For the first time in twenty-eight years, the Lausanne University Club (LUC) volleyball programme has welcomed a women’s team into its ranks. Coached by Pierre Pfefferlé, this group can count on the support of Rector Nouria Hernandez, a rather symbolic patron.
They clap their hands at every winning point, with loud cries reminiscent of words from an East Asian language. ‘We had a sitting volleyball match against the Chinese national team’, explains Aline Chacon, captain of LUC’s new women’s team. ‘It inspired us!’ The eleven players are aged between 16 and 21 years. Two of them are studying at UNIL, two at EPFL, and the others are high school students. ‘Despite the age differences, we get along very well; it’s important for the cohesion of the group’, Aline Chacon adds.
‘It’s a spectacular team. I really enjoy working with them. The players are smart, ambitious, dedicate time to their sport, and they improve’, underscores Pierre Pfefferlé, director of Lausanne University Sports and the group’s coach. His ambition? Move from league four to league three this year and, ideally, up to the national premier league in five years. To gain experience, the team will also participate in qualifiers for the Swiss championship.
For twenty-eight years, LUC volleyball has had no female presence within its ranks. However, in the 80s, its national league team was very strong. They were the Swiss champions, taking home the cup, but due to financial problems, LUC could no longer support two high-level teams and chose to continue with the men only. ‘When I took over as head of sport, I said to myself that it would be nice to have a women’s team. It so happened that I was coaching a team of girls in Lutry-Lavaux. I left for various reasons, and the team followed me to LUC.’
Pierre Pfefferlé established a system that was very close to the professional model. ‘We monitor their physical condition, give nutritional advice, etc. The players are properly supervised on all fronts.’ According to their coach, this team performs very well technically. It does, however, have a slight deficit in terms of height, as only one of the girls is over 1.8 metres tall. ‘It results in a style of volleyball that demands an enormous commitment, and they enjoy that.’ The team is therefore very serious about its work, with three practices per week, plus a match. ‘It’s our job to organise ourselves, which will help us a lot in the future,’ explains the captain. ‘It allows us to expend our energy somewhere other than in our studies, which does us a lot of good, especially come exam time.’
Studying and playing sport
To mark the occasion, Pierre Pfefferlé thought of Nouria Hernandez as a sponsor for this team. She said yes, an important gesture that thrilled the coach and the entire team. The rector came to meet them on 19 January 2018, a game night. A small performance to welcome her took place. ‘I wanted to show that UNIL supports this team’, she remembers. ‘There’s a symbolic side to it in the sense that I’m a rectrice (the French term for a female rector), which is a nice nod to them! Moreover, we provide our students with the opportunity to play a sport and our elite athletes with the opportunity to study. It’s something that I strongly support. Sport allows students to maintain a mental balance, which is essential.’
Nouria Hernandez has never played volleyball seriously, but has certainly played, most notably when she worked at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York in the late 80s. ‘I really enjoyed it, and I was pretty good at serving, but I had delicate hands, so it was difficult for me. But I played enough to be familiar with the sport.’