Looking back on the Volley Blacks' eight game tour of Chile, coach Sebastian Gonzalez saw a lot of improvement and some fine performances from his team, all but two of whom had not played international volleyball before.
"It was great. The boys played at an amazing level. While we didn't get that win, we had some really tight games - to play like that against the fourth best team in the world is a big achievement. That means there's a lot of talent in New Zealand, and we just need to do a little bit more work in the program to get them to that level," said Sebastian.
While the Volley Blacks pushed Chile hard, taking many sets deep, when it came to the critical points, the hosts showed that they'd been there before and their experience told in the end.
"We were obviously a bit disappointed not to win a match - there were many times that we did live video analysis and looked at what we could have done differently. It's a real learning curve."
"Many of the boys hadn't been in this kind of situation, they got a little bit nervous playing with a large crowd with people screaming, so it was a good learning experience for the younger players," said Sebastian.
The crowds were large and noisy throughout the tour, with fans allowed on the floor afterwards for photos and autographs, and would sometimes bring presents for the team.
"So the boys were pretty happy about that. The Chilean fans show a lot of love for the touring teams. And like the total amount of people that went to the stadiums throughout the tour was about 19,000 people - the gyms were packed for every match wherever we went to play, people sitting, people standing, people not getting in, so that was really nice to see as well," said Sebastian.
On the court, the Volley Blacks weren't afraid to go for their shots, looking to take Chile out of their usual system and apply pressure, particularly on their serve.
"Our jump servers were really trying to start the points with some power. And so some days you can have an amazing serving day, and others you miss a few, we tried to start the points by going for it. Chile's big servers were going at 118kph, while our big servers Mana and Jacob were going at 116, 117, so there wasn't much difference between the sides, but it's about that consistency, which will come with more time together," said Sebastian.
The next focus will be preparing for the Asian Champs in 2025, with the team missing the latest edition becuase of government warning over travelling to Iran, but Sebastian is sure the team's experience in Chile is a strong platform to build on.
"The connection and the team environment were really good. There's always problems travelling and playing so many games back to back. But at the end, we spoke about this lifelong connection and memories, and telling grandchildren about what we'd just experienced, so that's really important as well."
"It was a full on tour, thanks to all our sponsors and management, and everyone who made the tour possible."
"We've shown we can compete at a high level, so we need to be at the FIVB tournaments and improve our ranking, build on the programme and aim for better tournaments," said Sebastian.