Annual Awards 2020: The unique stories behind every winner

6th October 2020

Annual Awards 2020: The unique stories behind every winner

Thank you to everyone who joined our virtual audience for one giant celebration of our grassroots heroes during Annual Awards Week.

Between 21-25 September, volleyball player, coach and commentator Clayton Lucas did a superb job of compering our awards ceremonies each night.

Below you can find out more about the winner from each category. Congratulations to each and every one of you, the recognition is well and truly deserved!


Young Coach of the Year: Jack Matthews

Jack is the coach at Black Country VC for the U18s and U16s boys, as well as for Stourbridge VC boys’ 1st and 2nd teams and assistant coach for Black Country Men’s NVL side. Last year he guided the U18s boys to the U18 National Finals and has helped the development of several players within the England setup. Despite being busy trying to complete his NQT year, he has always been at training and matches, which shows willingness and his enthusiasm for the sport.

Jack said: “I’m very proud to be recognised by my peers and the youngsters that I’ve coached. It’s a great moment.”

Watch back day one of Annual Awards Week to listen to Jack’s interview:

Other category finalists: Elizabeth Carrick (Leeds Gorse); Adam Wake (Sheffield).


Coach of the Year: Elaine Brown

Elaine is a full-time coach at the GORSE Academies Trust and the Director of Youth Volleyball Development at Leeds RGA VC. This last year she has gone above and beyond to develop volleyball across West Yorkshire. She has an outstanding dedication and commitment to coaching, promotion of equality and good sportsmanship and creative tailors her coaching to the needs of her players.

Reacting the win, Elaine said: “It’s amazing, such an honour. I feel really, really honoured.”

Watch back day one of Annual Awards Week to listen to Elaine’s interview:

Other category finalists: Alex Burdett (UK Armed Force’s Men); Darren Lewis (Boswells, England Cadet Girls).


Young Official of the Year: Cas Vanbrabant

When Cas qualified as a Grade 4 referee in 2018, it was immediately obvious that he was a natural with the way he handled matches, so promotion up the grades soon followed. Last year he showed his dedication to the sport when he became Vice Chair of Loughborough Students VC while also mentoring newly qualified referees. His commitment was evident when he was appointed to officiate Coventry Riga matches and his normal 50-minute car trip was replaced by a journey by bus and train over two hours each way.

Cas said: “For me it’s a great honour because I have always loved refereeing. Every game I’ve reffed has been a great pleasure. It’s never really felt like an obligation, so to receive recognition for something you truly love, something I’ve always wanted to do, is nice to hear.”

Watch back day two of Annual Awards Week to listen to Cas’ interview:

Other category finalists: Charlotte Bontems (Tendring); Ellie Kim (Ashcombe).


Referee of the Year: Anna Justkowska

Anna is a committed and talented referee. She has displayed a high level of refereeing, not only in her decision making but also in conflict resolution. She has displayed calmness, focus and the highest level of competency in matches, whether as a first or second referee or as a line judge. She has also led colleagues and younger members of the refereeing profession and supports them in their careers.

Reacting to her win, Anna said: “I’m very surprised. The feeling is amazing because someone has noticed and nominated me – I am very proud. I promise I will try to get even better!”

Watch back day two of Annual Awards Week to listen to Anna’s interview:

Other category finalists: Lenny Barry (Cheshire West, Chester); Phil Cobb (Loughborough Students).


Young Volunteer of the Year: Lewis Fenech

Lewis dedicates almost all of his free time to coaching and looking after the finances at Brentwood VC. Through Lewis’ love of the sport and desire to keep a 30-year-old community club going, he now coaches 30 people and four Essex league teams. He also promotes the sport through his ‘The Volleyball Addict’ brand. Lewis also puts a lot of his own money into the club – indeed nearly every ball the club has come from him.

Lewis said: “It came as quite a shock to me. I’ve been volunteering at my club for quite a while, it’s almost second nature to me. It’s nice to be appreciated and a great honour!”

Watch back day three of Annual Awards Week to listen to Lewis’ interview:

Other category finalists: Jack Matthews (Black Country, Stourbridge); Liam Bateman (Newcastle).


Volunteer of the Year: Rachel Hynes

Rachel, of Dartford VC, has dedicated most of her spare time over the past year to volleyball. She has worked hard to develop herself as a junior development coach, spending hours shadowing others, reading texts, and watching videos to aid her development. She has also played an integral role on the club’s executive committee. As if the time she has given was not enough, over this last year she has also become chair of the Kent Volleyball Association.

Rachel said: “It’s incredibly humbling and it means an awful lot to be recognised. Not only have the support and that there are secret squirrely behind the scenes who went to the trouble of nominating me and the fact then I won – it’s surprising and humbling!”

Watch back day three of Annual Awards Week to listen to Rachel’s interview:

Other category finalists: Duncan Worrell (Kings Langley, Herts Volleyball Association); David Potter (Leeds Gorse).


