Twice in history, the Polish volleyball team reached for the title of the best team in Europe. “Złotka” led by the lamented coach Andrzej Niemczyk won in 2003 and 2005. One of the leaders of that team was Dorota Świeniewicz, who spoke especially for “Wprost” before the start of Euro 2023 with the participation of Biało-Czerwoni.
In the years 1991-2009, Dorota Świeniewicz played as many as 325 official matches for the Polish national team. At the same time, being one of the most important figures of the legendary “Złotek” by coach Andrzej Niemczyk. Two-time European champion (2003 and 2005 – in the second tournament she was chosen MVP of the whole competition), currently training volleyball youth. And additionally appearing as an expert on TV.
Świeniewicz keeps his fingers crossed for the results achieved by the Polish national team. Especially for “Wprost” she shared her observations about the European Championships, which will last from August 15 to September 3. Biało-Czerwone will play in Belgian Ghent and the group opponents of the Polish women will be: Slovenians (August 18, 20:00), Hungarians (August 20, 20:00), Serbians (August 21, 17:00), Belgians (August 22, 20:00) ) and Ukrainian women (24.08, 17:00).
Interview with Dorota Świeniewicz, former Polish volleyball player
Maciej Piasecki (“Wprost”): Will we have reasons to be happy during the European Volleyball Championships?
Dorota Świeniewicz (former Polish representative, two-time European champion): I must admit that I have mixed feelings before the start of the tournament. Keep in mind that there is yet another major challenge on the horizon. I mean the qualifying tournament for the Olympic Games in Paris. That’s why it’s in my mind that our team at ME should not present this 100% form. The form should still grow to prepare for the September Olympic qualifications.
On the other hand, the girls, with their good, cool playing during the League of Nations, gave me new hopes. I am looking forward to the European Championships, because I would like our team to achieve a spectacular success at such an event.
Is it possible to build two peaks of form in such a short time?
It’s a tough challenge. If my memory serves me right, in 2005 the Niemczyk national team also had to record two peaks of form in a short period of time. At the start of the national team season, we lost the qualification for the World Cup. Such a disappointing result disturbed the whole period of preparation, which originally assumed the staff of the national team.
We had to play, apart from the European Championships, additional qualifications for the World Championships. This extra tournament was probably held in Bulgaria. Then we had to “peak” twice, there was no way out. But luckily we made it, we qualified for the World Championships for the next year, and in addition, soon after we defended the title of European champions.
Was it mostly keeping in shape?
Yes, it was actually the only solution. To build something shortly after one challenge and just before the next, there would not be enough time frame. That is why I believe that in the case of our current team, the short period between the European Championships and the tournament for the Olympic Games in Paris will be beneficial.
There will be a short rest after the first challenge and proper care of what they have worked out before, and we know that this team has great potential.
There’s also this bad scenario, phew, which I’ll also knock on the unpainted. So when we do not achieve a good result at the European Championships, the event will end for us prematurely than we assume. Then this tournament, unused time will have to turn into the next stage of strengthening our team.
Türkiye, Serbia, Italy and Poland. Do you expect such a set in the fight for medals during the European Championships?
I think so, I don’t anticipate any major surprises.
Focusing on our national team, I strongly believe that the girls will win a medal. The golden one would be a dream come true, but due to the fact that the team is still under construction, I would not like to impose pressure on the girls to win the European Championship here and now. Let it be a puck of any color.
The tournament ladder indicates that Turkish women will stand in the way of Polish women. The results of recent friendlies between these teams should be taken into account?
It is usually said that results in friendlies before major tournaments should be treated as a secondary matter. Teams meet mainly to test themselves, to confront, preferably with an opponent of a similar sports class, or even better. So that you know what can be worked on, which elements can be improved.
During the European Championship no one will remember what happened before the tournament. This will be a new, blank slate to write on. Each team will play primarily for the result.
The European Championship is the most difficult tournament next to the Olympic one?
There are definitely more teams that present a similar level or style of play when looking at Europe. In such an event as ME, the disposition of the day is often decisive.
It’s hard to believe that this year marks exactly 20 years since your first gold in the national team at the European Championships?
Well, yes. I have these residual memories of that beautiful time. The most important moments when we stood on the most important podium, receiving gold medals. Listening to Mazurka Dąbrowski was also exceptional. I have it before my eyes. Although the whole tournament path, every element, after 20 years is not so important anymore. I don’t remember that in detail, at least I don’t.
It’s hard to believe that two decades have passed and we are still beautiful and young. (laughter)
Would you be able to indicate what it was that you had that ended up with two championship titles?
Twenty years ago, we were in a slightly different reality. Our country was not so appreciated in terms of volleyball at that time. Each of us had a hunger and a desire to go abroad. To test myself, to see a different world.
