Swiss misses making history

Hamburg, Germany, June 9, 2016 - Anouk Verge-Depre was a little more silent than usual, and that was a little unnerving to teammate Isabelle Forrer. 

One of their compatriots from Switzerland, Joana Heidrich, said the news was like a little slap in the face.

You would think that earning their qualification for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games would come with a little more of a celebration. Especially when, for the first time, the Swiss had two women’s teams earn a shot at Olympic gold.

Don’t worry, they’re happy.

The moment occurred during the FIVB Moscow Grand Slam last week when years of working through the Olympic qualification process paid off and Verge-Depre and Forrer plus Heidrich and Nadine Zumkehr could start thinking beyond the moment for the first time in a long time.

Verge-Depre was so deep in focus, however, she didn’t want to think about it.

“OK, so we don’t go celebrate tonight, we don’t have a little drink and a toast,” Forrer recalled. “Then (Verge-Depre) said, ‘Yeah, if we can meet up with the coaches at 10 o’clock,’ and I’m thinking ‘What’s wrong, what happened?’ I was thinking of anything else she wanted to talk about, that maybe something bad happened to one of her friends or family back home and I was really scared and then at 10 o’clock she came with a plastic bag and I’m like ‘Damn you.’ Of course I was relieved that she wanted to toast.”

In the plastic bag was a bottle of Champagne. They could finally let loose, even if it was just for about a half-hour. There was still volleyball to be played, not only in Moscow and Switzerland in the European Championships, but also this week in the smart Major Hamburg.

It was a little easier for Zumkehr to take the accomplishment in stride, since she did it before by reaching the London 2012 Games with Simone Kuhn. But for the 24-year-old Heidrich, it was almost too much to accept.

“I really didn’t know that we got the spot and the coaches came up after the game and said ‘Hey, congratulations to qualify to Rio,’ ” Heidrich said. “It’s like bam (as she motions a slap on her cheek). It was a hit, but a nice one. I didn’t have the time to realize because we had the European Championships in Switzerland coming up. I haven’t had the time to rest and say ‘Yes, I can got to Rio.’ ”

Technically, the two teams have simply qualified two spots in the Olympic field for their country, but the naming of the teams by the Swiss federation remains little more than a formality. But just try to hold out either of the two teams who have been among the most consistent in the world over the past two years.

And the similarities in the teams are striking, but it was all by design by the federation and coaches Sebastian Beck, Christoph Dieckmann and Florian Karl.

Zumkehr, the 31-year-old veteran, ushered Heidrich through the qualifying process the same way Kuhn helped Zumkehr leading up to London. Forrer, 34, teamed with Verge-Depre, also a 24-year-old.

“I hope I can help Joana a little bit with Rio in the Olympics because in London I had a partner who was experienced who already played and that helped so I’m going to try to do the same for Joana. Me the old girl,” Zumkehr said with a laugh. “I think it’s different when you’ve been there, that’s what everyone says and I feel that way.”

Despite their difference in age, Forrer and Verge-Depre have connected a little differently.

“I guess in the beginning you could feel I’m the older and more experienced player, but through the years we just have an equal relationship,” Forrer said. “We both take the same responsibilities or in a game where one is under pressure, the other one steps up. Even though I’m older, I don’t feel it on the court. We have good communication on the court and that’s the most important thing in the end, no matter how old you are.”

The similarities continue. They entered the Hamburg event only 20 points apart in the provisional Olympic points rankings. They have the same coaches, the same training center, and they face off against each other almost on a daily basis in training.

When they’ve met on the court, the head-to-head series is even at three victories apiece. And none of the four could say which team is actually the better of the two.

“It depends on the day,” Verge-Depre said, echoing the sentiments of the three other players. “Both can beat each other. Sometimes it’s one team, sometimes the other. It pushes you to find solutions. Also, we’ve worked for so many years together so it’s a big joy to share this now.”


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