MORE GLORY FOR AUSTRALIAN BEACH PAIR ON ASIAN TOUR

Australian beach volleyballers Nicole Laird and Mariafe Artacho del Solar have won their third Asian title in four outings with a straight sets win in the Tuan Chau Ha Long Open in Vietnam.

Laird and del Solar beat New Zealand’s Julia Tilley and Alice Bain 21-12, 21-17 to add the Vietnam title to wins in Thailand and Indonesia.

Their only defeat during their Asian tour came at the hands of fellow HelloWorld Volleyroos, Becchara Palmer and Phoebe Bell, at the Palembang Open in Indonesia one week ago.

Palmer and Bell finished the Ha Long Open in fifth position.

“The goals for us before our Asian tour were to practice being and playing a certain way, regardless of who was on the other side of the net or what pressures were around,” Laird said.

“I think for the most part we achieved that. In the moments that we didn’t, a lot of lessons have been learned.”

Laird and del Solar are the reigning World U23 Champions, and will attempt to qualify for this year’s Olympics when they contest the Asian Olympic qualifiers in Cairns in June.

In March they finished runners-up to China’s Chen Xue and Xinyi Xia at the Asian Championships at Sydney’s Manly Beach.

The Chinese pair are likely to start favourites for the Olympic qualifier, and Laird knows it will be a challenge.

“We still have a lot more growth left and a lot of lessons to learn as a team before Cairns, but we faced a few of the top teams in the past few weeks and it gives us the confidence we can keep moving in the right direction,” she said.

“We’re very excited that the tournament will be held in Cairns. It isn’t a city that has had too much domestic or international volleyball attention, so we’re keen to check it out and play in front of a home crowd.”

Cairns to host Olympic volleyball qualifier

27 April 2016

A major Olympic Games qualifying event will bring the Asia-Pacific region’s best international volleyball talent to Cairns in June.

Volleyball Australia has today announced that the AVC Beach Volleyball Continental Cup Final will be played on the Cairns Esplanade on 20-26 June.

Mayor Bob Manning said the event was expected to attract 64 teams from eight countries, along with officials and supporters.

“This tournament is a direct qualifier for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, which means we’ll be watching the absolute cream of the sport in action,” Cr Manning said.

“It will be broadcast into 800 million homes in Australia and Asia and help to grow the fantastic sport of volleyball in North Queensland. We thank Volleyball Australia for selecting Cairns to host this event.”

HelloWorld Volleyball Australia Chief Executive Officer, Mathieu Meriaux, said it was exciting to be bringing such a major event to Far North Queensland.

“Volleyball Australia is thrilled to bring world-class beach volleyball to Cairns, with the opportunity for Far North Queensland to witness not only the best HelloWorld Volleyroos, but also the best players from throughout Asia,” Mr Meriaux said.

“We are very grateful for the support shown already by Mayor Bob Manning and the Cairns Regional Council, and believe this will be the start of a long and exciting relationship between Cairns and one of Australia’s most popular sports.

“It is particularly exciting that Cairns will be the launch point for Asia’s best beach volleyballers on their way to the sands of Copacabana Beach.”

Cairns Regional Council supported the bid with a $150,000 contribution, which includes the provision of two specially-built show courts to be constructed adjacent to the existing Esplanade courts.

Six hundred cubic metres of sand will be brought in to create the 30m x 50m courts, which will be accompanied by a 1000-seat temporary grandstand.

Cr Manning said the investment was a good fit for the city.

“Given Cairns’ waterfront location, our city naturally extends itself to water or beach sports, in particular beach volleyball,” Cr Manning said.

“Through the hosting of this event, we hope to forge a relationship with Volleyball Australia that will lead to other opportunities to host national and international level volleyball here in Cairns.”

VOLLEYROOS COME TOGETHER WITH FOCUS ON TICKET TO RIO

For the third time in his volleyball career, Nathan Roberts turned up for a pre-Olympic training camp on the weekend.

The first time was 2004, when as an 18-year-old newbie he failed to make the cut for the final team.

Eight years later it was pre-London, and this time there was a happy ending. Roberts made the squad, and made his Olympic debut months later.

This time he’s very much the veteran, but at 30 he’s hardly in the old timer’s league.

Nonetheless, it’s a minor miracle Roberts is even in the running for Rio. The past couple of years, to put it mildly, have been horrendous.

“Since London, I hurt my knee in 2013 and that took a good year and a half to get better, and then I tore my calf, and that took a couple of months to get better, and then I had an issue with my elbow for the past 12 to 15 months,” he said.

“So it’s been a roller-coaster that has mainly been at the lower level, but hopefully the elbow feels alright, I still manage it a bit, but the surgery went really well.

Hopefully I’ll get a good couple of months training in before the qualifiers.”

This week members of the HelloWorld Volleyroos squad started rolling in from points all over the globe to the AIS training facility in Varesse, Italy.

They did the same thing four years ago, and that worked out well.

“Hopefully it’s a lucky charm,” Roberts said.

“We’re all pretty stoked to see each other again, and to hang out with the guys and speak some English.

“We’ve got some practice matches coming up against Norway, and then Italy, and we’re training three times a day, so there’s a fair bit going on.”

The full squad won’t get together for a couple of weeks yet, as several players are still involved in their domestic competitions.

