‘Sky the limit’ for exciting under-14 volleyball team
If there is one young sports team in Bermuda worth keeping an eye on, it could well be the Paradise Hitters under-14 volleyball squad.
Fresh from another superb tournament performance at the Florida Holiday Challenge in Daytona, in which they were ultimately beaten in heartbreaking fashion before finishing third, the sky could well be the limit for them according to coach Mike Gazzard.
“It was another great tournament for them,” Gazzard said. “This is a veteran group, it’s hard to believe that when you are dealing with under-14s but this is their fourth international tournament and out of those four, they have medalled three times.
“I was very proud of the way they played and the way they handled themselves. I’m super excited for them for the future.”
The girls won three of their five matches in Florida but missed out on a chance of a gold medal when losing a third-set tiebreak in their final match in the Gold Pool 2 to local side Jacksonville Juniors.
“It was incredibly close,” Gazzard said. “We lost in the third set, which is a tiebreak and a sprint to 15. We started ahead, lost momentum midway through and gained it back. We went point for point after 15 as you need to win by two clear points and we lost 19-21.
“It was an emotional one for the girls as they wanted it just as bad as the other team. There were a couple of tough calls that we had to battle through, but those are the games that you learn from and this particular group will be better for it.
“We lost to very good teams and games could have gone either way. When you are dealing with these young ladies, you are learning every match and if we can capture those learning moments and then put them into the next tournament, they will do very well.”
The success of this team is no fluke with the girls training many hours and they are dedicated to improving themselves.
“We train twice a week,” Gazzard said. “We do two hours at Warwick Academy on Thursday evening and then again at Mount Saint Agnes Academy between 9am-12pm on Sunday. We also play in the Winter League, in which we take on the adults including the Bermuda women’s national team.
“When you are playing against older teams, the speed of the game is much different and that works to our benefit. The biggest obstacle we face when we go away is that the other teams play in tournaments every week so these kids are battle-tested. We try our best to duplicate that here in Bermuda but it can be difficult to find that competition.”
Gazzard, who won volleyball medals for Bermuda at multiple Island Games, including on home soil in 2013, is confident that his players will have the opportunity to progress.
“The sky’s the limit for these girls,” Gazzard said. “If they want it, there is enough potential in all of them for post-Bermuda volleyball, whether that’s at university or club level. A lot of girls go away in the summer for more volleyball training, there are various camps to build your skills. School comes first but if they can make a college team or club team, that would be great not only for them but for Bermuda as well.
The girls may be enjoying a well-deserved winter break but Gazzard’s attention is already turning to next year.
“This competition was the end of our training until January, but we’ll pick it up then and start the Winter League up again,” Gazzard said.
“There is a Nike Boston tournament at the end of February and that particular tournament has 600 teams in all age groups. In the past, we were fortunate to win a bronze medal as an under-12 team and we managed to get back just before the airports shut through Covid.
“It’s been tough the last two years, so any success they have we just need to celebrate it and enjoy it with them but none of this happens without parents or sponsors and I want to thank them for giving us the opportunity to go away.”