Ljubljana, Slovenia, July 11, 2019 – Slovenia joined the world’s elite in the 2020 FIVB Volleyball Nations League after triumphing in the FIVB Volleyball Challenger Cup on home soil last Sunday. Toncek Stern was one of the Slovenian heroes on the court last week - the 23-year-old opposite was the best scorer for Slovenia during the tournament in Ljubljana, contributing with 61 points for his team.
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“It was a perfect week, this is just incredible - we are in the VNL now! I think that our squad is very strong, we played like a real team. We have a great atmosphere in the team and I think that we really deserved this place among the world’s elite. We showed to the whole world that we really are at the level of other teams which compete at the VNL. We proved during this tournament and especially in the final that we did a great job playing every match at a high level. I hope that next year we will play as well also in the VNL, showing our best volleyball,” Stern said after the final match.
Securing a spot in the VNL crowned Slovenia's long-term efforts to join the top tier of world level competition. “We prepared for this tournament for two months and here we played only four games, which were crucial. We opened every match here being full of emotions, energy and with a strong will to win and eventually we won all our games and the whole tournament. I think it's a well-deserved win, we were better than the other teams, so we got a place in the VNL,” explained the Slovenian opposite.
Under the guidance of new head coach Alberto Giuliani, the Slovenes aspire even higher. Last year they debuted at the FIVB Volleyball Men's World Championship, now they are aiming for qualification to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games when they play in Gdansk, where they face hosts Poland, France and Tunisia.
“Now we have one week off, and after that immediately we will start preparations for the Olympic Qualifier. We have a very hard and demanding group, but everything is possible. During trainings and later during the games, we will do our best to win against everyone and get qualification for the Olympics, as our country hasn’t competed at this event yet, so we can make history again. France and Poland and very difficult opponents, but already in 2015 we proved that we can win against them. We are the team which have quality to win, we are very close to the top teams. The Olympic Games are one of the biggest dreams for every athlete, if you play at the world level. We always try to win everything what we can, but Slovenia have never been at the Olympics.”
Toncek Stern followed in his father’s footsteps by choosing volleyball, but initially he trained in other sports. “I took up volleyball in the fourth class of primary school. I started to play, inspired by my father, who was a coach and official in the club. Earlier, I had trained in judo for eight years. However, I was with my dad at the sport hall almost every day observing trainings and matches, so eventually I decided to switch to volleyball. Now, I train every day to become a better player,” he concluded.