Cooper prepares team to make history

27 July 2012 / 13:46

Only two people have played volleyball for Great Britain at an Olympic Games before and on Saturday, one of them will lead 12 more in to battle.

Audrey Cooper partnered Amanda Glover on the sands of Atlanta in 1996, winning one game against Holland before switching focus to take over the British Volleyball Federation's newly-formed women's team back in 2007.

Since then she has manned a ship that has had to overcome not just financial difficulties but a lack of a professional league in England, meaning her task has been somewhat more complex than it was ever meant to be.

None of that will matter at Earls Court, though, with Whitburn-born Cooper ready to pit her side against world champions Russia in their opening pool game.

As part of the build-up she has been showing them footage of herself in action 16 years ago, and has briefed them of what it is like to be part of a larger team than usual.

"When someone wins a match or one part of their competition - not just a medal - it just gives the whole GB squad a lift," she said.

"I'm looking forward to that happening when the girls win their first match. They will get a lift. We have targeted the games we want to go after. I showed the girls my video of the match that we won and the hairs on the back of my neck were standing up.

"I was trying to explain the emotion they will feel. There is nothing else that can match that feeling. You're on cloud nine."

Competing in front of a sold-out Earls Court will be a new experience for the British women.

Despite earning their money in professional leagues around Europe, they have rarely played in such an audience as a unit, with their story a real rags-to-riches affair.

They have spent the last three months shacked up at Sheffield Fire Station, while they have had to beg, borrow and steal in order to keep their training programme in operation after their funding was cut.

But Cooper has no concerns about how they will cope in the spotlight.

"It's about being the best you can be, you've put six years' worth of work in and you want to be peaking," she said.

"Volleyball has been in the Olympics since 1964 but this is the first time an indoor British team has competed and it's going to be phenomenal; 15,000 people going nuts inside Earls Court and they will get a lift.

"I have total faith in them, we have worked so hard and our processes are in place to deal with the excitement, having your family in the crowd. We have called it out 'what-if strategy'.

"What if you're serving at match point in front of 15,000 people and we have prepared in that sort of way for the last two or three years now. They will be nervous, but we will get the levels just right."

Saturday's meeting with the ninth-ranked Russians is the first between the two sides, with a clash of styles set to provide an eye-catching spectacle.

Russia are built on power and size - Ekaterina Gamova and Iuliia Merkulova are joint-tallest players in the competition at 6ft 8ins - while Britain base their game around speed and agility, mirroring the Asian sides that have been successful over recent years.

"We have a goal within the team to make the quarter-finals," Cooper added of her ambitions.

"We know that's a stretch goal. It's by no means easy, with the best teams in the world against us, but we think we have some pretty good game plans."

Their task could be made easier too by the Russians struggling to find their feet in London.

"I feel strange. This is the first time I have come here. It's a big hall. I'm not so comfortable. I hope next time I will feel better," said Maria Borisenko.

The rest of the pool is made up of Algeria, Italy, Japan and the Dominican Republic.