Western Australian athletes Luke Smith and Max Staples have been in action for the Australian Volleyroos at the 2018 Volleyball Nations League.
With the international series having just tipped over the halfway point, the Australians are currently ranked 14th with two wins from nine matches played.
The Australians only returned to the elite 16 nation competition this year and have shown considerable improvement, with their two wins to date coming against 12th ranked Bulgaria and the ninth ranked Germans.
The Volleyroos defeated Bulgaria on their home-court in Sofia, with a stunning three-sets-to-nil victory. Smith earned 12 points in the win from his 21 attempts at the net. It was the first time in Australia’s history that it had defeated Bulgaria.
Australia was courageous in a narrow 3-2 defeat against the sixth ranked Serbians but provided further evidence of their progression with a three-sets-to-two win over Germany in their most recent clash, hosted in Canada.
The win was achieved after the Australians had suffered a 3-0 defeat to Canada in their first match in Ottawa. Australian coach Mark Lebedew said the victory over Germany had required a special effort from his troupe.
"It takes a really big turnaround in this kind of competition, which has a lot of travel stress. The guys did an amazing job, not just the guys on the court but the guys on the bench gave a lot of energy. Sometimes you need to have all 14 guys.
"I think it’s a reflection of the kind of guys we have. As a group, the guys are open and friendly and interacting with people. On the court, we don’t always succeed but we try to fight with a lot of emotion and fight for every point. The crowd really understands when they see a team that’s really playing at their maximum and they can see that with our guys. That helped get the crowd on our side when we’re a long way from home.
"My personal belief is that you play better when you’re having fun. When you have some kind of relaxed attitude, you think more clearly, you move more clearly. When we don’t play as well, it’s normally when we’re thinking about other external things. In the moment of the game, when we’re just completely immersed in the game is when we play our best.”
Australia holds a golden opportunity to further strengthen their hopes of staying in the top international division, when they face Korea (16th), China (15th) and Italy (7th) this weekend in Seoul.
The final preliminary round of the Nations League then ventures to Melbourne, where Australia will host the top-two ranked nations of Poland and Brazil, along with 13th ranked Argentina.