While the Slovenian volleyball players were playing on the court, hard-working ants on the sidelines made sure that the balls landed in their hands like on a conveyor belt. The girls in white t-shirts and black shorts also made sure that the players did not slip on their own sweat. With a small cloth in their hands, they ran on and off the field in seven seconds. They ‘sprinted’ seven kilometers in one day in this way.
Rok Guid is the president of the VOLLEYBALL Ljubljana club, where he also acts as a coach. For the fifth time, they participated in a major event as ball collectors: from the World Cup and League of Nations qualifiers to the European Championship and this year’s Champions League.
“This is a unique experience for the girls. At the same time, it is a great responsibility and also a joy, especially at the end, when they can take pictures with all the top volleyball players,” he says.
They planned that at least 70 girls, or half of the players who train at this club, will have the opportunity to pick up in all 30 matches of this year’s world championship, played in Ljubljana’s Stožice.
They chose mainly older girls who already have experience from the European Championship or other major events. “Still, it’s a rather responsible thing, where we can’t invite younger people. We give the opportunity to those who are physically well prepared and already have so much volleyball experience to play big volleyball. Younger girls play a little volleyball and they don’t have this knowledge yet and maybe they don’t understand the good of all these things,” points out Guid.
Many things can go wrong: “They have to be collected, because they pick up in two games, which can mean up to four hours of complete concentration. Care must be taken not to throw the ball onto the field at the wrong time, so as not to disturb the flow of the game and the cameras, or the overall picture of the championship.”
Stepped on her finger and broke it
These high-speed wipers are also part of this 70-member team. These are the girls who repeatedly enter the field with a small towel and clean up after the players who wet the floor. For this task, they choose those who are by far the fastest and also physically prepared: “We measured our fast wipers this week, they did more than seven kilometers in two races. And considering that these are sprints, it’s quite tiring.”
“The wipers are on the court a lot of the time and you have to make sure that they don’t disturb the players, and at the same time we also had one injury from the European Championship, because one of the volleyball players accidentally stepped on a girl’s finger and broke it.” adds the club manager.
He has the ball in his hands throughout the game
At that time, the cones hosted four matches a day, so they were divided into two groups – one picked in the afternoon, the other in the morning. “We come to the hall about an hour before the game, we already agree in the dressing room what each one will do that day. We then join the players in their roles during the warm-up,” says the 15-year-old Lana Koprivšek.
She is the captain in the club, her job is to keep the team together and encourage the others. In Stožice, everyone is equal, he points out. There is one of the ball pickers. “If my team misses and the ball stays in the playing field, I go to look for it. But if the ball stays outside the field, another girl picks it up,” he says. Lana picks up balls from the field as well as throws them there. “I’m sitting on a chair, and when I see that the team I’m on wins a point, I immediately stand up. I walk onto the court and wait for the player to look at me, so I can throw the service ball to him,” explain your task. “There are two of us, so look either at me or at my colleague opposite,” explains why he doesn’t throw the ball on his own.
The team consists of 12 girls during the match itself. One is in each corner, and four stand by the ball carts, making sure Lana is never empty-handed. So when she throws one ball to the volleyball players, her colleagues already pass her another. He has the ball in his hands for the entire match.
“It’s amazing to be able to work at the World Cup. All clubs would like to do this,” he says proudly. Aspiring young volleyball players can thus watch the world’s best volleyball players play from close quarters, as well as them.
Selfies with volleyball players
“Girls mostly get excited about Klemno Čebuljeas well as above Hands to Men,“ Lana says. It’s about a boy who is even closer in age. Experienced guard as they are Tina Urnaut, Dejan Vinčić and Mitja Gasparini, she is already a bit older. They still take pictures with everyone, they ask the volleyball players one by one for selfies, and then they send them to each other.
They do it in seven seconds
14 years old Anja Josipovic and Teja Keber are fast wipers. They have already played in the national championship, during the Champions League, as well as in the national team preparatory matches. During the match, they sit at the referee’s table, on two chairs next to each other, and have towels ready.
“Immediately after the end of the point, we can go. If we see that someone has fallen or, for example, just rested his knee on the floor, we run quickly if we assume that the floor is wet. We have to wipe quickly, we have about seven seconds, and then we run back,” they describe. “Seven seconds, yes. That’s why we’re fast wipers,” they proudly say. Are there slow ones too? “Probably not,” they are laughing.
They are on the lookout all the time. “Immediately after the end of the point, we go. It’s best that he notices himself, otherwise one of the players gives us a signal. If the referee has to call you, it’s really not the best.” emphasize.
Their working tool is therefore only a terry cloth. “You can be more precise with a small towel than with a mistletoe. It’s much easier to run around the field like that, because that thing is bigger and wider. The players don’t see you as often, and then someone could trip earlier,” they say.
Even so, kneeling among a bunch of heated guys can be dangerous. “We’re much smaller than the players and sometimes they just don’t see us. Just yesterday one almost tripped over Tejo,” they are laughing.
They rub really hard on the floor. “It’s not pleasant when they call you back. It means you didn’t wipe properly,” they shake their heads. They say that they also have spare towels ready, but they usually don’t need them: “No matter how sweaty the guys are, one towel is enough for each of them. We spread them out after each set to dry them on the fly, and that’s usually enough.”
In addition to the wet packs on the taraflex, just like Lana and all the other girls, they also pay attention to the volleyball players themselves. “We mainly watched the Italian national team, we also liked the libero from Iran. And Čebulj and Možič,” they both agree.
“But my favorite actor is still Dejan Vinčić. I already have two pictures with him, I think he always really pays attention to his fans and takes his time. And even in every picture it seems really nice to me that he likes children,” the smiling teenage girl says about the legendary organizer of the game, who is called Vinko, and sometimes Gape, short for Gašper, which is what his name would be if he could choose it himself.