It was a whirlwind week for me after returning from Edinburgh and Final 8s in mid-March of 2014. The Exeter University Volleyball Club did better than anyone expected (see my recap), leaving its mark on the competition in multiple ways. For a long while I had a bit of a buzz going from the realization of what we accomplished.

Not that I had much time to just bask in it all. I had to fulfill requests for press and publicity pieces to help get word of the teams’ successes to the masses. Despite the club having over 100 members, volleyball was not a high profile sport at Exeter. We were always fighting for our share of attention and support. We needed to use any and all success to help boost our standing in the athletics community there.

Of course there’s also the social aspect of things. Keeping up with all the photos and updates on Facebook and Twitter in the days after our Edinburgh success was at times a job unto itself. One of the players even put together a really well-done video. Club members not on the trip wanted to hear the stories. I’m sure the players rehashed things among themselves many times. There was also the inevitable talk about what that year’s success could/should mean in terms of support for the club moving forward.

Even now, I still periodically find myself shaking my head at just how well things turned out at that Final 8s.

As I documented in my Coaching Log entries over the course of the season, everything I did was to prepare the women for just that level of competition (well, aside from Northumbria and Durham). It was no surprise to me that they put in a respectable performance against those teams. My thought was that 5th or 6th was probably a realistic expectation. The whole team, myself included, would be quite happy with that kind of result if it came to pass. After all, just two years prior the they were in Division 2. Wrapping my head around the idea that we finished as the 3rd best team in the U.K. is still a challenge.

As for the men…

In the case of the men, I had low expectations. Only three players returned from the prior year. I expected them to struggle to even make it to the Round of 16. They had a lot of things go their way to get them in to Final 8s.

It was a season of struggles on many levels. That probably shouldn’t have been a surprise considering the relative youth and inexperience of the group. Going into Final 8’s, we expected the opposition to outmatch us physically in all our matches. Further, we hadn’t really come together as a unit for any sustained period of time. I was, in all honestly, worried the guys were going to get pounded in four straight matches. I’d have been satisfied with having at least one match (probably the 7th/8th playoff) in which we were well and truly competitive. Even on the day I would not have been overly disappointed with having lost to Durham at the end as we’d have given them a good fight. In fact, I kept expecting them to beat us. They just didn’t do it!

So there I was, a coach in the rare position of having his teams both exceed expectations. So often we struggle to just meet them. It’s a strange feeling. Though it did make wearing a kilt to the club’s year-end dinner a bit more fun. I said months prior if the women made it to Edinburgh that I’d wear one. Both teams succeeding as they did let me laugh all the more heartily at the absurdity of a night out in Exeter wearing a skirt. 🙂

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently the Talent Strategy Manager (oversees the national teams) and Indoor Performance Director for Volleyball England, as well as Global Director for Volleyball for Nation Academy. His volleyball coaching experience includes all three NCAA divisions, plus Junior College, in the US; university and club teams in the UK; professional coaching in Sweden; and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. He's also been a visiting coach at national team, professional club, and juniors programs in several countries. Learn more on his bio page.

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