Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Our progression in Prague

First off, thank you all so much for your support. It was great to receive messages from so many friends and family members as we live our dreams on tour and demand more from our level of play. It has been emotionally and physically exhausting, yet highly rewarding as we discover new levels for team Reader/Schalk.

As described in our last message, we won our first qualification game in an absolute HEATER versus fellow countrymen Matt and Josh. It was great because that game allowed the better team of the day passage to the next round; we knew we had to perform since we held the torch.

Our second round match was against the 5th seeded team in the Qualifier who are from Spain. They are a talented team with a history of excellence who bring solid ball control and fluid sideout play to the table. We knew we would have to maintain our intensity for the second match to have a sniff at Victory, so we brought the noise.

A crazy game it was indeed. It was one of the better games of our season as we proved our team's ability to execute under pressure. Without boring you with an in depth view of our game (read either of our blogs in the near future as we will write content shortly) here is a brief summary of the games and scores.

We lost the first set against Spain 18-21 without really establishing our rhythm. We set out to make more dynamic plays in the second set and were able to capitalize on a few crucial rallies to win 26-24. In the third set, I started with a heavy serve which their left side passed into the ref stand. His partner went for it and smashed his wrist into the pole and was forced to take a medical. Turns out this didn't effect him much as he continued to play well. We were pressed to make difficult points and push out an over time win 17-15!!! It was a great feeling upsetting the higher seed and playing super solid ball.

Next up was a Japanese team who also have had some great results but haven't been performing optimally as of late. A good draw for us as we matched up well and we desperately wanted that main draw birth!

We won the first set easily 21-16 as our defence and transition was spot on; we were connecting in all realms of the game.

The second set they changed their tactics and served me a bit more. I don't know when it happened but I feel that one of their short serves strained my right quad. I had hurt it lightly on Sunday while training but it didn't feel perfect as we trained hard leading up to the event. Clearly, after two three set matches and jump serving and running up to the net to block full time didn't help the situation and all of a sudden it just went on me deep in the second set.

I took a medical timeout when we were down 16-19 and got it wrapped. I wasn't able to support myself when passing to my right so I hoped a tight tensor would keep me in the game and elevating at the net since the pressure was on me to sideout. After the physio treated me, we came back and I missed a shot line to lose the second set 17-21.

The third set was all about composure and using what resources I had left to force a win. Sadly I wasn't able to adjust very well on offence and we weren't able to pull out all the stops we needed. I honestly feel we were able to win, however, the score shows otherwise. We lost a heart breaker third set 11-15, in what was the end of three hours and fifteen minutes of high intensity volleyball that day.

We are proud of our performance and know we have what it takes to make moves into the main draw. Patience is crucial for us as we return to Canada to work on our weaknesses and train harder so we can withstand the regular three game qualifiers of 2010.

Wish us safe travels home and see some of you in Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary and Red Deer as Chaim and I both plan on resting in our home towns as we regroup for the next series of tournaments.

Cheers to you all!!!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Richie throws me some props!

Good friend and fellow Team Canada athlete, Rich Vanhuizen recently threw my name up on his blog. Funny, I never really think about the things I do or say during a match, I guess they are well received! I actually just came from winning a Cliver tournament at Kits Beach in Vancouver (it was a record breaking event with 43 teams) and played with a solid Polish guy with beach aspirations. I kept on yelling at him to "Bring some Euro", good times.

Here is the link to his website's blog where he hits me up!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Pnov of Prague

The sun was out in full force in Pnov for their national tour stop and we had a one day to get used to their national tour ball. It was bigger, heavier and the panels bloated out like those of a child’s beach ball.  All of a sudden we were tragic. I couldn’t pass the ball to Chaim, I couldn’t hit the ball properly, my serve wasn’t effective and nothing felt right. Pretty horrific not playing anywhere near your potential 14 hours out of game time in a tournament you are expected to finish top 4 in!

We ate a lovely Czeach meal over a couple beers to recover (might I mention a dinner and a few beers cost us $8) and then we retired to our room to sleep yet again to make up for what was lost earlier that week.

Our first game was against a qualification team, however, for a national tour level these guys were solid. The Czech national tour has many veterans as well as beach volley enthusiasts since they have hosted many FIVB challengers and have a history of excellence in outdoor volley. For a small nation, their tournaments would rival, if not beat the NORCECA tournaments in terms of skilled teams and competitive spirit.

We won the first game quite handily with some good defense, consistent ball and patience on our end. The ball was still a factor as we didn’t look smooth, a detail that would prove important later in the day.

Our next match was against Lebl/Pavlas, a veteran team who both have made great results internationally. Lebl beat Jessi Lelliott and I in the finals of the Brno Challenger in 2007 and he is a highly ranked middle blocker in the Italian Premior league; you might have guessed it, he is a big boy!

We won the first set with some big plays and lots of hustle, but then the heat started getting to us. It was about 30 degrees and we had just come off a pretty heavy meal of borsch and bread prior to playing. We hadn't played in heat yet and all of a sudden my fitness played a roll in my decision making. I started to tire and then before I knew it we lost the second set and were down in the third. 

