Originally published in Spark Magazine in June 2014, online and in print.
Sunderland City Predators women’s volleyball face a crucial summer off-court as they look to prepare for the new Division 3 North season.
The Predators finished 3rd in 2013-14, six points away from second place, which would have left them in the play-offs.
But a new coach, Steven Anderson, was brought in midway through last season and it is hoped that, with a solid pre-season to work with the girls, the 2014-15 season could see the Predators reach their full potential.
Last season, the league was dominated by a formidable Team Durham side, who won all 15 of their games without conceding a single set.
Durham were a new team and had to start at the bottom of the pyramid and it was abundantly clear that they were too good for that level.
At times, Sunderland did look a better side than the Predators team that finished second in 2012-13, but the Wearsiders frequently struggled to find their rhythm in sets and rarely looked composed throughout games.
That inconsistency was met by teams around them improving, notably North Riding Eagles who finished 2nd on 37 points, a year after finishing 5th on 20 points.
“I think we were a bigger and stronger team this season than last season but the opposition had become even better,” said the Predators’ captain and secretary, Hollie Patterson.
The Predators face a challenging off-season which will be focused on recruiting new players almost half of their squad is leaving due because of other commitments.
“Unfortunately we are losing a lot of players. We’ve lost five or six players because of new jobs, going home, leaving Uni and just in general people being unable to commit, which is understandable.
“It’s hard for some people to make such a commitment. You need that commitment at National League level or we will never succeed in getting out of Division 3.
“We are trying to get more players involved all the time and have open sessions so that players can try the sport.”
New players and a strengthened pool of players will be vital for the Predators as they look to improve on what was a transition season for them.
Sunderland’s Eve Porter said: “Last season went well – it was a good opportunity to welcome new players into the team as well as a new coach.
“Towards the end of the season we were looking like a very strong team. It has made a real difference having a coach that is solely coaching our squad and his experience and knowledge has been great for us. It is just a shame it was too late in the season when he joined us.
“I am confident we will still have a strong squad for the season with some new players helping to add numbers to training and options in games. I’m sure when they are ready they will strengthen the team even more.
“We are losing a number of our experienced starting six but in training leading up to the season I’m sure Steve will have us ready to compete to our usual standards.”
Patterson added: “I really don’t know about next season as we’re unsure of some players who are staying and how good the few new ones will be.”
The Predators will again be aiming for the play-offs, but their entire season could rely on this summer and the rebuilding of the squad.
“Our hopes are to again compete with good team performances and take our opportunities to win and hopefully make the play-offs at the end of the season,” Porter said. “This will be difficult with both ourselves and other teams going through transitions and strengthening as well.”
An athletic sport that requires huge concentration and rewards the agile and powerful, volleyball is played regularly by 50,000 people across the UK.
“I would say about people trying volleyball that it’s a very sociable and fun game to play,” Hollie Patterson said.
“It’s rewarding and you can always get better at volleyball. I would say give it a go and see what it’s like!”