of course :) ). I know nothing about Bydgoszcz except that an Australian plays there and it's about eight hours on a bus.

It has been an interesting 8 weeks. We have mostly prepared well although we have found at times that it seems to be a characteristic of players in this part of the world that training is just a physical activity. They often seem to go through the actions of what the coach says until the coach says stop and then they go home. A few times we have struggled to make the point that quality is more important than quantity. The struggle has been partly due to a language problem (noone in the team is working in their first language except me), partly because I don't think players believe coaches who say it is only about quality (they think if they finish quickly the coach will just spring something else on them to fill in the time) and partly because it is difficult. The other alternative is that idea is so far out of their normal frame of reference that they just don't comprehend it. I don't believe that but...

When we have put everything together we have been pretty good. Both in training and in the friendly matches that we have played. Some of the practice matches we played weren't all that good as we had some players away with national teams and others injured. In one tournament ended up playing with junior team players because we didn't have seven fit guys. But the most important thing was we won the main preparation tournament we played against teams from Germany, Austria and Poland. We did it the hard way by winning three 5 set matches in three days. In each of the games we played four really good sets. Unfortunately only three of them were continuous, hence the five setters. Of course, I can say that our strength in the fifth sets was due to the good conditioning program (organised by ME) and ... I think I will. But at the end they gave us a big trophy so you can't really ask more than that. It was a really big trophy...

But none of that means anything. On Monday night we'll know how good we really are. And I'll be sure to let you know.