It’s the beautiful summer of French volleyball. Before the Final 8 of the VNL for the Blues from Thursday, the Challenger Cup of the French at the end of the month, the teams of France U18 and U22 will play in the final of their Euro this Sunday. Hilir Henno, U22 striker, returns for RMC SPORT to the victorious semi-final on Saturday against Turkey before the final, in Poland at 8 p.m. against Italy. The U18s will also face Italy at 6:30 p.m. in Tbilisi.
Hilir, tell us about this match point, you give the last point to the Blueberries, and your emotion?
At 14-13, there was a timeout for this match point. At the very end of the break, I told Kellian Paes, our setter, to give me the ball at the end of the line. On the Turkish service, I receive the ball with my 10 fingers for Kellian who gives it back to me and I score the point that sends us to the final. He trusted me. It made me happy to know that Kellian trusted me in hot moments because he has other preferential relationships. And once the point won, the emotion rose for our fourth victory in 5 sets. Over a past 8 hours in the field, it’s huge. So it’s relaxation, tension that comes down after a once again crazy match. Besides, I’ll say it again, it really touched me that Kellian trusted me.
Precisely, you start very well with a first set won 25-23.
We had objectives to take the mark from the start. It was also necessary to close their attacks in position 4 (on the wing) and their central. The system was well respected and it worked. Our second set is in the same line, we lead until 15-14 before losing the score after actions where we were unlucky, they adapted, they played better and that weighs us down a bit mentally. At 21 everywhere, we unlock and we lose the set.
The third round is catastrophic. Why are you taking these shards, regularly? There, you take mines at 8-2 then 18-7 and you lose the set 25-12!
As a joke, I would say it’s a rest set before the end of the match (laughs). No. It’s true that we give 2-3 consecutive points after silly mistakes. Thereupon the Turks rise in temperature and are quite unstoppable. This madness has weighed us down. We win the fourth round with forceps because the Turks took the score during almost the whole set. Then Ibrahim Lawani put pressure on the service, our wheels put them in trouble and it boosted us mentally. We fought for the right to play and win the decisive tie-break. It was all in the head.
Isn’t the France team its main adversary after all?
Yes because we put ourselves in difficulty in certain sets. Our adversary catches fire. We are impatient, we want to take stock when sometimes it is enough just to make the opponent play, to put the ball back into play, to wait for the other to make the mistake. We want to take stock and we make mistakes in series. So we get frustrated and we enter a vicious circle.
Les Bleuets are favorites in the final against Italy, this Sunday evening?
No, these Italians are double world champions. Even if they miss their young star Alessandro Michieletto and two players who have had the covid, they keep a very solid team because all the Italians play pro in their league. But nothing scares us. We are going to play hard because we have nothing to lose. We’re going for the gold and to win the title, the Italians will have to deserve it, will have to play better than us because they’ll come out of this final washed out, don’t doubt it.
The Henno family will be honored because your little brother Mathis will be in the Euro U18 final in Tbilisi with Noa Duflos-Rossi and his friends. Were you able to swap?
He had shown us the way a few hours before. We sent congratulatory messages. With the big time difference in Georgia, we exchanged quickly. We prove that the young people are there.
Hilir, you’ll be moving on to the University of Irvine, California. What did that bring you in this Euro?
Mentally, I feel like I’m much more stable than I’ve ever been. I was nervous, I yelled a lot but our American coach is very involved in body language. He pushes us not to show anything on the pitch. I think it helped me. Above all, don’t show anything if you take a box. I’m also impressed by the calm of our team which remains calm, good except when we make mistakes which weigh us down a set, I admit. But we never give up, we know we can bounce back at one time or another.
With your vision as a 19-year-old American university student, what do you think of the League’s idea of hosting the Chinese selection in the French championship to prepare for the Paris 2024 Olympics?
The general public has been interested in volleyball since the Olympic title of the Blues in Tokyo. They have given young people the desire to play volleyball and a new public to attend matches. What will this general public understand when they see China land in League A? Paris Volley against Sète, one day, then the following week Paris Volley against China. He’s not going to understand too much, I think. Even if I understand the financial interest, I find it a bit borderline.