When I am tired I focus more on hitting harder and Lebl being the excellent blocker that he is, read me like a book and shut me down. It was humbling because it was the first time I hadn't been able to think properly due to my fitness level. It was a bad loss, but I don't think we respected our opponents enough to realize they were a strong team. Chaim was quite disappointed and it took us some time to get back together and discuss why we lost and how we could prevent it from happening again. 

We learnt some valuable lessons on how to support each other under pressure and assist each other when we aren't feeling great or getting the job done. A crucial lesson for games in our near future. 

Now on the loser's side of the draw, we had to play two more matches that day! HOLY SMOKES!!! We hadn't played more than two matches in one day our entire pre-season training, especially in humid heat like what we were facing in the Czech that day. 

The food was heavy and we ate what we could prior to the third match. We prepared with thoughts of reserving our energy for later and we wound up losing the first set through tentative play. Gosh, another lost set to a team we should have beaten; we just weren't able to get up and energized. We both felt dead, flat and unexplosive, but we had to deal with our situation and play the best we could regardless. We managed to pull our socks up a bit in the second and make some plays in a VERY tight set and won 24-22 (if I remember correctly) to push a third set. 

We had worn out the other team and I was starting to feel a second wind as the hearty food from earlier was just getting digested and feeding my muscles and brain. Chaim on the other hand wasn't feeling too hot, and after a sip of Red Bull, he sank even further. I guess Red Bull doesn't give everybody wings!

We battled in a weak game back and forth and lead most of the way. We were up 11-9 and then came back to go up 14-12. Then, we lost a few points in a row to find ourselves losing a third set 14-16 to a team that was ok 15 years ago. 

Anger. A deep rage began to rise in my body as a result of losing because I wasn't fit and trained enough. If there is one thing I can pride myself on, it is being a physical athlete. I work hard and enjoy winning matches through superior athletic plays. All of a sudden, I found myself losing to athletes I had no business losing to and I realized I wasn't prepared. 

My entire pre-season in Toronto was slow skill based repetitions that didn't necessarily work with my body and the fitness portion was sub par due to lack of communication (due to time and not enough staff) and resource management. I was infuriated that the months I had spent in Toronto hadn't prepared me for battles like this one where performing skills under pressure, heat and fatigue played a HUGE role. 

I then ran 4 sets of 4 x 30 meter wind sprints, did 4 x 20 split legged lunge jumps and then 4 x 16 single leg squat jumps landing on both legs. I destroyed myself, vowing to make up for lost ground mid season where normally my concern would be to maintain my fitness and prevent injury. 

Unsatisfied with our performance and deeply distraught over my current physical prowess, I came out of that Saturday with a flame burning bigger than ever. I wasn't going to lose again this season for any other reason than being out played. 

Chillin with Team Poland

After our loss to Brazil in the qualifier, we chilled in Poland for a few more days and waited for the Polish National team’s commitments to end before heading out with them to their national training centre.

We drove about 2 and a half hours to “Woodge” (that is how they say it, but I can guarantee it is not how it is spelled!) where we had planned to spend a week of intense training with their teams. We had a wonderful drive with “Guba” one of the athletes on the second team and stopped off at his favorite restaurant for some serious eats! We had INCREDIBLE steaks with a wheel barrow load of potatoes and then went on our way again!

We stayed at Michal Kadziola’s place which was actually a bachelor suite. Space was limited, especially with multiple suitcases each and our sleeping arrangements were cozy to say the least. Chaim and I shared a tiny pull out couch and Michal slept beside us on his double bed; we were sardined.

Our training wasn’t great but we were able to hit their team’s sauna and physio to recover from broken backs due to our sleeping arrangement. Food was delicious as we went out for dinner each night and explored some traditional and new cuisine downtown. 

We also had a great night playing poker in a local “sheesha” place were we sucked back lightly on light flavored tobacco while lounging on eastern style couches and pillows! I am not a great poker player but I wound up playing well and going all in on what I thought was a sure thing, but got out played by the team’s rookie! ARG! I hate it when I can’t determine the outcome of something through physical competition. I settled for 4th place and had a wonderful dollar pint of beer to soothe my aching ego.

We continued training in Poland until Thursday when we decided it would be better life and career choices to head to the Czech Republic and compete in a local tournament about 30 minutes outside of Prague. I have some great friends there by the last name “Benes” who are actually the people who brought outdoor volleyball to Czech! The family is a beauty and the two brothers (one of whom is still competing at the top level today) have played for years and over time have created beautiful four court beach facility on a lake with a club house and stadium seating. With the invite to stay near their courts and live for $20 dollars a day, we couldn’t refuse!

So at 7 Thursday morning we left Micha’s house and took a train to Warsaw and then connected on a train to Prague. The journey was lovely and we had a six seated cabin to ourselves for napping, watching Band of Brothers and reading to pass the time. Twelve hours of train riding later we arrived in Prague and blindly followed directions to Pnov where the Czech national tournament was being held.

