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Dutch debutant Jessica Smit celebrates birthday on Prague Open centre court

Jessica Smit made her World Tour main draw debut and turned 21 on Thursday
Prague, Czech Republic, May 22, 2014 – Dutch debutant Jessica Smit did not win her first match at the FIVB World Tour Prague Open on Thursday, but it felt like a party anyway. That's because she got to celebrate her 21st birthday on centre court and make her World Tour main draw debut at the same time.

Smit, a former volleyball player with no previous World Tour experience, teamed up with 29-year old Roos van der Hoeven last September. Van der Hoeven, who has been playing on the World Tour since 2008, had just recovered from a knee injury.

Their only previous event and Smit’s debut as a pro was the CEV Satellite in Antalya a few weeks ago, with a disappointing 41st place finish. As the second lowest ranked team in the qualification tournament they surprised everyone by making it to main draw.

Centre court

In their first match on Thursday Smit and Van der Hoeven were up against top seeded Czech team Kristyna Kolocova and Marketa Slukova, on centre court.

“It was very special”, Smit said. “Also because it is my birthday today. That made it extra special. It was a bit unreal to get through qualification at my first event. Very unexpected, but nice.”

The local favorites won 21-14 21-19, but it was not at all a walk-over. In the first set the Czechs were able to create a gap, but the second set went point-by-point till 16-16.

Smit: “We did not play that bad. For me, I did not control passing like I would have liked to and we missed a few bonus points, but that’s mostly what made the difference.”

Smit even hit a few aces. “We try to serve tactical, it’s one of my strong points, as are my attack and block. And we are good in defence, that kept us in the game. We tried to play clever, tried to trick them and that worked a couple of times.”

The 1,86 meter tall blocker could not get a good grip on Slukova’s attack though, especially in the first set. “She tricked me a few times, found the holes in my block. I think she is a great player.”

Energy from the crowd

Playing on centre court in a huge stadium for the first time in her career was a special experience. “I enjoyed it. I like to play on centre court, I like the energy from the crowd. It makes me play better. Maybe I was a bit more nervous than playing on another court but it was a nice experience.”

Smit started playing beach volleyball fulltime this winter at Debora Kadijk’s beach volleyball academy. Kadijk spent many years on the World Tour with her sister Rebekka.

“Roos was looking for a new partner. She wanted to start over after her injury. So together with her trainer Deborah Kadijk she went searching on the beaches during national tour events. Roos sent me a message through Facebook asking if I wanted to be one of her sparring partners. But after only one practice she asked me to be her permanent partner.”

The pair is not part of the national federation’s Beach Team Holland. “But we have our own trainer and we want to be sure we can keep on playing together. With Beach Team Holland there have been a lot of changes with partners. We want to make sure we can work towards a goal together for the next years.“

World Champs in The Hague

That goal for now is the European and world top. “I think the Olympics are too soon for us. But it would be nice if we could play at the World Championships in The Hague next year.”

And it would be nice to play against USA’s Kerri Walsh once in a while. “She is my biggest role model. She a great beach volleyball player with a strong block, but she is also very handy with the ball, has a good coordination and cleverness.”

About their short-term goals in Prague Smit said: “No idea, we can play freely. We will see how far that gets us. We did not expect to enter main draw. This is just a bonus and a great experience.”

FIVB Prague Open Tournament Page

FIVB Prague Open Main Draw

FIVB Prague Open Pool Standings

FIVB Prague Open Qualification

FIVB World Tour Twitter Account


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