Barnard and everyone associated with the fledgling International team had been impressed with the side’s progress during their first two Grand Prix games.
Sure, they lost to Kazakhstan and the Czech Republic in straight sets, but the Volleyroos showed plenty of the underdog spirit Barnard spoke so openly about in the event lead-up.
On Sunday, it was gone.
“We just did not play very well for probably 70 per cent of the match,” Barnard said.
“There were spurts there, but we were physically outmatched. We made way too many errors. The experience of being resilient, of going through that a lot of times and learning how to get out of it, we haven’t learned that.”
Barnard took the decision to give the players the morning off from training ahead of the Croatia game because he was worried about burn out.
He’s now not sure that was the right call.
“Maybe we should have pushed through it,” he said.
“But in the back of my mind I know they don’t play and train all the time, so it’s very easy to train them into the ground. Part of the intention today was to have them rest. I’m just not sure what the correlation between not doing anything this morning and the result this afternoon.”
The reality is this is a steep learning curve for the Volleyroos, and anyone who follows the sport in Australia knows this is the first step down a long and winding road.
Volleyball Australia President Craig Carracher knows.
“Let’s remember this is off the back of a decade of limited support,” he said after Sunday’s loss.
“This is the start of a rebuilding process, a process to create opportunity for a generation of players and coaches and administrators and officials.
“There are 200 countries playing women’s volleyball, and this was always going to be a long road. But we can’t not start the journey just because we know it’s a long and difficult one.”
Australia has the nucleus of a very good volleyball team, and with several players about to head to overseas leagues, and with several more hoping to follow, there is going to be more consistent exposure to the best.
But there are also a handful of players contemplating retirement. Some are listening to the protests of their own bodies, others are finding it difficult to balance full-time jobs with the commitment needed to play at the top level.
Which will leave enormous holes to fill. All the more reason Australia needs this Grand Prix experience to work.
Judging by the reaction of younger squad members like Nikki Cunningham and Jess Ryder, it’s a good news story so far.
“It’s a whole new level,” Ryder, who made her senior International debut against Kazakhstan on Friday, said.
“I can’t wait for the future years, when I can get on the court more, maybe even start on court.”
The immediate challenge for Australia, now they’ve taken one step back, is to move forward again next weekend in Croatia in week two of the Grand Prix.