Such has been the run of injuries in the helloworld Australian men’s volleyball team recently that coach Mark Lebedew began to wonder if he was doing something wrong.
He needn’t have worried, because he’s been coaching almost since before Libero Luke Perry was born, so he knows the boundaries.
But still, that nagging thought…
“I don’t like any sort of injuries, because I think to some degree injuries are a consequence of practice, of the work of the coach,” Lebedew said this week on the eve of the Volleyroos first World League match.
“So every time somebody gets injured it’s time for me to reassess my work, what we’ve done, how we could have prevented that injury.
“I’ve had a couple of moments of reflection.”
His training methods have managed to guide several teams across Europe to glory, so it’s unlikely anyone will be asking him to change his ways any time soon.
But this week could be the start of his biggest challenge yet; his first World League campaign with the Volleyroos, kicking off on Friday night against Portugal in Slovakia.
The Australians are in Group Two this season, and will come up against a lot of teams they haven’t played against for a long time, if ever.
“The Group Two World League, I think a lot of the teams are at a very similar level,” Lebedew said.
“Maybe at this moment Finland could be the favourite, they just qualified for World Championships. But it’s a really even group, we have a good chance in every match we play.
“A lot of it will come down to how we manage the stress of competition, the stress of travel, the stress of fatigue from playing a lot of matches in a very short time – those things are probably more keys than the strength of the group.”
The team that takes the court on Friday night will be quite different from the one which just fell short of qualifying for last year’s Olympics. Several players are injured, some are unavailable.
But in captain and Opposite, Paul Carroll, and Libero Luke Perry, Lebedew has two world-class players to build his campaign around.
Throw in the experience of players like Nathan Roberts, Harry Peacock and Travis Passier, and the emerging talents of players like Sam Walker, and a pretty decent team is starting to take shape.
“It will be a big moment for the guys. Some of them are going to be playing different roles to what they’ve played in the past, some of them will be playing much bigger roles,” Lebedew said.
“I’m really happy with the attitude and the commitment of the guys to work. The day-to-day stuff has been really easy in that way.
“We’ve made some really good improvements over the course of the four friendly matches we played. We’re making progress in the right direction, and Friday will tell us how far that progress has been.”
It’s the less likely players that Lebedew believes could make the difference this season. Two players in particular have caught his eye already.
“One guy who has had a really good European season and is making a step up to a bigger league who I think could have an impact in World League is Lincoln Williams,” he said.
“He’s been in the shadow of Tom Edgar and Pail Carroll, but he’ll have more of a chance to play this season and I think people will be pleasantly surprised by his level.
“Another guy that has come out of nowhere and could have an impact is Trent O’Dea. He’s a middle blocker who wasn’t much on the radar anywhere, but he has had some moments against these good teams that give the clue that he can make a big step up.”
After Slovakia the Volleyroos will head to Finland and then China, before heading home to the Gold Coast next month where they will host the Group Two semi-finals.