Away days, rivals and post-match food: Riga Men on the NVL
29th April 2021
With the excitement around volleyball’s long-awaited return building, the 2019/20 Men’s and Women’s National Volleyball League (NVL) title winners from each league are taking a trip down memory lane to reminisce on their triumphant season.
Chris Jones, Captain of Coventry & Warwick Riga Men’s Team, looks back on an entertaining season – on and off court – as the side clinched the Division 3 (Central) title.
How does your team’s 2020 title win rank against your club’s other major achievements?
Winning the 2020 title was a great achievement for our Men’s team after many years of rebuilding and regrouping. For those that remember way back when Riga had two Men’s and two Women’s teams in the NVL, for a multitude of factors we had to consolidate to a single team for each gender. We retained the Men’s 1st Team, who had just been demoted from what was then the Super 8s (now the Super League) and we also retained the Ladies 2nd Team who were playing in Division 3.
It is fair to say the Men’s team has struggled since then and has had to regroup after the retirement of several key players and coaches. In the last few seasons, we have got to the point where we have played some fantastic volleyball and once again have a good coaching setup. Due to the strength of the league, the title - and promotion - had eluded us until the 2019/20 season when we managed to bring it all together to take the title. We are now really looking forward to playing in Division 2 again.
Aside from winning the league, tell us about some of your favourite memories from the 2019/20 season.
A favourite memory from the season had to be a trip to Tendring which, from Coventry (well anywhere) is a fair trek! Some of our players didn’t like the early start, so much so that one was AWOL when we went to pick him up at 7am (Andreas was our wooden spoon of the season winner for obvious reasons…) This left us with just six players, but we went and played a great first game against a young Tendring Academy winning 3:0, where some good new talent had been brought together by Tomasz (an ex-Riga player as it happens).
We then faced Norwich in a tight second game. It was all tied at one set each going into the third set when our setter Mark went down clutching his ankle. Sadly for us, he couldn’t continue playing and with just six of us making it (thanks Andreas!) forfeit was looking likely.
Having come all of that way, Mark didn’t want that to happen though, so instead of just going home we played on with effectively five players with Mark hopping off court in each rotation. Needless to say we couldn’t perform a Houdini and Norwich went on to win but it was both our fondest memory of the season as well as our only defeat.
The day was topped off by taking our Egyptian outside hitter Mo to the beach. He couldn’t help but have a paddle but instantly regretted it when the ice cold North Sea hit his toes!
How would you describe your side’s style of play and greatest strength? Did you have a star player?
I would say our style of play was an aggressive one. We had some big hitters on our team from all over the court and a setter than could find them. So, we kept the aggression high.
Alongside that I would say we kept a very positive outlook and pulled together as a team. When one of the big guns was failing to fire, we had other options and kept a really high level of positivity and fun on and off court, which really helped in those tight games and tough points.
Who was your toughest match against and what made them formidable opponents?
I think our toughest match was probably the last one when we needed to win to guarantee the title. It wasn’t the prettiest game of volleyball we have ever played; we were without our coach (who plays for our Women’s NVL team, who were also playing that day) and the battle was more with ourselves, believing we could win that we could do this and that promotion was going to happen.
I seem to remember a nervy first set going to something like 28–26 before we managed to get into a rhythm, which I think was a pure coincidence that it coincided in me subbing myself off and going into a pure coaching role – or at least that is what I like to tell myself…
Which club was your favourite to play against, and why?
Easy one this: Cambridge Rhino’s away – it had to be away though. Quite simply put the best post-match food (We had homemade sushi, pigs in blankets and a load of other all homemade delights!) we have had in years, if not ever. Well done boys!
If you could pick any player, past or present, to join your team, who would it be and why?
Oh, this is a tricky one. There are so many good pro players out there as well as players that have passed through the Riga doors since our inception in 1947.
I think it would be impossible or unfair to pick just one, so I’m going to turn things on its head a little and say it would be amazing to have Ray Liepa back on the ref stand. Ray sadly passed away several years ago now, but he was one of Riga’s founding members and after he stopped playing became a well-known referee in the West Midlands for years and years. He was a true example of someone embodying Volleyball for Life, it would be great to see him back on court in whatever capacity.
What are you most looking forward to about the NVL’s return?
Getting out the house! Seriously though, it will just be good to get back on court again with friends and enjoy playing a sport that we all love and creating some more great memories. I think for everyone nobody is quite sure what will happen in so many ways when things “open up “again, who will still be in the area, who will still be playing, who has taken up knitting instead – I mean 2020-21 has been a crazy ride, anything is possible!