Almaty, Kazakhstan, June 26, 2015 – Australia kicks off its women’s volleyball Grand Prix campaign against former world powerhouses Cuba, in Kazakhstan on Friday, determined to build on the positive results from last month’s Asian Championships.
Although the women Volleyroos finished ninth in the Asian Championship in China, they lost only two matches during the tournament, to world-class Korea and Kazakhstan, and showed steady improvement throughout the event.
This is a team that 12 months ago was ranked 100th in the world, but rocketed up to 46th by year’s end.
Its low ranking was very much the product of a lack of opportunity, with the national team rarely taking on the world’s top teams.
The team made its World Grand Prix debut last year, and although they finished winless, they did show they could mix it with the world’s best.
Twelve months on and it’s a very different and very much younger looking Australian team beginning its Grand Prix quest.
Last year’s captain and star player, Rachel Rourke, was unavailable for this weekend, and also missing will be senior players Olivia Orchard, Tara West, Sarah Choat and Karley Hynes.
But Shae Sloane is back after taking year off for studies and will captain the team, which has also recruited 2012 beach volley Olympian, Becchara Palmer.
The team will have extra incentive this weekend following the announcement by star player Lauren Bertolacci that this will be her last year playing with the Volleyroos, as she embarks on a coaching career in Europe.
There have been some minor changes to the squad since the Asian Championships, with Hannah Ross injured at that event, and exciting teenager Phoebe Bell rolling her ankle on the eve of the team’s departure.
The Australians will play Cuba (26th in the world), Algeria (25th) and Kazakhstan (19th) this weekend, and coach Mark Barnard is excited to test his team’s progress.
“We are a young team and we have a mixture of full-time athletes and professionals,” he said at a pre-event news conference.
“This is a great opportunity to play high-level volleyball. As the weeks go on, we get better and better.
“We need to play well because we don’t want to be in the finals having lost all of our matches. For our players, the level of confidence they will gain will come from performing well.’”
Australia will host the World Grand Prix group three finals in Canberra next month, but captain Sloane says her team is very much concentrating on this weekend.
“We don’t know much about our opponents, so we just want to focus on our game, what we can do on our side of the net to hopefully win a match,” she said.
“Right now we’re concentrating on things outside of the court and what we can do together as a team, so we can improve as the World Grand Prix progresses.”
Next weekend Australia will travel to Algeria to play against the host nation, Mexico (27th) and Kenya (19th) before heading back to Canberra to host the finals.