There were legends about how to train, for example, in Italy. Everyone wanted to go, see, experience it for themselves. Playing for the national team was a window to a better future. In addition, these were also times when each of the girls wanted to play in the national team, none of them even thought about refusing the selector. We were driven by a hunger for success, to prove to others that we were capable of great things, both individually and as a team. To show that Poland also trains hard and that our players can achieve success in a clash with the best. That’s what happened.
So, paradoxically, today our volleyball players may have a harder time?
It’s hard to put it together.
In most Polish clubs today, we are talking about quite professional structures. The mentality of the players has also changed, and training in Poland is also different. We have nothing to be ashamed of. For this reason, our volleyball players have to look for slightly different goals and challenges in terms of national team successes.
You need to stimulate your body, sports ambition, to reach the next levels on the professional ladder. Only thanks to this, each of the girls can develop. And not only in the domestic backyard. You have to try the risk of going abroad. Such a step allows for even greater experience, which can pay off in key moments. Also while playing at the national level.
As for the tournament, is there actually a weaker moment, a worse match?
Currently, the European Championships are a different event than when I played for the national team. First of all, in terms of the volume of meetings. We start theoretically on August 15 and end on September 3. The tournament used to last around ten days. This is, of course, the effect of increasing the number of teams, which also means that the level of individual matches is varied.
However, you have to be attentive all the time, highly concentrated, make optimal use of the free time that will appear in the tournament schedule. Worse moments can happen, it seems normal. The trick is to eliminate such risk. Or try to make sure they don’t happen at key moments in the tournament.
And how did the “Złotka” spend their free time during the European Championships, if any?
There wasn’t much time, but I remember those moments to catch my breath.
For example, we had to go for a walk together before breakfast. It was supposed to be a form of start-up, but our training staff wanted us to be properly oxygenated from the morning.
There was also freedom in our staff. We could spend time together, but there were also moments when we had our own groups. Just how it is in bands, regardless of the times. It is important to see a clear goal together, to strive for it together.
Malwina Smarzek will not play in the tournament. Does the idea of putting her on the field in a receiving role have a future?
If we look at the example of Turkish women and the global trend in general, this solution with Malwina Smarzek is not a big surprise. The direction is clear, the search for strong volleyball players is underway, the search for simple volleyball.
We know that the key is the serve, which is getting harder and stronger. Many teams have problems with the perfect reception or even putting the ball into the net. Teams focus more on solutions when playing on the so-called. high ball, to the right and left attack.
The whole world is moving in this direction, they are looking for strong and physical players. I suspect that coach Stefano Lavarini also has such a plan. Unfortunately, Malwina Smarzek was eliminated by injury from ME, but apparently her future will be associated with the position of the host in the team.
It is important that some volleyball players, who play in a slightly different way than most of the world, already showed last season that they can win. This is a big advantage of our team, which can surprise opponents with various solutions on the pitch.
In addition, Magdalena Stysiak is great in the attacking role. In the case of Smarzek, I thought about the role Bartosz Kurek played in the team in the past. Maybe in a few years the volleyball player will return to the attack in the national team?
It’s hard to predict what will happen in a few years.
I recently read an interview (for “Wprost” by Michał Winiarczyk, edited by eMPe), in which Stysiak herself admitted that the most important thing is that all the best players are in it and want to play. Let’s stick to that. Let’s not look for various strange subtexts in the functioning of the representation.
It’s important that the staff stay calm. Girls should focus primarily on their work. Decisions regarding individual positions on the pitch are made by the staff, headed by the first coach. And they know what they’re doing.
Is there anything that puzzles you in the context of our team’s performance at the European Championships? Maybe joining Joanna Wołosz?
I’m calm about that. Aśka, in the opinion of many experts, is the best quarterback in the world. He has that something, that flash, volleyball panache. In addition, it gives a lot of peace on the pitch. Looking at the upcoming ME team challenge, I feel impatient. Mainly because our girls play very well.
In the context of the Polish national team, I wonder if the girls have worked extra on the service. We definitely have a lot of reserves here as a team. So I’m curious to see what we’ll see in this element during the tournament.
And the group match against Serbians will be the first exam of Polish women?
Let us draw conclusions after the tournament. There is no point in imposing too much pressure after subsequent meetings. Despite the young age of the representatives, we are talking about a very experienced team and they know what to do on the pitch.
In addition, the girls have their heads together, they know how to approach this tournament. The goal is far away and you have to take small steps towards it. Only such reliable work, from training to training, from match to match, will give really big results.
Let’s keep our fingers crossed for our team. Girls can bring us a lot of joy, but surely the competition already knows that the Polish national team is strong and dangerous. So it will be a tougher challenge than the recent League of Nations.