Legendary Sloetjes hangs fiddle for good

Dutch opposite permanently ends sparkling career

At 30 years old, Loenneke Sloetjes, one of volleyball's contemporary legends is bidding goodbye to the sport to pursue "new chapters" in her life, the Dutch international officially announced on Instagram on Tuesday.

It was a lifetime of amazing achievements for the Netherlands' iconic opposite, who last year reported that she would be taking a break from volleyball after the 2019-20 season, before now making this permanent.

Sloetjes made her first foray into volleyball at the age of 11 in her hometown of Varsseveld and within five years was picked up by Longa'59 of neighbouring Lichtenvoorde, to join the top league of the Netherlands, before eventually moving to play in the German Bundesliga.

Her earlier years with the Dutch national team were hampered by a nagging shoulder injury, but by 2015 she was back - striking fear into any opponent that came her way both at club level and as a member of the 'Oranje'.

The defining moment came when she transferred, in 2015, to VakifBank Istanbul. For four glorious years she led the Turkish club to three titles in the immensely competitive domestic league, two European Champions League trophies and another two of the most coveted crowns of all: the FIVB Volleyball Women's Club World Championship.

Meanwhile, she was lifting the Netherlands to fourth place at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, where she was named to the Dream Team of the competition as best opposite.

Sloetjes also made sure that the Netherlands were again within the top four of the 2018 FIVB Volleyball Women's World Championship in Japan, where she emerged as best server of the competition with 27 aces to her name.

She wound up her career in Italy with Savino Del Bene Scandicci in the 2019-20 season. After this was abruptly cut short, both domestically and internationally, due to the coronavirus pandemic, Sloetjes decided first to take a break from the sport and then to end her brilliant career for good.

Emotional reaction has been pouring immediately after the announcement of her retirement.

"Despite all her successes, she is one of the most humble people I know," said Dutch national team captain Maret Grothues. "Both on and off the field she is a very pleasant person who is always there for people. It was an honour to be on the court next to her. We are going to miss her."

"Her contribution to Dutch volleyball is credited with large letters in the history of our sport," said Joop Alberda, Techincal Director of Nevobo - the Dutch Volleyball Federation.

Even more praise was forthcoming from Giovanni Guidetti, Sloetjes' former coach at both the Dutch national team and Vakifbank:

"In my career I have been able to coach many great players, but 'Lonny' is really at the top of my list because I have never seen a player who was so loved. The staff, the fans, her teammates, everyone loved her. She always came to practise cheerfully, always worked hard and always gave everything she had in her. A really great example and a great person. She was a player with even more human qualities than volleyball technical qualities, and that says a lot about someone who has achieved so much.

Lonneke is in my heart and in my memories and I use her as a role model and example for young talents.

In addition, she was always modest and that makes her such a great champion. She never looked back at what she had achieved, but worked every day to get better. This is a lesson for everyone and this makes her a place for me among the most excellent athletes I have ever worked with."

Sloetjes herself provided the context of her decision. "Over the past year I have been looking for drive and motivation to start playing again. However, the spur to play again did not come. I notice that I get a lot of energy from other things that come my way and that I can learn, for example, in the field of my studies. I also want to be near my family now. I am very grateful for everything I have been able to experience. The successes with Oranje and Vakifbank will always remain with me. And of course the many friendships that I have gained from volleyball."

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