Australia defies the odds at Asian Championships
In years to come the record books are unlikely to dwell for too long on Australia’s 3-2 win over Sri Lanka at the 2015 Women’s Asian World Championships in China.
But those who were there, or following point-by-point from afar, will attest to their dying day about the courage of a handful of Volleyroos players who refused to accept the enormous odds stacked against them.
Such is the ferocity of the bug sweeping through the Australian women’s volleyball team that coach Mark Barnard may struggle to even have enough healthy players to form a starting line-up on Sunday.
At the start of Saturday’s match against Sri Lanka, Australia had just eight players healthy enough to take the court.
By the end of the match they were down to six. By Sunday morning, who knows?
One of those still healthy, as of Saturday night, was 24-year-old Hannah Martin.
She said despite starting the game against Sri Lanka with only two subs, she had confidence the Volleyroos could win.
“I felt fine,” Martin said.
“I knew we would have to dig deep mentally to stick it out, but I had faith in the team we had on the court.
“Obviously it sucks to have limited options when it comes to subbing, but I knew we still had a really good chance to win.”
And for the first two sets that confidence seemed well placed. A good game is a quick game, especially when you have a limited bench, so when Australia raced to a 25-22, 25-19 lead it was looking like a very good game.
But then fatigue started to kick in.
“We definitely were getting tired and lacking energy,” Martin said.
“We tried to calm each other down on the court and play point-by-point. We knew there was no other option, we just had to keep going.”
Sri Lanka took the next two sets 25-19, 25-16. Any honest judge would have given the beleaguered Australians any chance of fighting back in the fifth, especially given their meek performance in the fourth.
But the players rallied.
“That fifth set, I don’t think any of us would even think of giving up after coming that far,” Martin said. “
“We just kept going – I think by that point in the game it was adrenalin. We just had to give it our all, even though we were all so tired.
“Mentally as well, it was pretty exhausting.”
The fifth set was a titanic affair, point-for-point. Australia held match point, then gave it away. They held another, then another, and so it continued, until finally, at 21-20, the Volleyroos were able to finally snare the point that put to bed the plucky Sri Lankans, 25-22, 25-19, 19-25, 16-25, 22-20.
“I was exhausted, but I was ecstatic,” Martin said.
“This team has a lot of character and no fear. This was such a good win for our confidence.”
Two of the stars of the night, Beth Carey and Georgie Rowe, could barely drag themselves from the court, as a combination of fatigue, and the illness which has already claimed so many of their teammates, kicked in.
Coach Barnard will be staring anxiously at the door to the breakfast room on Sunday morning. His team plays Hong Kong on Sunday afternoon, a match in which, on paper, the Australians should win comfortably.
But comfortable is not a word that fits easily with most of the Volleyroos at the moment,
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.