We are in Switzerland competing in the first FIVB Grand Slam of the year. An absolutely fantastic place as the tournament is held in the small town of Gstaad beneath 4 large ski peaks in the pristine and traditional Swiss Alps! It is most certainly a strange place for a beach volleyball event but Gstaad is a playground for the rich and actually hosts an ATP tennis tournament once the beach volleyball fans have cleared out.
Our qualification draw was a tough one so we went to bed Tuesday night focused on playing an error free game the following day. I had recently had a few great conversations with older athletes and finished reading a wonderful book called "The laws of the spirit" by Dan Millman, so I was coming off an emotional high with confidence and positive energy aplenty! I had made some changes to my game after Worlds and was determined to come into this Grand Slam with my new found attention to skill execution and being aggressive and confident through thick and thin. This seemed like a superb idea at the time, but as I would find out during my match, heavy aggression really didn't help keep me focused!!
We had a fabulous warm up as the sun broke through the stormy high altitude clouds. We felt fresh and moved freely the clean and fluffy sand the Swiss us for their courts. We had never matched against our Czech opponents together, but as of late, they had been doing some serious damage on the European tour. After a few hits and warm up serves, a whistle announced the start of our first of a possible two qualification matches. Ahren and I prepared at the base line for a battle and quietly met our opponents at the net to shake hands. I was nervous as single elimination brackets tend to make exciting fights to the death (or at least for free lodging!). We started out with a few clean sideouts but shortly thereafter the first set drifted from our control as my excitement and keenness to plough balls 6 feet into the ground forced me to make unforced errors. My heart was racing, I was short of breath and after the final point of the first set I realized I was trying too hard! I was forcing plays and celebrations while all I needed to do was let my athleticism flow uninhibited by emotions and expectations.
With this new mindset on refocusing on deep breathing before and after every point, my attacking quickly became more effective and we soon found ourselves in the driver seat of a great second set. With a switch at 21-21, we sided out and then applied a sneak play consisting of showing cross court to the aggressive hitter and then having me take it away by blocking sharp cross at the last second. This play set up perfectly and a well orchestrated defensive strategy found me on the delivering end of a massive stuff block to end the second set!
The third set started with an interesting play as there was contact between myself and the attacker when I landed from my block. I landed on his foot and made an attempt to set the great dig Ahren made, but my ankle compressed on my opponents and I dropped to the sand in pain. I lay there for a few seconds to assess the damage and luckily for me it wasn't a game ender. Luck would also have it that the referee thought it was the attackers fault so we received the first point due to interfering contact under the net. Well the other team wasn't pleased in the least and filed a protest forcing a game stoppage. After much debating with the head referee, we won the point and the game continued in our favor.
The third set was a battle and one that saw us drawn at 14-14 after a splendid defensive play on our part. We then went down 14-15 and faced a match point sideout play. Our opponents had been aggressively serving our middle the whole match and the final point was no exception. They sent a heavy spin serve perfectly between Ahren and I and with neither of us going for it, it landed on the outside of the line to end our match 14-16 to the bad guys.
What another tough loss to suffer, especially when facing single elimination. We have since recovered mentally and have put more focus on making even less unforced errors but we are competing with excellent teams and just losing in the end. The team we lost to wound up qualifying and are sitting with 1 win and 1 loss in their difficult pool.
We are right there and our team's breakthrough is just around the corner!!