GB women take first-ever volleyball win
July 31, 2012 07:53 am
Great Britain's women went beyond midnight to go the distance against Algeria at Earls Court and were rewarded with a first-ever win in Olympic volleyball competition beating Algeria 3 - 2.
While the result will not cause worldwide shockwaves, it represents an incredible achievement for a federation which has self-funded its journey to London and is trying desperately to spread the word of a game that, outside of Britain, is the world's most played.
Whether this result will achieve that remains to be seen, but what it does do is provide Audrey Cooper and her 12-strong squad with a tangible reward for all the sacrifices they have made since they came together as a team in 2006.
Houses have been sold and jobs quit in order to pursue their dream, which is why when they got to a fifth set there was only ever going to be one winner. The historic point came at 12.37am when Ciara Michel won a block at the net, and understandably some players fell to their knees in tears. Add in the fact that they are ranked 69th in the world - some 53 places behind Algeria - and the story is all the greater.
Having been whitewashed by Russia in their opener on Saturday, the question was how the women would respond and, with a line-up sporting two changes Britain were quick out of the blocks, getting an early jump on their opponents thanks to two unreturned serves from Grace Carter. Michel then came off the bench to block one winner and spike another to open up an 8-4 lead, but two bad decisions to leave from Maria Bertelli helped Algeria get level.
Michel's unreturned serve helped the hosts steal another march, and despite Savannah Leaf committing a third error of the set, the teenager regained her composure to spike to 16-14. But when captain Lynne Beattie missed a routine spike at 17-15, it gave Algeria a leg-up back to 17-17 and a reception error from Maria Bertelli allowed them to move in front at 22-21. That was then extended when Carter served into the net and, when Lucy Wicks was judged to have touched the net, the set was up.
But they started the second as though the first had not happened, getting a 6-4 lead by the time Algeria called a time-out. Two Janine Sandell spikes pushed the lead to 15-11 and when Britain came out of a scrappy period that featured a number of service errors four points ahead and, when Beattie's serve was allowed to land in, history was made with a maiden British Olympic set secured.
Understandably buoyed by their achievement, they got the first breakthrough of the third set when Michel spiked them to 6-4 ahead but come the first technical time-out, they were behind with Beattie hitting wide. Michel rode to the rescue again, blocking Amel Khamtache to get to 11-9, but the see-saw nature continued with Algeria winning three points on the reel to return to the front.
Back came Britain, but a long hit from Beattie and a two-touch foul from Michel allowed Algeria to sneak it. Knowing that it was all or nothing in terms of a victory, Britain raced out of the traps in the fourth, with Sandell on fire down the middle, spiking three winners to take them out to 9-5. That became 15-7 as Algeria lost their way - opening up at the net and allowing Wicks to find the ground.
There would be no mistake in seeing the set out either, with Bragg's spike tipped out to set up a decider. They started that in devastating fashion too, going 3-0 up thanks to a Michel spike and Sandell ace, with a ruffled Algeria calling an early time-out. A Beattie winner then brought those remaining to their feet and, with a five-point cushion behind them to absorb any nervous errors, they managed to make it.
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