Illness, injury spoil Australia's big moment
It was meant to be the defining match for the Australian women’s volleyball team, the moment when they would prove they can hold their own against the best in their region.
But as the team prepared to take on Asian fifth seeds, Kazakhstan, with a place in the top eight of the Asian Volleyball Championships at stake, the fickle finger of fate intervened.
Two of the Volleyroos most important players, Libero Bec Walter and Opposite Phoebe Bell, succumbed to illness (although Walter somehow managed to get on the court).
And then a third player, Hannah Ross, was injured during the match, further cruelling Australia’s hopes of snaring the biggest scalp in its playing history.
It left a Volleyroos combination playing patches of good volleyball, but lacking the depth to sustain any sort of pressure on their Central Asian opponent.
The final scoreline of 25-17, 25-14, 25-17 left Australia third in its group, and now facing a fight for places ninth to 12th in Asia.
Ninth would be a repeat of the Volleyroos result from two years ago. They take on Sri Lanka on Saturday in the next step towards a potential top ten finish.
Gallant Volleyroos take fight up to Korea
The Australian women’s volleyball team has been beaten by Korea at the Asian Championships in China, but their form continues to impress.
After beating The Philippines in their opening encounter, the Volleyroos took a set off the highly rated Koreans and showed they could be competitive with the world’s best.
“We came out of it pretty happy,” captain Shae Sloane said.
“To get that second set off Korea, we haven’t done that sort of thing in a while. And to get to 24-all, and then come away with the set showed a lot of fight from us.
“The other three sets we played okay, but they really stepped it up and we just found it hard to go with them.”
Korea won the match 3-1, 25-11, 24-26, 25-11, 25-14.
It’s a new look women’s Volleyroos team, with several experienced players either retired or unavailable.
But Sloane said having so many new players is a bonus for the team.
“We’re a young team and not afraid to do anything, we’re pretty fearless at the moment,” she said.
“We know that if we go out there aggressive we can take it to these teams. It’s an exciting team to be in.”
Australia take on Asian fifth-ranked team, Kazakhstan, on Friday, with a win giving the ninth-ranked Australians a shot at the top eight.
“They’re definitely beatable,” Sloane said.
“They’re a really strong team, and they play a very similar game style to us.
“They’ve got some big outside hitters and some big blockers, which is the same as us, so I think we’ll be pretty suited to their game style.”
Sloane took a year away from volleyball last year to finish her studies, and had to watch on as the Volleyroos had their first ever season in the prestigious Grand Prix.
“It was hard watching on last year,” she said.
“It was good watching them, and seeing the results come in, but it was really hard not to be part of it.
“I really did miss it. It’s always hard to watch a team you’ve been part of, watching and thinking what you could have done if you were there.
“I’m so glad to be back and part of a team which has got so much potential and such a great future.”
The Australian women’s team, which receives no Government funding, has climbed from a world ranking of 100 at the start of 2014 to top 50 in under a year.
This year the team will not only once again play Grand Prix, but will also host their division finals, in Canberra, in July.
Australia make winning start at Asian Women's Championships
The Australian women's volleyball team has made a winning start to the Asian Championships in China, beating the Philippines 3-1 in their opening match.
It was a strong performance from the Australians, who are without top point scorer Rachel Rourke and several other players from last year's Grand Prix campaign.
But with the experience of Swiss-based Lauren Bertolacci and Victorian libero, Rebecca Walters, the Australians took control from the start in Tianjin.
Queensland’s Rhiannon Tooker was one of several players making their senior debut for the Volleyroos.
“The Philippines played a different style of game to us, which in itself can be quite challenging, but we managed it really well,” Tooker said.
“I was definitely nervous, but I was mostly really excited. To have played for Australia in youth and junior teams, and then to play for the senior team was a great opportunity.
“It was really nice to be playing again after all that training.”
The Australians took the first two sets 25-18, 25-18, but then found themselves down 11-16 in the third before staging a remarkable comeback to take the lead at 19-18.
The Philippines held on to take the third set 26-24, but were no match for a rampant Australia in the fourth, the Volleyroos taking the set 25-15 and the match 3-1.
Bertolacci said she could sense in the lead-up to the tournament a different feel about the team.
“Since we’ve come together in the past three days we’ve really come together quickly in terms of development of cohesion,” she said.
“It felt a lot easier than in previous years. It feels like this might be a better fit and a way that we could start a new program.
“There were a lot of nerves tonight. This is such a great group of girls, they are so easy to work with. It’s been a lot of fun so far.”
Australia goes into the championships ranked ninth in Asia, and next take on number three ranked South Korea, before rounding out their group against the fifth ranked Kazakhstan.
And while having a great tournament and getting great results for Australia is the main focus in Tianjin, for players like Rhiannon Tooker there’s also an opportunity to attract the attention of professional overseas clubs.
“It’s something that I’d imagine quite a few players would be thinking about,” Tooker said.
“For me personally, after college I took a bit of time off, and with absolutely no intentions to do so, three years later here I am.
“So definitely that’s a thought that’s in there.”
Australia takes on South Korea at 4pm, local time, Thursday.