Head Coach of England’s U17 Girls reflects on historic medal
16th October 2020
At last year's U17 NEVZA Championships, England recorded its best result at any NEVZA competition by taking silver. One year on from the celebrations, Darren Lewis, Head Coach of England's U17 Girls squad, reflects on the memorable tournament and talks about England's bright future.
Last year’s competition was our first NEVZA together as a Cadet squad as I was previously with the England Junior Boys as Head Coach. Historically, the highest ever finish for girls had been fifth, so we set ourselves a goal of not only beating that, but to medal.
The NEVZA competition is always a highlight as it is well organised, of a good standard and allows the girls to play at least five games over three days. It is a tough and demanding tournament that allows you as a coach to find out a lot about your athletes and how they cope with the demands of performance sport.
We were in a tough pool with Denmark, who were the host nation, and Sweden – teams that historically do well at NEVZA. To put this group into perspective, these three teams eventually finished the tournament with gold, silver and bronze.
For me personally it was an interesting transition from coaching boys to girls to find out what was required to be successful at this level in terms of patterns of offensive play, different defensive systems and identifying who were the key players and how games were being won and lost. The girls lost their opening match 3-0 to Sweden but played with good levels of confidence and I could see straight away what was required to win matches at this level.
The next match we beat Denmark 3-1. It was a fantastic response to the home team and eventual winners of the tournament. This really gave us the confidence in the next two matches to beat Iceland and the Faroe Islands to qualify for the final. Both of these teams are really competitive on the girls side of volleyball.
The semi-final was particularly memorable when we were 2-1 up and 24-20 down. Under the most extreme pressure we won the next six points in a row to win the match and qualify for the final. Those were probably some of the most extreme emotions I have felt as a coach – fear that we could lose the match followed by some of the best celebrations I have ever been involved in to get to a final. English teams are normally on the wrong end of these type of results, but it was so encouraging to see our girls step up when it really mattered.
Unfortunately, there was to be no fairytale ending. In the final we played Denmark, who we had beaten earlier in the tournament 3-1, but this time we lost 3-1. It was still a good performance, but they played at a higher level on the day.
That competition is one of the best journeys I have been on with players and staff. We embraced the pressure and ran towards the challenges rather than give into our fears.
The future of women's volleyball in this country looks bright. There are some excellent clubs producing juniors at the moment and the more we can all work in unity, the stronger junior volleyball will be in this country. These girls are pushing boundaries and showing they can achieve.