June 10, 2013
ATHENS, Ohio – Ohio University redshirt junior Liis Kullerkann (Keila, Estonia) competed with the Estonian National Team this past May as part of 2014 FIVB Volleyball World Championship qualifying and helped her squad advance out of first round pool play and into a berth in the third round.
Kullerkann and the Estonian team played three matches in Daugavpils, Latvia, from May 23-27 and posted a 3-0 record. The squad won all three of its matches in straight sets, defeating national teams from Latvia (25-13, 25-16, 25-9), Iceland (25-16, 25-15, 25-10) and Lithuania (25-12, 25-19, 25-21).
It marks the first time in Estonia’s history that the national team has advanced to the third round of the World Championship.
“The most impressive thing about the national team for me was how professional everyone was, how hard they worked in every practice and how supportive they were,” Kullerkann said. “I will try to do my best to reflect the same level of respect and professionalism on our team this season and help us work toward that common goal at Ohio.”
Estonia earned a bye into the third round and will return to action in January 2014. The team will be competing for one of seven European at-large spots in the finals of the event.
Kullerkann played a number of positions throughout first round qualifying, including some she had not played in a number of years. Here are some thoughts and observations from Liis about learning on the fly, the experience of playing abroad and how it helped her grow as a student-athlete:
On training for the event: “After I was done with school in May, I flew back home and joined the national team literally the day I got back home. When my [Estonian] coach asked me to join the team, he immediately told me that I would be competing to play middle, because he already had two girls for the right side position and we really needed some more middles.”
“I was kind of nervous, because I hadn't played middle in two years, but I knew that European volleyball in general is a bit slower than what we play in Ohio, so I knew it would be easier to adjust to that. Also, I was the only middle who could hit from one foot, which is something that I continued to do in Ohio as a right side, so that was my main advantage.”
“During training, we played the Finnish national team three days in a row in Tallinn, Estonia. They won the first two matches, 3-1, and we won the last one, 3-0. Their team was very young, but also tall and powerful. The Estonian national team, however, is quite short and we put a lot of emphasis on building speed and slowing the opponents down with a good serve. My coach played everyone fairly equally, which kept the team together and the general team chemistry strong, even for a team that had only practiced together for a couple of weeks (because most players on the national team play in different European clubs).
“The second day of the practice matches, one of our right sides got injured and was out for weeks. So, before the third match, my coach told me that from now on I should be ready to play in the middle as well as on the right side if needed. On the third day, however, I managed to pull my ab muscle during warm ups, but luckily I felt it early enough that with the help of my physiotherapist, I was able to continue practicing while avoiding the movements that hurt. That meant, however, that I couldn't practice in the middle for a week.”
“After having these small injuries, I wasn't sure if my coach would risk taking me to Latvia. However, we were running low on people and everyone (including me) was starting to feel tired after a long season.
“My ab was getting better faster and my coach liked me playing on the right side in practice even though I had to hold back some because of the ab, so he asked me to join the team for the tournament.”
On the tournament field: “Daugavpils is a small town in Southeast Latvia, right by the Russian border. We went there by bus from Tallinn, and it took us about eight hours to get there. The teams in our pool were Latvia, Lithuania, Iceland and of course Estonia.”
“My coach knew the Latvian and Lithuanian teams very well thanks to the Baltic league as well as from previous experience. However, Iceland was a mystery to us. Iceland is known for being great at handball, but we had never heard of their volleyball team.” “I was lucky, because my parents and my sister drove down to see us play. In total, there might have been a maximum of 10 other Estonians in the gym, but my family was definitely cheering the loudest.”
On what she learned: “Before I joined the team in the beginning of May, I knew that I was at a slight disadvantage, because I missed a full week of team practice and I had to prove myself in a position that I hadn't played in two years, not to mention getting used to the international volleyballs, the new setters and even the coaching style.
“I was extremely determined to make the team and I made sure the coach knew it by constantly asking him for feedback (which is very rare for a player to do in Estonia). I had several meetings with him discussing what he expected of me and what I had to do in his eyes to make the team.”
“To gain the trust of the players that hadn't seen me play for three years, I worked hard in every single practice, did some extra work with the setters after the practices and tried to show them that no matter who will be chosen, I'll be happy as long as everyone is working hard for our common goal.”
“I guess these are the main things I learned: to be a better teammate, not be afraid to receive honest feedback, and really, appreciate a lot of the things that I have learned from my time in Ohio. Most importantly, it taught me that every team that I have played/will play for is very different, and to be successful I need to adjust to the specific style of each team, even when it might contradict what I thought was right.”