Great Britain women hail 'huge leap forward' at 2012 test event

By Nick HopeBBC Olympic sports reporter

Great Britain's women's team say they took a "huge leap forward" by facing leading nations at last week's Olympic test event at Earls Court.

The GB team played world number three side Japan and 12th ranked Netherlands twice in the space of four days.

"Just to experience this arena, the Olympic venue, is absolutely amazing," said captain Lynne Beattie.

"We played two world-class teams, we did really well against them and feel really confident going into next year."

Great Britain lost all of their matches, but recently returned from a highly successful tour in South America, where they also performed admirably against more established nations, beating both Chile and Argentina twice.

Head coach Audrey Cooper insisted that the team, who last year had their centralised programme in Sheffield closed down after public funding was withdrawn, have made significant progress.

"When we knew we had no money, we asked 'What are we going to about it?' Cooper told BBC Sport.

"We said, 'You know what, we're just going to stick together and show everybody how good we actually are and how good we can be at the Games.'

"We've had a lot of doubters, but we've proved them wrong and that's down to a never-say-die attitude and also the skill level of these athletes.

"To nearly take a set off the number three team in the world must not be underestimated - last year we wouldn't have been able to do that, so it just shows the progress that we've made."

Last year it was clear that morale was at an all-time-low.

Recent months however, have certainly shown an upturn in fortunes for the team.

The tour to Peru was achieved by combining finances from company sponsorship with that attained through fund raising initiatives, such as a Money for Matchesexternal-link cycle ride, which took them from Sheffield to London.

In June it was announced that, with the help of Sheffield City Council and a host of local organisations, the team would be able to return to the city for their Olympics preparation.

However, with no finance to fund a full-time centralised training programme in the UK, the players will soon head their separate ways and join European clubs for a season of domestic volleyball.

The players are seeing positives in playing as professionals for a second successive season, before rejoining the national squad in May 2012.

"It is unfortunate that we have to part ways, but I think that the success we've had this summer just makes every individual that much hungrier to make themselves better," said Beattie.

"Volleyball is very strong in parts of Europe, so, as individuals, we need to go away this winter and work hard.

"Then, when we come back together we can put all that into team GB and just push forward for the Olympic Games."