My U19 Beach International Experience 2023 – Charlie Chambers

Each year we ask a number of our young athletes to report back on their experience, today we focus on Charlie Chambers, who was selected to represent the SW at this summer’s U19 International Beach Open Championships.

The U19s International Open took place on the 29th-30th July 2023 at the Cardiff Beach Volleyball Centre. We drove up early on the 29th, for our team briefing before our first match that morning. My partner was Louise Weiner, who I played alongside at the U17 Inter-Regional Championships, Beach Regionals and all of the SW training camps over the season. Louise is a player who is incredible to watch on court, and whom I have the utmost respect for- so I was very excited to be her teammate.

Pulling up to the venue, I was expecting the International Open to be the same as Beach Regionals the month prior, however seeing the other teams and the older players, I knew the standard would be very different and each game that much more competitive.

Our first game was against Ireland, and with that, mine and Louise’s first match together. We started as we meant to go on, with a convincing win of 21-9, 21-14! I’m sure many players can understand the nerves and apprehension before a match, especially when representing your region on this level, but coupled with playing with a new teammate, its always going to be that much more daunting. But winning our first game definitely shook off the nerves and filled Louise and I with confidence that we aimed to carry with us for the remainder of the tournament.

We then played Northern Ireland- which was a challenging game. Louise and I had to really work hard for the win, and pulled it off with a 21-18, 21-17 result. After all that hard work, we felt we deserved a reward, so we headed to the local bakery- well known amongst the Cardiff Beach Volleyball community!

We picked up a fresh cinnamon bun each (the first of many for the weekend) and ate it whilst watching the other SW pair (Alexia and Heidi) play against Scotland, in our final pool match of the day. They beat the first pair easily at 21-7, 21-10, which bode well for us.

Unfortunately we lost the first set against Scotland’s second pair 22-20, in a tough fought set. After a pause in between sets and some encouragement to each other, Louise and I played hard to win the second set 21-17, meaning the game would go to a third set to 15 points.

Louise and I were exhausted and we lost 15-7 in the final set. However, not all hope was lost, since Heidi and Alexia won their game it meant our teams were drawn 1-1, which would be decided by a Golden Set. Heidi and Alexia were set to play, with Louise and I doing our best cheerleading impressions on the sidelines, and ultimately beating Scotland 15-12! This meant we finished top of our pool, and in the best possible position for the knockouts the next day.

We headed back to our accommodation for the night, where Dave cooked what seemed to be an infinite amount of pizza. After recovering from the carb overload, a game of table top volleyball took place amongst a few of the teams staying in our accommodation. Whilst seemingly making up the rules as they went along, it was very entertaining!

By this time, the days activities were physically taking its toll so we headed up to bed- I wanted to get a good night’s sleep so I wouldn’t be too tired for the second long day of matches, especially if we were aiming for the final.

After a deep sleep that could be otherwise described as a mini coma, I was energy-filled and ready to take on Wales in the knockouts. Unfortunately, the weather had taken a turn, and an almost biblical amount of rain decided to descend upon us for the entire day. Feeling more prepared than most, and never having been more grateful to live in a seaside county where the weather likes to take a dramatic turn, Louise and I were ready (unlike the poor boys from Gibraltar, who had never played in the rain before).

After emerging victorious with a 2-1 win, and Heidi and Alexia winning their game, we were through to play England in the Semis. We knew this would be a tough game, as one of the pairs from England was South West’s very own Katie and Molly. Whilst Louise and I talked strategy in shelter out of the rain, Alexia and Heidi took on England’s first pair. Things took a turn for the worse when Alexia injured her hand and could not continue, meaning they had to forfeit the game.

Louise and I knew this would be a challenging match, and after struggling to keep up morale in the game against Wales, we were desperate to overcome this learning curve. We went back to basics and focused on communication between each other, gradually bringing in more technical plays in order to try and eliminate mistakes. Despite losing to England, we felt we had developed as a pair more in one match than over the entire weekend, leaving the game with a completely different mindset than the one we went in with.

So, we’d ended up in the 3/4th place playoffs against Scotland, a team we’d taken to a Golden set the day before. It was going to be tough. Despite Alexia insisting she’d be able to play, the officials would not let her due to the severity of her injury. This meant the forfeiture of the first game, meaning Louise and I had to win our game and then the Golden Set in order to keep our medal chances alive.

Still in the torrential rain, and face to face with the one pair we’d lost to the day before, we knew we had to win. Our determination was evident in the way we played, and after some tactical serving we obtained the advantage, took Scotland to three sets and won our game 2-1. After a short break, it was time for the Golden set, against a slightly different Scotland team. It came down to the wire, and we gave all we could, relying on and trusting each other in what was possibly the most intense set of volleyball I’ve ever played. In the end we lost 16-14, which was utterly devastating. But sometimes that’s how a game goes, there’s no point in thinking of ‘what ifs?’ or blaming yourself for a point lost. All you can do is reflect, appreciate the good and learn from the bad, and move on.

Ultimately, we finished 4th, and for the only region taking part in the u19 International Open, I’m happy with that, maybe not satisfied, but there’s always next year.

We left blood, sweat, tears (and a lot of rain) on those courts, and made memories I will never forget. It was an honour to play with Louise, I’m proud of her and I’m proud of us as a team. None of this would have been possible without coaching from Abbie Sinclair-Thomson, Dave Gunther and Dave Reece. And a massive thank you to SWVA, for their sponsorship and selecting me to represent them for all the events I took part in this season.

Charlie Chambers

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