But Italian-born Volleyroos coach, Roberto Santilli, is leaving no stone unturned preparing his team for the biggest challenge since taking over the role 14 months ago – Olympic qualification.

To get there Australia will need to finish top three at next month’s qualifier in Japan, or be at least the top-ranked Asian team.

Australia’s form against the top Asian teams in recent years has been patchy, but Roberts believes the Volleyroos have improved a lot.

“I don’t think we did that well at Asian Champs last year, or certainly not as well as we hoped, and we had mixed results at the World Cup,” he said.

“It certainly means we are not the favourites going into the tournament, which is just the way we like it.

“I don’t think anyone would discount anyone, but I think we have a lot more improvement than a lot of the other teams.”

Also working in the favour of the HelloWorld Volleyroos has been the exposure to top level volleyball.

Since London the men’s team has had two seasons in the prestigious World League, including last year in Group One alongside Brazil, Italy and Serbia.

It’s the sort of preparation veterans like Roberts only dreamed about before 2012.

“I think World League has been huge,” he said.

“I had eight or nine years without playing teams in World League, but the young guys who are coming through now are getting time against quality opposition.

“In terms of preparation, it’s a real step up to be playing against teams like Brazil.”

Roberts is easily the most experienced member of the team, and even though he hasn’t been officially given a mentoring role, he’s happy to use his experience to help guide younger team members.

“Since 2010 I’ve been one of the oldest guys in the team, so it’s nothing new,” he said.

“I really enjoy seeing the young guys come in and play their first matches, and score their first points, so I’m happy to help guide them if they’ll listen to me.”

STUNNING START FOR NEW AUSTRALIAN BEACH COMBINATION

Australian beach volleyballers Becchara Palmer and Phoebe Bell, playing in their first tournament together, have pulled off a stunning victory in the Palembang Open in Indonesia.

Along the route to victory 2012 Olympian Palmer and teenager Bell beat fellow Australians, Mariafe Artacho del Solar and Nikki Laird, and in doing so denied them the chance of a hat-trick of Asian tour titles.

Meanwhile it was a return to the winner’s circle for Australia’s Isaac Kapa and Chris McHugh in the men’s competition.

The Australians, who won the Pak Bara Open in Thailand two weeks ago before losing last weekend’s Samila Open, had an incredible tussle against Kazakhstan’s Alexey Kuleshov and Dmitriy Yakovlev.

After taking the opening set, they were then outplayed in the second, before clawing their way to victory in a tense final set 21-16, 15-21, 20-18.

12 months ago Bell and Palmer were playing for the Australian women’s indoor team.

But while Palmer, who competed at the London 2012 Olympics alongside Louise Bawden, returned to beach volleyball at the start of the Australian summer, 19-year-old Bell has only recently committed to the beach program.

“We’re pretty chuffed,” Palmer said.

“Our tournament was run game-by-game. We knew what we wanted to create, and it only took us a few games to start seeing it

“But once it clicked, it clicked.”

Bell and Palmer beat del Solar and Laird 21-18, 21-17 in the semi-finals, and were then too strong for Kazakhstan’s Tatiana Mashkova and Irina Tsimbalova 22-20, 21-14 in the final.

Their victory adds intrigue to June’s Asian Olympic beach qualifiers, with Australia hoping to qualify a men’s and women’s team for Rio.

While del Solar and Lair are considered the front runners should Australia be successful, the form of Bell and Palmer shows it will not be straightforward.

AUSTRALIA’S LAIRD AND DEL SOLAR SEAL BACK-TO-BACK GOLD MEDALS

Australia’s Nicole Laird and Mariafe Artacho del Solar have continued their dominant beach volleyball form in Thailand with a second consecutive Asian tour gold medal.

Laird and del Solar were unstoppable in the final of the Samila Open, beating local hopes Radarong and Udomchavee 21-7, 21-13 in a one-sided encounter.

Less than one week ago the Adelaide-based HelloWorld Volleyroos won gold in the Pak Bara Open.

But there was to be no back-to-back gold medal for HelloWorld Volleyroos top ranked men’s pairing pf Chris McHugh and Isaac Kapa, who had to settle for silver against Kazakhstan’s Alexey Sidorenko and Alexandr Dyachenko.

One week after beating the same team for gold at the Pak Bara Open, the Australians struggled to get into the final at Samila, losing 17-21, 14-21.

AustrLI’a other men’s pairing of Damien Schumann and Joshua Court lost the bronze medal playoff to China’s Li Zhuoxin and Li, 21-16, 18-21, 6-15.

The win for Laird and del Solar is a further confidence boost after the pair lost the Asian Championship final to China at Manly Beach last month.

“I think for us, the loss in Manly was critical for the growth of the team,” Laird said.

“It took a lot of honest communication to move through the emotion of the loss and to take the learnings forward, but once we started making those steps we were able to put some actions in place.

“I think that every time we step on the court, past results become irrelevant and distracting, so for us we’re just looking to continuously build our game.”

Laird and del Solar, along with the Australian men’s teams, will be looking to earn Australia additional places at the Rio Olympics when they compete at the Asian Olympic qualifiers in Australia in June.

Australia’s top-ranked women’s team of Louise Bawden and Taliqua Clancy have already sealed their place at Copacabana Beach.