From 2013 through to 2016 England will be hosting the Northern European Volleyball Zonal Association Under 17 Boys and Under 16 Girls Championships. Teams from Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Faroe Islands, Iceland and England will come together at the National Volleyball Centre to compete every October half term.
On Monday 28 October, I travelled up to the National Volleyball Centre in Kettering for a three day holding camp. To this camp we invited 16 boys with the intention of selecting the best 12 to represent England at the NEVZA tournament.
Jonah Thomas has been training with this group of boys since July 2012 and this was his first opportunity to earn a place in the squad and have the opportunity to get his first England Caps. The holding camp was a pretty intense environment with two sessions each day with all players working to capacity to show the coaching staff that they had what it took to be in the squad of 12.
On the Tuesday night the coaching staff met with each player individually to let them know if they had been selected in the squad of 12. Jonah had earned the right to wear the England kit to his first International tournament. With the squad of 16 being very close during the camp, the four players that were cut from the group were obviously disheartened but the boys selected were fantastic at supporting them while they were feeling low.
During the training sessions on Wednesday, the intensity on court was brilliant with all players starting to compete for a spot in the starting six. Come the Thursday morning they were ready to go.
The boys were drawn in a pool of four teams with the standard being very high. The schedule for the pool phase was:
Thursday evening - England v Norway
Friday morning - England v Finland
Friday afternoon - England v Iceland
The squad was announced in the pre-match meeting and Jonah had earned a place in the starting team of six!
The pool phase of the tournament was some of the most intense volleyball I have seen an England Under 17 Boys team play. The team was competitive in every match, not losing to an opponent before winning a set in the match.
The boys lost the Norway match 3-1 (25-18, 26-28, 25-20, 25-20), lost to Finland 1-3 (26-24, 16-25, 18-25, 25-27) and beat Iceland 3-0 (25-23, 25-19, 25-21).
This left them with a tricky quarter final match against Sweden. This was again a tough match and the team lost 3-1 (25-20, 25-22, 20-25, 25-17). This left the England team in a playoff for fifth with Iceland and the Faroe Islands. The boys were able to dispatch both teams in straight sets (3-0) to finish fifth overall in the tournament. Having finished the tournament, Jonah Thomas played a part in all six matches, earning 6 Caps.
Having been involved as the Assistant Coach to the England Under 17 Boys team for the last 5 years, I am incredibly proud of the squad we took along.
I am particularly proud that there has been at least 1 student from TTC who has earned a place in every England Under 17 group dating back to 2003. Long may this continue!