The University of Surrey Sport Centre sits right in the middle of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty: rolling hills, forests of pines, colourful trees at the end of the autumn. Conscious that users, despite the beauty, would have not seen much of that really un-British thing that is a clear sky, the designers of the Centre decided to paint everything they could inside the venue – and I mean, everything – blue. Blue the walls, blue the stands, blue the posts, blue the lines, blue the shirts, blue the referees. Strong of their status of South Western stars, the Bristol players perfectly matched the celestial environment, even more given that coach Lorenzo, well known for his impeccable Italian stile, had guessed the dress code right.
It became clear from the very first minute that the Bristolian incursion would have turned to be an unwelcomed visit. Unhappy with a cold reception, the Ladies decided the best use for their first warm-up balls was to adjust their aim, by targeting the scorer’s coffee. First attempt, cappuccino gone, gauntlet thrown, time to play.
Showing an unity of purpose unseen so far in the season, the Bristol Ladies opened the first set with confidence and composure. Gabrielle ‘I know’ Bégin confirmed once again the tradition of outstanding Canadian setters at Bristol Uni is here to stay, and distributed her assists seamlessly, helped by the solid passing of the rest of the team. Indeed the attackers’ aim was well tuned. They saw cappuccinos in every corner of the court, and hit them with ease. The Ladies cruised in the first set, standing on the shoulders of Shatha ‘Sandstorm’ Al-Huneidi, author of so many points the invisible man taking the stats for Bristol decided to give up and enjoy the show. 25-18. No sweat.
The cruise continued in the second set with little turbulence. Choral, solid pass all the way, sun shining on the Bristol side of the court. The crew decided it was time for refreshments. In the meanwhile, on court, all the repertoire of the Maroons’ attack was on show. ‘The Greek Hammer’ Sylvia Betrosian and ‘Killer Knuckles’ Patricia Ba pounded heavily from outside position, Catherine ‘Vice’ Wright and Kasey ‘Merica’ Betts left the opponents’ middle blocker wondering what she was there for, and Lorena ‘Hey, I got it under control’ Bӑlan completed the picture with her sneaky opposite shots. A concerto in heaven, also featuring Angela ‘I am here no worries’ Liu serving the way she knows. 25-18. Two sets home.
But, hey. The Surrey side was not there just to watch our stars shining in their (fake) sky. By the end of the second set rallies became longer. Surrey doubled the block more readily, and organised their defence and cover. Cappuccinos weren’t that readily available anymore. Each point became a hell of a battle, with up to four, five, six attacking attempts each side. Clouds appeared on the horizon, in the form of a noisy crowd who galvanised the hosts. A shouting bunch, quite annoying too. Captain Lorena was on the verge of climbing the stalls to punch a couple of them in the face, but the referee was categorical: “Only after the game.” Bristol’s nerves were touched… too much coffee, probably. Our passers trembled: it became more difficult to attack, many balls caught the net, many passes went off on tangents. In a break of good serving, Surrey went ten points up, too many to recover in the set, despite the amazing defending efforts of Abi ‘No Corner is Too Far’ Wooden. 25-21 for Surrey, 2-1.
Strategy first. Lorenzo ‘Coach-Pilot’ Marvulli asked the passengers for calm and devised the plan for set four. A secret plan, obviously, I am not going to tell you all the tricks of the trade! It worked, by the way. It was a tight point-to-point set that got Bristol 24-22 ahead, one point away from the comfort of the bus back home. Surrey demonstrated all its value and technical skills, attacking consistently from all positions. To cut a long story short, it was one of those sets that sticks in the mind of players and coaches for a long time. That can make you realise football is the ‘beautiful game’ until you don’t step into a volleyball match of the kind Surrey-Bristol was. That made the crowd mad, and the Bristol side even crazier when Gabrielle Bégin ‘But I Also Finish It’ decided that three touches are one too many, and her hardly-worked-on tip on second contact fell right in the middle of the opposite court, where Surrey’s shirts piled up in the attempt to cover the spot. They didn’t manage. Point-Set-Game: 25-23. Everybody home, singing ‘Sandstorm’ a cappella.
Oh, yes, Surrey. They were left with the blues.
MVP: Shatha Al-Huneidi. Solid attacking, solid defending, solid singing.
Hope you enjoyed the flight,
Your ‘Always’ Coach Pilot