HEVO of the Year: Emilie Forrisdal

Emilie has had an outstanding effect on the volleyball participation levels at De Montfort University as a HEVO and club treasurer. She managed to get 89 different individuals to attend weekly recreational volleyball sessions – the highest recorded participation figure since the recreational programme began at the university – and helped to obtain over 40 members for the university volleyball club – the highest number in recent years. 

Emilie said: “Well I think it’s an honour of course and I think it’s really fun to be recognised for something I really liked doing, something I looked forward to doing every week. To be recognised for that work is amazing.”

Watch back day three of Annual Awards Week to listen to Emilie’s interview:

Other category finalists: Lea Gostincar (Nottingham Trent); Kanatbek Jigitekov (Anglia Ruskin).


Huck Nets' Club of the Year: Coventry & Warwick Riga

Coventry & Warwick Riga had a successful 2019/20 season with two of its three NVL teams winning promotion (Women’s Division 2 (North) and Men’s Division 3 (Central)). Its recreational and junior sessions continue to thrive thanks to successful partnerships with the Uni of Warwick and Coventry University too. It has a strong presence on social media, recently launched a new website and worked hard to keep members engaged during lockdown.

Julia Pros said: “To say this is an achievement is an understatement. We’re a volunteer-based club and to see ourselves recognised in this way is proof of the positive impact our committee members, coaches and all other volunteers involved in running our club have had on volleyball in the Midlands area.”

Watch back day four of Annual Awards Week to listen to the Coventry & Warwick Riga committee’s interview:

Other category finalists: Leeds Gorse; Southampton.


Serena Morten Safeguarding Award: Leah Howel

Social worker Leah is the safeguarding officer at Maidstone VC, a role she thrives in. Prior to lockdown she would come along to sessions to meet new members and offer support and advice and, as part of the club’s committee, ensures any decisions made considered the wellbeing of junior and vulnerable players. During lockdown she stepped up to actively encourage members to interact with each other, understanding that loneliness can be an issue, and as such the club developed various tasks and virtual events to keep people in touch and smiling.

Leah said: “It’s amazing. Being a volunteer for any club can be a really thankless task sometimes so it’s nice to be recognised for the work I’ve done.”

Watch back day four of Annual Awards Week to listen to Leah’s interview:

Other category finalists: Martyn Quick (Skyball); Adrian Stores (Stockport).


Long Service of the Year: Lenny Barry

Lenny has devoted his life to volleyball. A faithful and committed servant of the sport, he has played a leading role in developing volleyball at club and national level, as a coach, referee, and volunteer. Lenny contributed to the creation of the HEVO programme in 2010, has been one of a few people to be a Volleyball England Tutor for both the refereeing and coaching qualifications, is a former Student and National Cup Commissioner and was selected as a National Technical Official for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Known and respected across the sport, Lenny can be rightly proud of the impact he has had on the sport over the last 40 years.

Lenny said: “It’s fabulous recognition. I’m delighted and surprised. Thinking about it, it’s been over 40 years that I’ve been involved in volleyball now.”

Watch back day five of Annual Awards Week to listen to Lenny’s interview:

Other category finalists: Helen Britten (Darkstar); Ken Edwards (Chelmsford).


Golden Trick Shot Champion: Ben Osborne

Inspired by the community’s creative home workouts and drills during lockdown, athletes were challenged to create and record their very best trick shots for the chance to win a golden volleyball.

Watch the shortlisted entries here:

Other category finalists: Sam Dunbavin and Haydn Lawson.


Peter Wardale Trophy: Janet Inman

This trophy is one of the most prestigious awards in the sport. It’s not awarded every year and is given in recognition of an extraordinary contribution over a long period of time.

Janet started playing at school and loved the comradery, the teamwork, the technical and tactical aspects of the game. After leaving teacher training college, she joined a local club and before long qualified as a coach and referee and was elected to be the club chair, soon becoming the chair of the East Midlands Association.

One evening she had a phone call from Dan Dingle, president of the English Volleyball Association, who said he had heard about Janet and wondered if she would take up the role of President of the Schools and Youth Commission. She agreed.

The natural progress from the Commission was to join the VE Board, which she did and became the Development Director for 8 years. During all this time she was also still coaching at club level, refereeing local league, coaching in schools and running the County and Regional Associations.

During 2012 Olympics she was lucky to be part of the team that delivered the Beach Volleyball event at Horse Guards Parade, she said she didn’t feel like going to work each day as she was surrounded by like-minded friends and family.

She was appointed CEO of Volleyball England in 2016 and stepped down at the end of 2019 after helping to steer the organisation back on track. Janet joined the Volleyball England Foundation, a charitable organisation that is closely aligned to Volleyball England, as company secretary afterwards.

She has picked up Taraflex floor in Sheffield, been the welfare lead at National School Games, pumped up balls, washed kit, picked up people for matches and handed out bananas at international matches. There aren’t many roles in volleyball that Janet hasn’t done at some point or another.

Thank you, Janet, for the huge impact you have had on volleyball in this country.

Watch back day five of Annual Awards Week to listen to Janet’s interview:

Annual Awards 2020: The unique stories behind every winner