The start of this year’s campaign hasn’t gone to plan for the University of Sunderland men’s volleyball team.
With several match cancellations and some of the team’s key players unable to attend games since September, the squad are hoping for a more successful run following the Christmas break.
The volleyball team saw a lot of fresh faces in September, many of which haven’t competed at such a high level before. Training sessions can only help these new members so much and with BUCS matches cancelled and rescheduled on such a regular basis many feel that they haven’t had the opportunity to develop their skills as much as possible.
Team Captain Mark Whitelaw is disappointed with the season so far.
“It’s crazy. We can only help the new guys so much when it comes to training. Playing real games is where they learn the most and can put what we’ve done over the week into practice,” Whitelaw said.
“Next semester will be better. Most of our difficult games are out of the way and we should be back to playing week in week out.”
Another hurdle the side have had to cross has been the shortage of experienced players. With certain people unable to attend training and league matches due to demanding University timetables many are anticipating their return.
“Not only have we lost good players, but we didn’t get any experienced ones coming into the team either,” said Whitelaw.
“This makes it even more difficult to balance teams within training sessions. The majority of the side are still learning the ropes and have few players to learn from.”
One of the key players that the side has missed has been Callum Ballard. With an impressive understanding of the theory behind how the team should tick, he would have had a great impact on one of the team’s greatest weaknesses, positioning.
“Callum Ballard is great, and we’ve really missed him this half of the season. He’s experienced at university level and his presence on the court rubs off onto the newer guys.
“Once players like him are back I think we’ll start testing some of the bigger sides,” said Whitelaw.
With most of the season’s bigger games out of the way, the team can focus on some of the table’s less difficult fixtures. This, along with a stronger Sunderland side, means that many believe that the wins will come after the Christmas break.
“We’re confident – that’s what it comes down to. We’re getting our best players back, the new guys will come on leaps and bounds and we’ve got a run of easier fixtures.”
It’s clear that the first half of the season has been a struggle for the University men’s volleyball team. The inconsistency in fixtures and the overall lack of experience within the side have been the biggest downfalls. However, with a steady run of games after the break, the team hopes to develop quickly and pick up points early on.
“This year hasn’t been ideal. But hopefully the guys that are new to the team and stick it out. If they do I can see Sunderland being a seriously good team in a few years,” Whitelaw concluded.