Having been beaten by Southampton’s 1st team twice before this term- once at home and once at Student Cup in Bournemouth- Bristol Ladies 1st were hungry for a win against this season’s toughest opponents. Fingers were crossed in the hope that it would be third time lucky.
After a coach journey longer than a five-set match, Gaby Bégin picked up the drowsy mood with pumping tunes, running around the court with the speaker during warm up to keep the good vibes up. The girls were keen to enjoy the match and not let the pressure get to them.
The first set started strong and an evenly matched few points led the team ahead of Southampton. The girls kept up the lead, celebrating a win of 25-20. A few dodgy serves in the second set put Bristol one step behind Southampton, which they struggled to claw back throughout the set. The tension rose with each point. As Southampton’s defence continued to pick up the teams’ hits, several players played it smart and started pushing to the corners with Lorena Bălan using the classic ‘Lorena push’ and Kasey Betts following suit. It wasn’t quite enough and they went down fighting in the second set, 23-25.
In the third set all the pieces seemed to fit together. The girls kept reassessing the balance on court so as to avoid having gaping holes. Karoline Drønnen liberoed in and commanded the backcourt, getting the ball up again and again, and Shatha Al-Huneidi will wake up with matching bruises on each hip after two incredible James Bond dives.
Hints and snippets of advice were passed along like valuable secrets as players swapped on and off court. Sylvia Betrosian advised Catherine Wright to keep low and in the next point the serve came in low, meaning she was in exactly the right place. Teamwork like this was spread throughout the game.
A few hits that smashed through the block stood out in the match. Kasey did amazing kills at the front of the net, avoiding the aggressive block, Sylvia hit left handed and won the point and Kate Wyver hit the ball into Number 12, Southampton’s strongest at the net. Gaby’s setting was on point, as were her second touches, but Southampton put up a good show as they constantly picked up our tips and pushes behind the blocks. Nevertheless, Bristol smashed the third set. 25-13.
Two sets up and things suddenly started to go wrong. The fourth set started off badly with a lapse in confidence, giving Southampton a five-point lead. After a much needed time out, the team regained their focus and picked the play back up, but it wasn’t enough. 14-25.
The tension never let up. The team have a tendency to take it all the way up to the 5th set. It does no one’s nerves any good and Lorenzo Ciniglia nearly wore a hole in the court from his back and forth pacing.
However, you are only as strong as your bench and this afternoon our bench were pro-wrestlers. Having perfected the new Let’s Go, Let’s Go, L-E-T-S-G-O shout, voices from the bench rang around the court and hopefully burrowed into Southampton’s ears too. They may have had more supporters but we had more passion in our cheers. Voices were hoarse by the end of the match.
Onto the 5th and final set. Both teams crept up the scoreboard, with points handed out pretty evenly. Every single point carried a huge amount of responsibility. At 10-12, the team had an emotional timeout. Lorenzo ditched a pep talk in favour of 10 seconds of silence. Instinctively, as the team put their hands in to shout for Bristol, both hands layered on top. All in it together.
After the time out the team went back on court and won five points in a row on Patricia Ba’s serve. 15-12. We did it. In the history of Bristol Ladies 1st Volleyball Team, it would be tough to find a time when a final celebration hug has been longer, louder or more emotional.
Ultimately, you remember the people and the play more than you remember whether you won or lost. The nature of sport at University means that players come and go as they graduate or move on. But it also means that once you’ve been a part of that team, you’ve always got a place there. The day took on a further level of emotion as it was revealed it would be our last match coached by our brilliant leader, Lorenzo. After seasons of wins, losses, tears, laughter and many ‘bravos’, the rollercoaster ride of emotions we went through against Southampton seemed like a fitting way to sum up the past few years and say goodbye. For many on the team, volleyball comprises a huge amount of university life, and having Lorenzo at the helm has made it an incredible journey. We are desperately sad to see him go but incredibly grateful for all his time, effort and support.
Well done team, and Lorenzo, thank you for everything.
Player of the Match: Gabi Bégin. Gabi’s setting has been solid all term but she overcame all expectations against Southampton. In the words of our coach, “She is not only reliable as a Swiss clock, but also responsive to my and players’ instructions. Calm all the way through… Indeed an outstanding performance. I was impressed!”
Written by: Kate Wyver