Can Neptunes do it? Defeated in three sets (26-24, 25-22, 25-20), a week ago during the first leg final of the volleyball Challenge Cup, the Nantes hosts Wednesday March 28, at 8 p.m., Novara, one of the best Italian clubs, for the return match. The task promises to be arduous. To hope to win their first European title, they will first have to win in three or four rounds, then defeat their rivals in the golden set.

It has been more than ten years since a French women’s volleyball team had played in a Continental Cup final. The last time was in 2012, when the girls from Racing Club de Cannes were beaten by the Turks from Fenerbahçe in the Champions League. The Challenge Cup is certainly only the third European level, but the performance is no less remarkable. Because the Neptunes recently won a continental title in another team sport… handball.

In May 2021, the Nantes women dominated the Hungarians of Siofok (36-31), to win the European League, the second most prestigious club competition. At that time, the training was still called Nantes Atlantique Handball. His change of identity took shape a month after this coronation. One year later, in June 2022, Volley-Ball Nantes joined the adventure under the pink and blue jersey to create the first indoor all-sports women’s club. A unique model in Europe.

For three years, the Neptunes have been innovating to professionalize women’s handball and volleyball and bring out new generations of elite players. In 2023, the club became one of the rare “mission-driven companies” in the field of sport, a legal status that allows it to put its commercial activity at the service of territorial development.

“We seek to promote equal opportunities by supporting young women who want to become high-level athletes,” insists Olivier Jehannet, its deputy president. The stated objective is also to “strengthen proximity with amateur clubs in the region”. More than 180 companies, most of them local, have become partners of the club and, through this, encourage the development of women’s sport in the Nantes region.

The tricolor card

A sign of the enthusiasm generated by the match on Wednesday February 28, the 4,492 seats available to attend the match were sold in just twenty-four hours. This was relocated to La Trocardière, in Rezé, in the southern suburbs – the Salle Mangin-Beaulieu, the traditional lair of the Neptunes, with 2,300 seats, having been deemed too small for the event. By 2028-2029, the club should also have its own enclosure with around 3,500 seats, which will be built in the town of Orvault, in the north-west of the metropolis.

To turn around a bad situation, the team coached by the Spaniard César Hernandez will have to succeed in countering the Russian Marina Markova (23 years old, 1.99 meters). Recruited on February 16 by Novara just five days before facing Nantes, the top scorer in the Turkish championship tipped the scales to the Italian side in the first leg (17 points), to the point of being voted best player of the match.

Unlike other French clubs, which recruit foreigners on a massive scale, Nantes plays the tricolor card to the fullest. Its leaders, the receiver-attacker Amélie Rotar, the libero Amandine Giardino and the young passer Emilie Respaut (20 years old), are among the sure values ​​of the national selection which will play, this summer, the first Olympic tournament in its history – the Bleues are automatically qualified as representatives of the organizing country.

Largely at the top of the League A rankings, the French championship, the Neptunes volleyball players are having an almost perfect season, with only three defeats in all competitions. As for the handball section, which includes internationals Tamara Horacek, Léna Grandveau and Oriane Ondono in its ranks, it is currently third in the League rankings, behind Brest and Metz.