2016 Rio Olympians Nicole Laird and Mariafe Artacho del Solar, and 2012 Olympian Becchara Palmer, head a quality field of nominations for next months FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour event in Shepparton.
Teams from around the globe have entered the two-day event, to be held on the weekend of March 4/5.
Along with a strong Australian contingent, teams from USA, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and several European powerhouses, including Germany and Italy, have nominated for the men’s and women’s event.
Japan, which is hoping to qualify two men’s and two women’s teams for the Tokyo Olympics, has entered three teams in both competitions next month.
Laird and del Solar played alongside each other on Rio’s Copacabana Beach at last year’s Olympics, but will play with different partners in Shepparton.
Laird will play alongside Australian squad member, Phoebe Bell, while del Solar will partner Britt Kendall as part of a six-strong Australian assault on the FIVB title.
Bell and Kendall teamed up for Australia at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games.
Palmer, who played alongside three-time Olympian, Louise Bawden, at the 2012 London Olympics, will team up with Queensland’s Jessyka Ngauamo in Shepparton.
In the men’s draw, internationally experienced Chris McHugh and Damien Schumann will team up for the first time to lead Australia’s charge.
McHugh and Schumann, playing with different partners, were both involved in Australia’s unsuccessful bid to qualify a men’s team for last year’s Olympics.
But injuries to McHugh’s partner, Isaac Kapa, and Schumann’s partner, Joshua Court, has brought the two together for Shepparton.
Australia will have six teams in the men’s competition, including Cole Durant and Zachery Schubert, who have won two events on the Australian beach tour this summer.
The post-Olympic shake-up of teams has not been confined to Australia, with Japan’s Sayaka Mizoe and Takemi Nishibori, and New Zealand’s Shaunna Polley and Julia Tilley all coming to Shepparton with new partners.
And Manly-based Lucia Michalovicova and Michaela Vorlova, who have enjoyed strong success on the Australian domestic tour, will find themselves on opposing teams in Shepparton.
Vorlova will be representing the Czech Republic, while Michalovicova will play for Slovakia.
Another former team, Australia’s Christie Jenkins and American Brittany Tiegs, will also find themselves on opposite sides of the net in Shepparton.
In the men’s draw, Japan has mixed it’s team up post the Rio qualifying campaign, with two-time Olympian Katsuhiro Shiratori coming to Shepparton with Takumi Takahashi, who partnered Yoshimi Hasegawa at last year’s Asian zone Olympic qualifiers in Cairns.
Hasegawa and Shiratori had been partners for more than one year in the lead-up to the Cairns qualifiers. Hasegawa will also be in Shepparton, partnering Masato Kurasaka.
New Zealand has also undergone a shake-up, with Michael Watson and Sam O’Dea, regular fixtures on the Australian tour, swapping partners with Ben O’Dea and Thomas Hartles, which will see the O’Dea brothers playing together.
Tickets for final day at Shepparton, March 5, are available from www.volleyballaustralia.org.au