"The other upside of us being this youthful created a really cool, family vibe, and the bond translates to the court as well”
When he looked back at the journey to the 2019 wheelchair rugby European Championships, the Netherlands’ Reda Haouam recalled memorable emotions.
“I was extremely proud and happy of what we had achieved,” Haouam said, referring to their golden victory at the 2018 Division B edition.
“Witnessing our team develop from when we started in late 2015, I was impressed with how composed and controlled we played in the final (52-46 win against Switzerland).
The Netherlands will end an eight-year drought since its last appearance at a Division A European Championship on 7-11 August in Vejle, Denmark.
Up until that point, the Dutch side had competed in the bi-annual event every time since the inaugural tournament in Sweden back in 1995.
The Netherlands finished with the bronze medal on that occasion, but have not been able to reach those heights since; they finished as the bottom-ranked side in both 2009 and 2011.
They went unbeaten at the 2018 Division B Europeans in Lahti, Finland.
National team captain Haouam admitted the tournament victory was the side’s biggest moment of the past decade.
“However, the semi-final win against Russia (56-52) was the one that really hit home for me emotionally - that moment we achieved our main goal of advancing to Division A, after overcoming some adversity early in the game,” he said.
“I even teared up a little in the final seconds of the game.”
Haouam believes there is a number of reasons behind the major turnaround for the Netherlands.
“I think it’s a combination of a shared vision of how we want to play and the fact that we have a young core of players that are very much in tune with each other,” he said.
“We spend a good amount of time with each other, both on and off the court.
“This allows us to grow together and continually challenge each other to be better.
“Of the 11 players that are currently on our roster, only four are above the age of 30.
“At 32, I’m the oldest member of the team - even our coach and staff are younger than me, so we have the ability to create good habits early.
“The other upside of us being this youthful created a really cool, family vibe, and the bond translates to the court as well.”
The Netherlands’ highest world ranking was No. 10 after the 2006 World Championships and the goal for the team is to get back to that.
“Obviously with us coming from Division B, we need to make sure that we prolong our stay in Division A with a top-six finish,” Haouam said.
“However, we all want to make a run at the Paralympic Games of 2020, whether through direct qualification or through the 2020 qualification tournament, so we’ll be gunning for a top-four finish.”
The Netherlands has a full schedule ahead with multiple practice tournaments and training camps in the coming months.
They will also contest the Metro Cup in Poland from 1-7 July.