We arrived safely and our gracious friends provided us with a ride to our hotel. We proceeded to down some amazing Czech fruit juice and then hit the sac to make up for five nights of terrible sleep on a foamy the size of my wallet.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Qualifier round 2 vs Brazil

So we earned the right to play Brazil in the second round of qualification in the Mysclowice, Poland FIVB Open tournament. The team we were scheduled to play had done really well in the first event in China and had won 3 or 4 of the Brazilian tour events in their pre-season. A super strong team to say the least, however, I hate the mentality of teams who draw Brazil and lose the match before they step on the sand. I was pumped for the opportunity to play such a talented team and I wasn't going to give them a single free point as we battled it out.

The match was held on centre court and Chaim and I were feeling solid. Our bodies were limber and we were both jumping high and executing our strengths. The performance of our game versus the other Canadians set the pace for this match and we knew we had to maintain that same focus through the entire second match for a chance at victory.

The match started with multiple straight sideouts and then we made a big point. We were up 8-6 on the first switch and were executing better than we ever had. I was blocking well, Chaim was getting some great touches on defence and our sideout connection was virtually flawless. The makings of the perfect match!!!

Sadly, we made one, then two errors before the end of the set to lose the lead and go down 19-20 with service. With a set play, we trapped the left side into hitting to Chaim and he made a great high dig on a powerful spike. I wasn't able to get him the set he needed to put the ball away so they dug it. I ran back up to the net and blocked the right side out by 6 inches to tie it up. A tough point to lose but we were playing strongly and knew we couldn't let them make those few crucial points in the second set.

The second set started out the same with shared sideout points. They were mostly serving Chaim who was getting the job done so when they came to me I was ready to crush some hits. I wasn't afraid to hit against their 6'7 high flying blocker and was coming in hard with all my options open. Back and forth we went but were down 10-11 as we went into the technical timeout.

When we got back onto the court, they forced a few errors and before we knew it we were down 12-16. Playing top level teams (this team is a main draw team but has to qualify because there are too many brazilian teams in the main draw to begin with) it is paramount you don't give free points because it is so difficult to make them back. Sometimes games can come down to a single error, sadly we made too many.

The second set ended at 21-16 for the Brazilians of Cunha/Thiago. They played solidly and after watching them play the rest of the qualification and main draw, I feel confident in saying we pressed them as hard, if not harder than many teams.

It wasn't a loss to hang our heads because they were by far the best team Chaim and I have ever played. I was proud of us going sideout for sideout with them for most of the first set. The mental strength required to hold your side when under pressure from a top ranked team is quite substantial. It was a good experience for us to understand the level of focus and awareness we need to win big games.

We are now off to train in Poland with the Polish National team at their training centre. We will be staying in one of the player's bachelor suites so we will see how it goes!!!

Thanks for the support and we can't wait for the next big match to win.



Monday, June 14, 2010

Myslowice FIVB Open first round of Qualification

Myslowice Games

As I mentioned in my last post, our draw for the Qualification in Myslowice, Poland was against our Canadian teammates in the first round. Out of 64 teams, we drew them by chance! The way I looked at it was this; the better team of the day would earn the right to play Brazil and attempt at taking down the toughest duo in the qualifier.

We woke excited, prepared and keen to execute in our second FIVB tournament together. On the shuttle there I got this overwhelming feeling that this our day to upset teams and win some big games! I was listening to one of my favorite songs and it injected crazy energy into my veins, so much in fact that I played the drums on Chaim’s legs and screamed in a spontaneous reaction to my stoke.

We had a beauty warm up and collectively we felt better than we had to date! Everything was coming together and then Chaim’s amazingly close buddies from Alberta who were backpacking Europe showed up! Unbelievable to think these guys were just rocking out in Poland and were able to make a vague and sketchy trip in the early hours of the morning. Needless to say they were SUPER excited to see Chaim and it was beauty to have these guys in our corner!

The first set of our match against Matty and Josh was all us. We executed our game plan perfectly and made some fantastic plays, winning most of the longer rallies which usually dictates the emotional swing of the game. I bicycle kicked a ball and made a cross block after Chaim put it over the net and that was put us in another gear. Chaim was digging up a storm both above and bellow his head and he was executing super well in transition. We had great energy and our spirits were high with confidence and poise.

The second set we knew they were going to change up their game plan and bring something greater to the table. It was more of a sideout battle in this set as all the switches were even or as close as your can get to being tied. Late in the set Matt made some great blocks and before we knew it we lost the set 21-17 after only being down 17-18.

Of course it had to go to three sets! We both wanted it badly and the level of play was high for a first round qualification match. Once again the game started with even scoring but after a let serve and a good earned point we went up to a cushy 9-6 switch. Josh was then called on a handset for a double touch which proved to be the TSN turning point. We kept our serves tough and ended the set with a final score of 15-9!

Our playing demonstrated our recent increase in performance and the way I looked at it, we earned the right to play Brazil in our second match of the Qualifier!