Sloetjes: 100% commitment or nothing

Is she the Dutch women's volleyball greatest of all time?

At the turn of the last decade, some three weeks ago, Lonneke Sloetjes was voted Greatest Dutch Female Volleyballer of All Time in a poll. The 1.91m-tall opposite is among the best in the world too and “Do what you do with 100 per cent commitment as long as you enjoy it” is her recipe for success.

Young Lonneke began playing volleyball in her hometown club, Varsseveld. At the age of 15, she started competing for Longa’59 Lichtenvoorde in the Netherlands’ top division. In her very first season as a professional player, she claimed 2007 national championship silver, reached the final of the national cup and the semifinals of the CEV Top Teams Cup, Europe’s second-tier continental competition.

A year later, in 2008, at 17 years of age, she was part of the Dutch senior national team that topped the final standings at the FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix European Qualification in Russia. The following year, she helped the U20 national team finish sixth at the FIVB Volleyball Junior World Championship in Mexico.

A first major international medal with the national team came in 2015, at the CEV European Championship. At home in Rotterdam, the Dutch took silver while their striker was named Best Opposite of the tournament. Both Sloetjes and the team repeated their achievements two years later, at EuroVolley 2017 in Baku.

In between, at the Rio 2016 Games, the women’s national team of the Netherlands reached the semifinals and finished fourth, achieving their best result in Olympic history. Lonneke Sloetjes herself was honoured on the Dream Team as the best opposite of the event. She had earned the same award three months earlier, at the FIVB World Olympic Qualification in Japan, where the Oranjes booked their ticket to Rio.

“As far as my absolute highlight is concerned, that was the Olympic Games in Rio, but also the process towards it, including the qualification in Tokyo. The feeling after the last match which qualified us for the Olympic Games was indescribable. We were so happy, proud, relieved and ecstatic!!!” Sloetjes told Volleyball World.

“The Games in Rio were also a great feeling of excitement, tension and pride. My family was there and that was very special to me. To be able to share this important moment in my professional sports life with my mother, who is in a wheelchair, and my father who is always there for her, my brother and my boyfriend, is still the best thing top sport has been able to give me. That fourth place always gives a bittersweet feeling, but in the end pride dominates.”

In 2016, the Dutch athlete earned the Dream Team opposite spot two more times, at January’s European Olympic Qualification in Turkey, where the Netherlands reached the final match, but fell short of qualifying, and at the World Grand Prix finals in Thailand, where the Dutch took bronze.

“For me, but I think for our team too, the year 2016 was the most exciting, but also the most impressive year that we have had the pleasure of experiencing,” she added.

There was more excitement for the Dutch national squad two years later, at the 2018 FIVB Volleyball World Championship. They finished fourth, another historic best for the team, while Sloetjes was the best server and the second best scorer of the Championship. In what was probably her side’s most important win at Japan 2018, Sloetjes hammered out 38 points towards the momentous 3-2 victory over USA, which propelled the Netherlands into the semis.

“It was a really important moment. Of course, I was very excited to score that many points, but I must give credit to the team, because we did it together,” Sloetjes said.

At club level, Lonneke Sloetjes made her first international transfer in 2011. Over the next four seasons, she played for Germany’s USC Munster, for Italy’s Unendo Yamamay Busto Arsizio, and back in Germany for Schweriner SC, reaching national podiums with each of these teams.

Her club career really picked up speed when she joined Turkish powerhouse VakifBank Istanbul in 2015 and played a key role in the team’s success over the next four seasons.

In her first season with VakifBank, the team reached the final of the CEV Champions League, and later in 2016 they claimed bronze at the FIVB Volleyball Club World Championship. In 2017, they topped the podium of both prestigious competitions, with Sloetjes earning another Best Opposite individual award, at the continental finals.

“My time at VakifBank has given me many special moments, but I would consider winning the 2017 Champions League in Treviso and the 2017 Club World Championship in Kobe as highlights. After a difficult season in the Turkish league where we were unable to achieve our goals, there was a lot of pressure on the team to end the season well. The fact that we eventually succeeded despite the immense pressure we imposed on ourselves was very cool to experience. After all, that's what you do it all for!” she said.

Sloetjes and her VakifBank teammates had an excellent 2018 as well. They defended both their titles at the Club World Championship and Champions League, cruising undefeated through both campaigns.

To be a two-time world champ is “amazing - really the best feeling you can have,” the Dutch standout said. “Having a World Championship title on your list of achievements is really valuable.”

“In my first year with VakifBank I was very star-struck and really nervous, because it was not an everyday thing to play for a club like this. You don’t want to mess up. You want to give your best,” Sloetjes said about her Istanbul period. “With time, I started feeling more relaxed. I would never say about myself that I am one of the big stars now, but I realised that even the biggest stars are just like me – they eat, they sleep, they train… Everyone is human.”

These were years of growth that lifted Sloetjes to the status of a top international star and were accompanied by a lot of passion and hard work.

She “left her heart on the court in every single game,” Serbian star Milena Rasic said about her VakifBank teammate.

“It is something my parents have always taught me: do what you do with 100% commitment as long as you enjoy it,” Sloetjes revealed. “Go all out for your dreams, but don't continue if it doesn't make you happy. I think this has helped me achieve my goals and have so many great moments in the sport.”

Having spent the 2019-2020 season back in Italy, with Savino del Bene Scandicci, and having missed the opportunity to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics with her national team, Lonneke Sloetjes announced that she would take a break from her active volleyball career in May 2020, hoping to return “stronger than ever” in January 2021...

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