By V. Fasano
We entered this ISSL season slightly demotivated, after a 3-0 loss to PACA and a 4-game losing streak. Before embarking on the bus, we agreed as a team that we would forget about the SPHSL for a week and focus on having a great ISSL season.
The ISSL consisted of 8 teams:
We got to the court, warmed up and the game started. Our first limitation had nothing to do with volleyball, since the courts had bamboo walls, light infiltrated the court, and it was hard to see while spiking the ball. Nevertheless, we won the first set and confidently finished the game in two sets (games were best of 3 sets). Beginning the tournament with a win is great and essential to build up confidence for the rest of the tournament.
Our second game was on the same day, against Nations from Brasilia. We relaxed, had a healthy lunch and mentally prepared for our game, which would start at 17:45. As we got to the court for the game, I realized we would have another external limitation, the crowd. There were about 50 students from Nations cheering them on from the warmup until the end of the game. The first set was extremely hard, although we managed to win 25-23. We were up by 2-3 most of the second set although towards the end our team began to feel stuck and nervous, as we missed our serves and lost the set by 25-22. The third set would possibly define our qualification to the semi-finals, and even against the momentum and the loud crowd, we managed to win 15-10.
As our second day approached, we also had an early match at 8:00 against Paspoa (from Porto Alegre) to decide where we would end in the group stages. Paspoa entered the game with a different approach, as they would focus on sending the ball over rather than spiking it with power. We won the first set by a comfortable margin and entered the second set with a positive mindset. Although, it all went downhill, as our players made many mistakes, and we lost the set 25-12. We were now in a difficult position, as if we lost the third set, we suffered the risk of staying out of the semifinals. This was one of the toughest sets of the entire tournament, as we went behind 12-6, although we managed to turn it back with a great performance from our MVP of the tournament: Daniel Westphalen as we won the set 16-14.
We then faced OLM from Rio de Janeiro in the semifinals. Despite getting second in the group stage, OLM were the favorites to win the trophy, as they were the champions in 2022 and had one of the best players of the tournament in their setter. The first set was extremely close, although their individual talents outmatched ours as they won with a sequence of 5 serves. The second set was similar as we also lost and our dream of being champions was over. Despite losing, I felt extremely proud of our team, as in our first ever ISSL season we reached the semifinals, topped our group and still had a chance of winning the first ever volleyball boys medal in St. Paul’s history.
In the game to decide the third and fourth place, we would face Nations, which we had already won in the group stage. The first set was impeccable for us, as we won by a safe margin. Although, like the Paspoa game, the second set was a disaster as we lost again. We entered the third set pressured once more, as we had to win to secure a medal. Even under pressure, we began playing incredibly well and won the set 15-8 securing our well-deserved medal.
When reflecting upon the tournament, many people believe that a bronze medal isn’t much to be celebrated, although they don’t know our story. The core of our team started playing volleyball just a year and a half ago. We would lose most of our matches 2-0/3-0 or at most win a set against the reserves of the other school. We have evolved immensely throughout this last year, and to win a med