Getting to know: Belgium's middle-blocker Pieter Verhees
2013 CEV VELUX Volleyball European Championship - Men
Aarhus, Denmark, September 23, 2013. Pieter Verhees may be made responsible for making a complete family fond of Volleyball. The 23-year old Belgian middle-blocker who started playing in Overpelt has indeed been followed in his footsteps by as many as three younger brothers as well as by his father who has taken up the sport after being mesmerized by the actions of his eldest son.
“Actually before I started playing Volleyball this sport was almost unknown in my family. My father was not involved in any sport while my mum was an amateur swimmer. Right now five out of six members in our family are involved, one way or the other, in Volleyball, and my mum does also play a role for she is taking care of my brothers’ uniforms, doing the laundry” says Pieter.
After taking up the sport in his native neighbourhood, Verhees moved to Maaseik to play there for the youth team of Noliko, by far Belgium’s most decorated Volleyball club. After leaving Maaseik, he shortly played for another club and then spent three seasons representing the likes of Euphony ASSE-LENNIK, another of Belgium’s Volleyball heavyweights. The 2011/2012 season was one to remember for Pieter returned to Maaseik and together with Noliko he swept all domestic competitions, winning the national league, the national cup as well as the Supercup. “Once you have achieved all this, you are ready to move on to another step in your professional career for you simply can’t improve on that and it is time to take up other challenges, taking with you nice memories from your accomplishments”.
Verhees – who stands at 205 cm – decided to embark on another chapter of his Volleyball adventure and moved to Italy to play there for the likes of Andreoli LATINA. “I think this was the right choice for me for that club was offering the conditions I was looking for. If you sign for a top team in Italy, most probably you won’t get the chance to play that often and you end up not enjoying your stay. If you opt for a club that is most likely to fight not to go down and be relegated to the second division, then you will probably lose every weekend and this will affect your motivation as well. So LATINA was offering the right mix: we were supposed to be among the teams ranked below the top sides and we even had the opportunity to play the European Cups, making the final of the CEV Volleyball Cup where we lost to Halkbank ANKARA of Turkey. In the end I did have a very good season and could learn a lot from my stay in Italy”.
Pieter is going to stay in Latina for another year and will once more have the opportunity to combine the national league with the chance to compete on the international stage for Andreoli is set to participate in the CEV Volleyball Challenge Cup this year. “Though it was not that easy at the beginning to leave my family, friends, girlfriend and the place where I was born and grew up, I eventually was happy with that move. Latina is a very small but quiet city, only 30 km from Rome, so you can easily travel there and do some sightseeing if you have friends or relatives that are coming to visit you. I also have to say that the food there is extremely good not to speak about the weather. Someone like me who was born in Belgium does really appreciate that. On the other hand, people are really open and friendly, so I could easily find my balance”.
Verhees has been learning Italian but says he is not fluent yet. “Well, I wanted to attend classes but unfortunately could not find any language course for foreigners there in Latina. However, my friends from the team as well as the local officials have helped me become familiar with the language. I understand quite a lot and try to speak; in the end people do understand me even though I still make mistakes. Sometimes I find it difficult to get used to all accents, as Italians speak their language by using a variety of dialects, shortening words or using different ways to pronounce the same word”.
Pieter’s brothers are trying to follow in his footsteps; one – who is aged 22 – decided to focus first on his studies and after completing his education has devoted more time to Volleyball, thereby making it to a team that competes in Belgium’s second division. Two more siblings, who are aged 18 and 14 respectively, have also taken up the sport and may want to go for a professional career in the future. “Even my father who originally did not know anything about Volleyball, even about the rules of the game, has become my greatest fan; he is following my actions and has even started playing amateur Volleyball in his free time”.
There is another person who is very dear to Pieter and has got a very close connection with Volleyball, girlfriend Laura Heyrman. She is also a member of the national team and was part of the group that ten days ago won bronze at the EuroVolley in Germany. “They did an amazing thing and maybe we can do the same here. We are very happy with the fact that we qualified directly for the 1/4 finals after finishing first in our Pool. This is practically the same what Laura and the other girls did in Switzerland and after that they went on to make the semis and win bronze. We only have to win one game, so to speak, to be among the top four of this Championship and after that you have two chances to win a medal. This is my goal; of course you always want to win, but any medal would be a great success for me and for the team as well” Pieter says. Laura has decided to follow his boyfriend and after spending the past season in Germany she is also about to move to Italy to play for LJ Volley MODENA. “This is only 400 km from Latina, so hopefully we will find a way to meet each other halfway between these cities” Verhees says.
Belgium has made the headlines this past summer winning the European League sweeping all of their matches and even beat 2012 Olympic bronze medallists Italy this past Sunday to claim first place in Pool A at the VELUX EuroVolley. What is the secret of that improvement? “Well, I do not think there is a secret, it is simply the result of a steady development we have been going through. In comparison with two years ago in Innsbruck where we did not make it through the prelims, most of our players have been playing abroad, thereby improving on their skills and getting valuable experience. Those who have stayed in Belgium are basically all playing for Noliko MAASEIK and Knack ROESELARE, i.e. teams that have been always participating in the CEV Volleyball Champions League. This kind of experience makes the difference and takes you to the next level. On the other hand, there are young guys who have benefited from the good work performed by our former head coach Claudio Gewehr with the youth and junior groups at our EuroVolley Centre in Vilvoorde”.
Waiting for his siblings to possibly mature into professional Volleyball players, Pieter knows very well what he wishes to achieve in the future: “After spending the coming season in Latina I would like to sign for a top club in Italy and get the chance to play in the CEV Volleyball Champions League. That is what stands on top of my wishes”. Pieter will first try to emulate his girlfriend and go for a European medal, but first he needs to wait for Tuesday night to get to know whether Belgium gets to play Denmark or 2011 European champions Serbia in the last round before the final weekend at Parken stadium in Copenhagen.