SILVER AND SILVER are the colours du jour for Freezone at the 2nd Asia Pacific Outgames with SS Pandas and SS Awesome taking out silver medals in the B and A grade Volleyball Competition in Wellington, NZ. IN a big day of volleyball, both teams rallied hard and well to take their games to high levels against fierce competitors and ultimately coming out of hard fought matches feeling very proud and pleased with their performances!
SS Pandas were up against Melbourne Gumnuts in the opening game of finals day at Te Rauparaha Arena in Porirua and following on from yesterdays opening marathon, the qualifying game for the gold medal match was a similar tussle. Pandas were off to a good start with a steady lead and good form in the opening set, consolidating some good opening serving consistency and back court play. The 2nd set was much tighter than the first, with point for point play between the two sides. Pandas were away to a small lead late into the 2nd set but Gumnuts rallied to come from behind and even it up at 23/23. Our wonderfully entertaining Frenchman and in one of the most memorble moments of the day Louis stepped up to serve a very important serve with Gumnuts leading 24/23. Louis, not wanting to choke, chose an underarm serve for safety, only to land it directly into the net.
Despite the celebrations from the other side of the net, the umpire ruled a replay as he had not blown the whistle before Louis served. SO – a life was given and in great spirit, all the Pandas broke into laughter as well as some of the Gumnuts as we all tried to ‘brush that one off’ and break our own nervousness. I can’t actually say what was on Louis’ face at the time as I could barely look around, but I knew what would be going through his head! He would have been very focussed, taking the line, looking at the court and breathing deeply as he prepared for his high toss, topspin serve that he has done a million times with great efficiency at various tournaments. The poor guy! The serve floated up and out over the baseline and everyone on court broke into laughter. Louis in the words of Kylie – “I still love you” were so apt and appropriate.
The third and fourth sets were hard fought and could easily have gone either way. Pandas were able to utilise rotations between 3 different setters, mixing up the play and using our Costa Rican import Donnelly Edmond and the ever effusing Mark Bennet in the front court. Mark’s quick hits training came in very handy as he pulled out some great running shots and impressive athletic play. Pandas were 3-1 winners and into the gold medal match!
Our opponents were a replay of our opening game from Monday, the Melbourne Spikers. Having played this team before, we knew we had to adapt to their play to prevent a loss. Colin Chan (Master Shefu) kept us all in line with excellent leadership and shot analysis. The opening set was a similar tight battle and 3 point sprints were exchanged back and forth. Eventually Spikers took the set but we had established that they would have to do more than just tip and push to out-maneouver us this time.
The 2nd set was ultimately exciting as Pandas kept pace with the Spikers the whole way! Individuals found form and Pandas were able to take the 2nd set in a tight swinging encounter. One set each!!!! The third set was similar to the first as the shots were traded and consistent runs on both sides of the court with serve were capitalised. The Spikers just got the upper hand late into the set and ran away with it but the Pandas were still in touch with them, pegging back a solid 10 shot lead to be with 5-7 points of the Spikers. Melbourne ultimately gained the upper hand with some good hits from their tall front court players but they were now having to rely on much more aggressive play as their deep pushes to the corners were being met with fierce passing and resistance from the back court of the Pandas.
The 4th set was all Spikers. Pandas, just couldn’t seem to keep their momentum up and serves were finding the mark quickly and concisely in the middle of the court. It would seem that after 3 hours of consistent hard play, the Pandas just didn’t have what was left to take it to the Spikers. Worthy victors and deserving of the Gold medal! Pandas left the court with lots of smiles (and maybe a tear or two from the Captain) as we performed beyond what we had thought we were capable of. To think back on where we started and the level we played at and to see where we stood at the end with solid and analytical play with variations and mixed up, defensive strategy, the Pandas could hold their heads high – very HIGH!
The days spectacular award though, definetly went to the Sydney SS Awesome team and the Brisbane Acers team. The A grade group had been reduced to 3 teams as one team pulled out of play in the A grade division. So a round robin format was decided to decide the placings. At the end of the round robin there was one match left, Sydney vs Brisbane and it was obvious that this was the Gold Medal match of the tournament! Brisbane Acers had been the stand out performers of the entire tournament and a lot of us were wondering “where did these guys come from?” SS Awesome lined up their best starting 6 and were supported most handsomely by a vociferous cheer squad made up of the Freezone club! From the onset the game was a real step up!
Ponlasit Waewsak took on a leadership role on court, mixing up the play as an attacker and setter alongside Yuthakarn Chakping. Both were moving with great agility and speed around the court, pushing balls from all over to the front line and powering into the Acers defence. In the back court, James Cai was a standout as Deep 6, fielding crushing shots from the Acers spikers, covering the line with great agility and pushing balls forward. Rafael Montellanos found good form from as the outside hitter and was moving with great ease and precision. Having been troubled with injury lately, it was wonderful to see Rafael swinging freely again. Tanapong Phakdeerat found startlingly strong form with some impressive 3m and off net spikes that were hitting the corners with exciting regularity. Chawin Kaewwongsa defied his small size and hit strongly from the outside as well as putting pressure on spikers to find the floor as he scrambled dove and just kept the ball alive in each point!
Overall the game was such an impressive display of court coverage and defence with some great offensive hits. It was so utterly exciting to see the Awesome players bring their level of play to a new and very technical level. They matched points and shots with rallies lasting for minutes on end and took the game to a nail biting situation each time. The 2nd set was a tirade of point for point play and Awesome kept their cool heads to ride out a series of single point trades to win a frustratingly close 2nd Set. The 3rd and 4th sets just kept on going with the entire stadium watching from various camps and even some Melbourne Spikers (whom of course shall remain nameless) getting in on the GO SYDNEY chant. It was such a wonderful trade of play and the ability of both teams continued to move ever upward with players pounding balls in all directions and with startling accuracy.
In the end, Acers just proved too conistent. Acers took the Gold Medal and I must admit I was too pumped and proud of the AWESOME team to even get the score down on paper. The camaraderie between the players after the match showed a healthy respect. The Acers could not believe that the SS Awesome team had only trained for 2-3 hours a week and kept a good match with them in the final. At the medal presentation, the Organisers commented on the amazing level of play that existed on court during this final and everyone agreed it was an incredible match. Julias and his team stood proud as silver medallists and I have to say that every member of the Freezone squad welled with pride at the dazzling display that was exhibited in this match. A standout performance by all SS Awesome players!
Surely we look forward to more experiences of this nature where Freezone fields two teams and walks away with two silver medals and a healthy respect and friendship amongst the other teams and clubs alike. Lorraine (rep of GLISA – committee behind the Outgames) spoke true when she commented that the ‘volleyball family’ of GLBTI Australia had been cemented with new teams and new friends, and that the days of competition were about more than just volleyball. Big thanks to Tessa and Nev and their help with making the event such a success. One hopes that maybe we can begin to see a bit more presence between some of our clubs across the Pacific, with invitations being extended to our tournaments in Australia, and those here in New Zealand! All players have done themselves proud and it has been utterly thrilling and exciting to watch Freezone take a place of prominence in this tournament and be a part of such a wonderful and burgeoning Games movement.
Next stop – Antwerp 2013!
SS Pandas def Melbourne Gumnuts
Melbourne Spikers def SS Pandas
SS Pandas Silver Medal in B Grade
SS Awesome def X Factor
Brisbane Acers def SS Awesome
SS Awesome Silver Medal in A Grade