LLiam Sketcher is easy not to be upset. The Australian, who has worked as a professional volleyball coach for five years, claims to be “a quiet guy”. But the drama that the 38-year-old experienced on Wednesday evening in the Frankfurt Ballsporthalle allowed even those who otherwise seemed so untouched to express their feelings to the outside world. The United Volleys, in which Sketcher has been co-coaching since this season, were close to forcing the champions from Berlin into the tie-break in the quarter-finals of the DVV Cup.
Although the Frankfurt team went into the match as defending champions in front of 900 spectators in their own arena, that was hardly to be expected. The team from the capital is still unbeaten at national level this season and clearly won the first two matches with Hessen in the Supercup and the Bundesliga. “Anyone who saw that would not have believed that we would have a chance today,” Sketcher would later say. His own could be proud. Although at 1: 3 (24:26, 20:25, 25:21, 27:29) it wasn’t enough for a surprise in the end and the cup will find a new owner.
The volleys had six set balls in the fourth round. But suddenly they lost their luck. Serves missed their target, offensives failed on the Berlin Wall, and the last pass from Leon Dervisaj could only dash top scorer Daniel Malescha. “If you give the Berliners such a chance, then they take it,” commented the United captain. The 27-year-old did not want to reproach the ball distributor. “It is thanks to him that we got this far at all,” said Malescha. After his substitution in the third set together with middle blocker Paul Henning, Dervisaj had ensured that United could convert an eleven point deficit into a set success. “In the end we were just too stupid to reward ourselves,” said Malescha, who got 27 points. Apparently some of them would have been scared when the surprise was in the air.
Head coach Christophe Acht followed the ups and downs in his home country Belgium. The family man had gone home a week earlier. His wife and parents-in-law suffered from the consequences of a corona disease, and the 43-year-old wanted to take care of their 11-month-old daughter Estée. Despite hygiene measures, the positive test was not long in coming – the head coach is in quarantine with mild symptoms.
During the game he saw on the stream, eight team manager Ludwig Mischmann sent tips on what worked well and what did not work at all. “We switched roles,” said Sketcher. “Christophe took over the work that I usually do.” He himself stood on the sidelines. “Liam prepared and hired us optimally,” emphasized Malescha, whom eighth and middle blocker Noah Baxpöhler had informed before his departure. The duo leads the team in the absence of Jochen Schöps; the veteran was also still in Corona isolation at the time of the cup game.
In 2020, eighth with his then Netzhoppers KW-Bestensee team and the current United players James Weir and Byron Keturakis succeeded in knocking the Berliners out of the competition, including in the round of the best eight. For a moment there was now hope of repeating history. The Brandenburgers made up a 0-2 deficit in their duel against the star ensemble and had two match points against them when they were still turning the game around. “But Berlin can no longer be compared with the team from back then,” warned Acht. “Back then there were twelve men, now it’s a team.”
When he will be back is not yet certain. On Wednesday the volleys, in which Robin Baghdady tore his ankle ligaments against his former team, will start in Bucharest in the European CEV Cup. If necessary, the assistant has to take over the direction there again. “In the end it’s always volleyball,” says Sketcher, who was already under contract as head coach in Switzerland. He gave up the responsibility “because it is important to me to work with people like Christophe who I like”. No matter what role.