After a mostly successful debut season alongside Jeff Williams as the Coach of UEL Volleyball Club, Assistant Coach Ian Legrand, spoke to Rising East about his aims for the upcoming season and the challenges the side have already met.
Legrand joined the club last December, after former Volleyball Coach Simon Loftus called time on his spell at the Sports Dock. Williams and Legrand teamed up to continue their predecessor’s legacy, leading the Women’s First Team to a second consecutive league title in the BUCS Premier South division, while the Men’s Team finished as runners-up in their respective league.
Despite the elation of last season, the Women’s First Team were forced to recruit new players, following the departures of some of their Championship-winning side over the summer. However, what seemed to thus be a complicated task, was met with optimism by Legrand, who suggested that the extensive recruitment created larger squad-depth, which will encourage healthy rivalries within the sides.
“We have had a really good group come in at a really good level. [We are] a bit stronger in depth in the women’s side but for the men, we are going to have a really fast and strong eight or nine. The girls are very strong, there is going to be a real competition for places. I think we could have an interesting season,” he said.
Legrand also claimed the Men’s Team were unlucky to fall short of the league title last season, but indicated that the recruitment of Bulgarian Mihail Stoev, alongside a number of experienced American athletes, can help the side win their first Premier South division title since gaining promotion from the South Eastern 1A division.
“A couple of guys have come in from very, very high level US programmes, coached by the current and previous American National Team coaches, so we are looking at some guys who have really been in some high-class [environments] and we are hoping to bring something to our programme. So we’ve got Mihail, a Bulgarian lad who played for (London) Polonia last year, probably the best outside hitter in our top league, so coupled with some of the guys coming in and certainly on the outside, we’ve got some interesting potential,” he said.
Although Legrand praised the influence of foreign players, he also mentioned the importance of recruiting more ‘home-grown’ talent in order to help sustain the squad numbers beyond the one season, should recruiting overseas players become more strenuous.
“I think looking forward to next year: we have to start recruiting for next season now, especially with the British students, we’re looking to try and bring in some more. Certainly in the girls’ side, we’ve got a group of girls who will certainly be back next year, so it’s going to be a very important year for them so that they can develop as they are essentially the core group for the following year. There are some really, really good athletes on both men and women’s sides and some people who have played at some good level of volleyball. So it’s going to be interesting.”
UEL’s Women’s First Team are looking to win a third consecutive Premier South title, but haven’t reached the same heights in the BUCS Super 8s competition, finishing second in Group A last season. Nevertheless, Legrand was upbeat and when asked if the side could go one further and win the Group, he said, “Yes, without putting pressure on them, I think I would be disappointed if one of the teams doesn’t get to the final this year.”
The side were victorious in their opening BUCS league fixture against the University of Exeter with a straight-sets triumph at the Sports Dock. They host Bournemouth University on October 18th.