On the glorious (aka rainy) morning of 15th of February, the ladies assembled at SEH to make way to the dreaded nearby venue, Bath, for what they hoped would be the last time (for real this time). Although the weather was not particularly motivating, the ladies had plenty of energy supplies from the sweet Valentine’s treats from the day before, and proceeded on the journey enhanced by a diverse playlist of more or less questionable tunes.
A trip to Bath wouldn’t be a trip to Bath without going through the nightmare of finding parking, and with 3 cars in need for a space, the challenge took on another level of difficulty. With players being dropped off as drivers wandered around and praying for miracles (does it sound like déjà vu yet??), Bristol got on court as soon as possible to make sure they had a team available for the start of the game. Once there, a bittersweet surprise arose as there was no trace of the club’s “favourite” referee anywhere around. Did that mean that they would, for once, have a game without controversial refs & calls?! (Ofc, it was soon proved that it wasn’t the case.)
Bath to serve first, but they had nothing on Karoline “Flawless” Drønnen’s impeccable passes, and Bristol side-outs straightaway. First set started with a strong Bristol side, as they hammered hit after hit into the opposite court, while Bath was struggling to construct a solid play and ending up shooting countless free balls over the net. The game displayed solid hitting from middles, including a headshot from Kasey Betts straight into one of Bath’s player, prompting an immediate substitution of no. 17. Second half of the set however was when the home team got a bit more confidence as Patti “Greek Goddess” Balliou and Lorena “Professor Quirrell” Bălan struggled to find the court lines when serving, with Patricia “Guys I’m Angry Now” Balliou being called out for a foot fault. However, explosive attacking from Sylvia “Spartan Fury” Betrosian and Shatha “Kuweit’s Most Dangerous” Al-Huneidi kept putting Bath’s defence in trouble, until the set ends in favour of the ladies in maroon, at 25-23, a score that was unanimously agreed upon to be “way too close”.
Determined to make another strong start like in the previous set, the ladies go on court in the same formation. Unfortunately, Bristol loses the serve from the first point and Bath rushes to a 6-1, then 8-2 lead, in the desperate shouts of Chris Sherfield about the opposition’s setter being backcourt yet jumping front court. Addressing attitude on court and more aggressive strategies in the time-out(“hammer on no. 8, for some reason they allow her in the pass!”), Bristol get back into the game with an immediate side-out and Lorena “All About Tough Love” Bălan to serve, bridging the gap from 8-2 to 8-6. Slowly the Bristolians found their feet, with Sylvia “Guys That Was So Random” Betrosian serving two aces in a row in a stunned Bath court, and as the opposition loses their two time-outs early, it’s a rather straight road to victory. Highlights of the set include an incredible, movie-like save from Patti “Free Kick” Balliou, chasing down a ball and putting it back into play via a football move, empowering the Bristolians to fight for that spectacular point until closing it in their favour, sending a strong message that they were, from then on, truly unstoppable. The attitude was uphold throughout the next points, inspiring a last-minute dive from Shatha “Should I Stay or Should I Penguin-Slide” Al-Huneidi for a ball that was a good few metres away and, with it, a few smiles from the crowd. The ball was not touched, but our hearts were (#thecheese). Amazing defence from setter Gabi “Allez Side-Out” Bégin and libero Karoline “Scandinavian Cool” Drønnen topped it all up, and second set goes to Bristol, 25-18.
After they change courts again, it’s time for Vice Captain Catherine “Ecuadooor” Wright and Mary Ashley “SMash” Keene to take the stage. Third and, fortunately, the last set, began in a “clinical” manner. Having previously agreed to make it the last set in Bath, ladies took a straightforward, “no-bullshit” approach and stuck to the game they knew best: defend, set, smash it. Gabi “Stargirl” Bégin perfectly placing a set to 4 lead to Bălan hitting it into the block’s hands, quite literally, while the player grabbed it and held it for a good few seconds before furiously throwing it away in frustration. This time it was the home team that asked for a time-out at 1-6, especially after thundering hits from Shatha “The Kraken” Al-Huneidi started prompting reactions like “Oh Shit!!” from the opposite court.
Catherine “Ruler of the Net Realm” Wright ran from side to side, fearlessly blocking and hitting overhead passes till the point was awarded to the Bristol side. A beautiful display of dominance that is all the more powerful when it comes from someone who is the embodiment of politeness; although she did, unsurprisingly, apologize for it afterwards (“I feel I got a bit greedy there”) – guess some things never change. Abigail “This Is What Confidence Looks Like” Wooden also returns to her position, denying Bath hit after hit and making their life increasingly difficult, and consistent passing & hits from new joiner “Mash” Keene (along with her genuine cheerful celebrations after a kill) kept the spirits high.
Halfway through the set, Bristol requests a substitution for Kasey “Secret Weapon” Betts to go in as opposite. The request was met with a fantastic stubbornness from the second ref to blow the whistle, insisting that “it’s not her responsibility and it’s not necessary” and all irrational reasons that go with that. The confusion resulted in Bristol losing the point, as the first ref did not acknowledge the heated argument on the sidelines, and in captain “WHAT ARE WE EVEN PLAYING ANYMORE?!” Bălan losing her patience. Fortunately the substitution was finally allowed, just in time for her to take a chill pill (metaphorically speaking). Bristol storm to a 20-14, and as per usual that day, it is when the progress to the end of the set gets slower. Angela “Super Jump” Liu comes on court as well and gives the team an extra edge, with her powerful hits from the outside position. Three missed first serves in a row by Bristol and a few questionable calls (“Well SOMEONE touched the net there, I don’t care who.” – Chris Sherfield 2k17) make it look like it is going to be a “way too close” ending again, but they manage to bring it home with a massive roof block by “Merica” Betts and “Sandstorm” Wooden on the final point. 25-22, with an epic ending, and the ladies rejoice with their new cheer as coach Sherfield awkwardly steps away.
Next up for the Ladies 1sts is the Trophy Quarterfinals on the 22nd of February, when they play UCL at home. It looks like it is going to be a great match-up, as both teams are currently leaders in their leagues. Come down to SEH at 3 pm to see The West vs The East battle it out on court next week!
Written by: Lorena Bălan