Return to the court for Paralympian

23rd November 2018

Return to the court for Paralympian

The second Sitting Volleyball Grand Prix in November, saw the return of one of the competitions original teams. Surrey may have added Reprobates to their team name (in place of Gators) as a bit of fun for their one off appearance at this year’s Grand Prix, but it was long-standing members of the team taking the chance to come together and roll back the years in what they called #ReturnoftheSNAP.

The six members of the team, Matt Rogers, Justin Phillips, Ben Hall, Ashley Trodden, Sanne Rogers and Kendra Hall, returned to the Grand Prix having achieved so much in the sport since their team’s first appearance at the Grand Prix back in the 2009-10 season. You can read all about their triumphant return in the report of the November Grand Prix.

Matt was Technical Operations Manager for sitting volleyball at the London 2012 Paralympics. Ashley Trodden was the assistant coach for the men’s GB sitting volleyball squad at London 2012, while Ben and Justin were members of that squad. Kendra has represented USA at sitting volleyball in Athens, Beijing and London, winning a medal at each.

Sanne Rogers, who’s surname was Bakker before she married Matt, had already represented the Netherlands at the 2008 Paralympics where she won a bronze medal. Then after meeting Matt in 2010 she moved to England and was again selected for the Netherlands squad for London 2012, while she was a club player for Surrey, where they finished just off the podium in 4th.

After London, Sanne continued to represent her country for a while before retiring to have a family following another 4th placed finish at the 2014 World Championships. Playing at the Sitting Volleyball Grand Prix was Sanne’s very first return to the sport since and we caught up with her to reflect on her superb career and what it was like to return to the court again…

How was the experience of playing in the Sitting Volleyball Grand Prix?

It was great to see everyone again after not having played in the Grand Prix since before London 2012. Despite not training or playing for three years it was nice to see that the skills are still there, even though the last game was a bit of a physical struggle. I was glad that we did not drop any sets through the day and that when the pressure came on we raised our level again.

What did you think to the standard of play?

It is good to see so many teams still playing, and I think the two-tier structure works well. With matches of our own throughout the day I did not get much chance to see many others, but it did seem more competitive than before.

How much do you still play sitting volleyball? How quickly did you find your rhythm?

After finishing 4th at the 2014 World Championships I took a break from the sport to have children and until the Saturday of the Grand Prix I had not even sat on a Sitting Volleyball court since. I was surprised how quickly things came back and found my serving rhythm quite quickly. 

You played at two Paralympic Games, how do look back on those experiences? 

In Beijing I was only 16 years old and quite new to everything. However, sitting volleyball was dominating every aspect of my life and after topping our group we had high expectations. We lost a close semi-final against the USA 3-2, where I actually played against my Surrey teammate Kendra, but it was great to eventually win the Bronze. 

Editor’s note: You can watch the conclusion the Bronze Medal, here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kGZ95xgzxbs

At London 2012 everything was different. I was more established within my team and with my partner heavily involved in the delivery, I lived every bit of the Games. Again, we lost the semi-final, 3-2 this time to the eventual winners China but this time ended up fourth.

Editor’s note: You can watch the Netherlands’ semi-final against China here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4vyTFNvrmVs&t=511s

On both occasions it was not what we were playing for, and I look back now prouder of what we actually achieved than I was at the time.

You won bronze medal at 2008 Paralympic Games, was that the highlight of your career?

A medal is obviously a medal, but I was so young back then that I could not really comprehend the scale of what I was doing in Beijing and how big everything actually was. 

The game I remember most fondly and vividly is the London 2012 semi-final against China. At the time, they had gone through two Paralympic cycles unbeaten but we went into that match without any fears. We lead 1-0 and 2-1 playing some of the best volleyball our team has ever produced but twice they pulled themselves back into it. The fifth set could have gone either way but they scraped through.

To think that we were a few points off beating China and a guaranteed silver medal makes me really proud. In the Netherlands the funding is based on finishing in the top 3 in the world and after finishing 4th we had a lot of support cut – it hasn’t been the same since unfortunately.

How does playing in the Paralympics compare to the Sitting Volleyball Grand Prix? How does the enjoyment differ of playing at the top level to playing in the more relaxed atmosphere of the GP?

Clearly, they are obviously completely different. The Paralympics is all about winning and leaving with a medal. Playing in the Grand Prix Series, both before and now, actually taught me how to play sitting volleyball for fun. I like club competitions as they enable me to play alongside players like Kendra who I faced across the net for years. I thoroughly enjoyed being back on court at the Grand Prix and, who knows, it might happen again at some point.

Return to the court for Paralympian