The Sri Lanka U19 team had to make do with ninth place at the 11th Asian Boys’ U19 Volleyball Championships which were concluded in Myanmar recently.
Sri Lanka, under the leadership of Nuwan Tharaka, competed in group C of the 12 team tournament with Asian powerhouses Japan and Thailand being the other members of the group.
Sri Lanka finished 9th after Bangladesh withdrew from the 9th place playoff in the..
Playing their first game versus Thailand on March 28th, the Lankan side fell 25-10 in the first set in the face of some stylish play by the Thai side. The second set was more of the same with Thailand continuing to dominate, winning 25-15. Sri Lanka did offer some resilience in the third & final set, but it was to no avail as Thailand triumphed 3 sets to 0.
Heading into the next game against a strong Japan side the following day, the young Lankans seemed to have a buzz about them and performed much better than they did against Thailand. However the result was more of the same as Japan won 3-0 with scores of 25-14, 25-21 & 25-17.
Sri Lanka coach Chaminda Lakshman said, “We actually trained this side in an extremely short period and it was a difficult task. Given that the volleyball calendar was pretty empty, the boys had lost touch. Given all this, the fact that the boys mounted such a challenge against a strong side is impressive.”
Sri Lanka did however manage to nick a win in a game against Hong Kong, 3-1. Even though Hong Kong won the first set 23-35, Sri Lanka stormed back to win the remaining games 25-22, 25-20, 25-20.
Unfortunately, Sri Lanka missed out on the Super 8 stage and had to compete in the play off for 9th, 10th & 11th place in order to gain some consolation. Here, the team defeated Bangladesh (25-14, 18-25, 16-25, 25-23, 15-11) to cement 9th place overall.
Sri Lanka doesn’t have a very good track record in the tournament. Initially joining the Championship in 2007, the island nation came in at a disappointing 10th. This was followed by their 7th place finish in 2008 and 8th place finish in 2010 but since then the team had been on an upward trajectory, finishing 6th and 5th in 2012 & 2014 respectively, prior to this year.
Sri Lanka’s first opponents, Thailand, also lacked an illustrious tournament history. The South East Asian nation has a nine year history in the competition but didn’t even feature in the last edition. However, they have shown drastic improvements to move up 2 places from their last performance, coming up from 8th to 6th.
Conversely, Korea haven’t been performing at the expected level in recent years but still managed to improve from their 2014 standing of 6th to 2nd at this year’s tournament, losing out to Japan in the final.
ThePapare.com inquired as to why the current standard of Sri Lanka’s national game has deteriorated to such a degree. In speaking to the authorities, the Secretary of the Volleyball Association, A.S. Nalaka said,
“New regulations by the Education Ministry make it very difficult for us to obtain permission for students to be freed to join practices. We had to go all the way to the Secretary of the Ministry prior to being granted permission to take the students for practices.”
He further stated, “Actually this tournament fell during a part of the calendar when no other volleyball events were happening. This affected the players as the lack of matches meant the team wasn’t in peak condition. Further, we had to face two big teams straight away. The consecutive losses to Thailand really rocked us.”
When asked about his plans for the next tournament, Mr. Nalaka said, “We should identify the top players beforehand. That way, when the tournament comes around we have plenty of time to select and prepare the team. We had very little time before this tournament and it’s a very difficult task to select and then develop the team in such a short time.”
Coach Mr. Chaminda felt that if two to three more skilful people were added into the touring party, the results would have been completely different. When asked about his plans for the next tournament, he said,
“We can’t really blame the federation. Preparing a team in a period as short as 48 days is no easy task. We won 5th place in the last championship because we were well prepared. After competing in the DSI championships, the players were also coming into peak condition ahead of the tournament. Thus, we need to identify the talent and be prepared beforehand while giving them the necessary domestic and foreign exposure.”
As stated by the authorities, they should put into practice their words so as to ensure performance improves. Players aren’t like instant noodles and need time to reach peak performance. After all, volleyball is our national game.