Write:Altan Tanrıkulu Photos:Cihat Caner
The Women’s National Volleyball Team of Turkey has made a name for itself with the successful results it achieved in the European Women’s Volleyball Championship.
This month, we were welcomed as a guest by Neslihan Damel, star of Turkey’s National Volleyball Team, which achieved a great success by coming in third at the European Women’s Volleyball Championship organized jointly b y Serbia and Italy. We discussed both the championship and volleyball with Neslihan.
Let’s start from the end, if you want. Can you tell us about that European Championship and that unforgettable Serbia game?
We were very relaxed before the game. We knew Serbia was feeling pressured because they was playing at home. There wasn’t a very great expectation for us. In any case, the point we came to was already very good. When we went out for the game, we were met with eight thousand organized fans, and we experienced the shock of that in the first set. Losing by a huge margin in the first set reflected on the second set too. Prior to the third set, speaking amongst ourselves, we said, “We must get it together and take at least one set.” After that, we brought the game to 2–2. In volleyball, the one coming 2–0 behind generally takes the fifth set too. And we started very well, leading 6–1, but the audience went into action once again. There were one or two referee errors and they were very lucky. For example, their fearfully launched serves were caught by the net and fell on our court; they thus took the fourteenth point. Finally, we lost.
What did you experience in the changing room after the match?
We were all very sad. Everyone blamed themselves, saying, “It all happened because of me.” We didn’t talk for a long time. I went to a doping test, and afterward, I didn’t go to the hotel until 1:00 a.m. I slept at 2:00 a.m. Our match with Italy the next day was at 3:00 p.m. Just think—we entered the match with a mindset like that, and even so we fought wonderfully in the five sets and came in third. Normally, we would have been fourth, but we had become very ambitious because we lost the previous game.
You emphasized that the audience was knowledgeable. Isn’t the volleyball audience in Turkey sufficiently knowledgeable?
We have audiences too, but volleyball audiences are very, very few. Most of those who come to the game are soccer viewers. Fenerbahçe has improved somewhat more in this respect; in recent years, their volleyball audience increased quite a bit.
What is the element needed for you to attain lasting successes? Why do you always trip up at the last step?
Actually, both in terms of facilities and economically, we have come to be in a very good situation. I don’t think we are any different from Europeans in this regard. When I played volleyball award, I saw this: over there, athletes give their all for the team. Even if they have problems among them, they do not reflect this on the court. They try to cover each other’s inadequacies professionally. We are much more emotional. We can’t think professionally. For example, when a coach chides a player, we always take it personally, and one says, “The coach has it in for me.” Yet in Europe, whoever is in the game remains in the game, and whoever is in training remains in training. Even those who quarrel leave training arm in arm.
You were named best player, best server, and points queen in many tournaments. How did you become a volleyball player and what is the secret to this rapid ascent?
I first played basketball in my middle school years, but I didn’t like it so much. After that, I did athletics for a year. One day they were conducting selections for volleyball. They took those who were tall, including me. I started playing in Eskişehir DSİ. Then I came to Istanbul, to Yeşilyurt. After gaining high-level successes at Vakıfbank Güneş Sigorta I went to Spain. And now, I am fighting in Eczacıbaşı for championship.
I imagine your husband’s involvement in volleyball must affect you positively. You also have a very sweet daughter. Would you want her to be a volleyball player too?
I am for my daughter making her own decisions freely. My family supported me a lot, and my husband is my biggest supporter. Frankly, I don’t like watching games other than my own. I don’t watch volleyball either. I focus solely on my own game.
Lately, the premiums received by the national teams have been a subject of great debate. Did you have such an expectation as a team?
Frankly, this is the recognition of our merits by our seniors. Such things like “Other teams were given this much, and we want this much” would be unseemly for us anyway. Furthermore, more than money and possessions, to me it is worth worlds for a child to take me as an example. However many girls want to be Neslihan Darnel, the greater the pride I will feel for the work I do.