More than 80 teams overall will battle for the National title from 19-21 February, as the iconic Manly Beach hosts the Australian National Championships - an event that doubles up as the third leg of the Australian Beach Volleyball Tour (ABVT).
Included amongst the high numbers of teams will be Olympians returning to Manly to take on the best of the best from across Australia.
Top-seeded Mariafe Artacho Del Solar and Taliqua Clancy come into the tournament as one of the teams to beat. Currently fifth in the International Volleyball Federation (FIBV) world ranking, Del Solar and Clancy returned to the sand in Glenelg earlier this month after a 14-month break due to a mix of injuries and COVID-related tournament cancellations. They made a strong return to competition with a perfect 5-0 record without dropping a single set throughout the weekend.
Del Solar and Clancy were both on the 2016 Australian Olympic team, even though they did not play together. In Rio, Clancy teamed up with Louise Bawden and advanced to the knock-out stage before losing in the quarterfinals to the U.S. pair Ross/Walsh Jennings, who would go on to win bronze.
Del Solar played alongside Nikki Laird on Copacabana Beach with the former beach volleyball partners (both Manly locals) potentially set to face off over the weekend.
In Manly Laird will play alongside 2012 Olympian Becchara Palmer. ‘Team Llama’ (as they are referred to, based on a funny merger of their surnames) started playing together in late 2018, despite being based in different cities (Laird in Adelaide and Palmer in Sydney). The partners have been training separately for most of the last two years, getting together whenever possible until recently, when Palmer joined Laird in South Australia.
Laird and Palmer are the reigning Australian champions and took advantage of their main opponents’ absence at the Cobram-Barooga Classic to win the first leg of the ABVT. Palmer then recruited 17-year-old Stefanie Fejes to replace Laird in Glenelg. The newly-established tandem still managed to make their way through to the final, where Del Solar/Clancy proved too strong to beat.
Team Llama will certainly welcome a reunion in Manly, on a sand that has seen them often victorious in the past, including the FIVB 3-star World Tour event in 2018 and the ABVT Manly Beach Open in 2020.
Amongst the opponents, Phoebe Bell and Jess Ngauamo seem the best placed to mount a credible challenge and make a run for the title.
The two young players have produced a series of good performances this year, even though they are still building back from injury problems of their own. Still, they were able to finish in third place in both legs of the ABVT so far and left the Glenelg Open promising to come back better and stronger for Manly.
The Manly Beach Open starts on Friday at noon with the qualification round. Competition will resume the next day from 8am, with the draw for Saturday’s competition released on Friday, following the qualification events.
Sunday’s program will commence with semifinal matches from 8am. Finals will follow from 11.30am onwards, with the following schedule:
Fans will be able to watch the final matches on SBS On Demand from 11.30am and the gold medal matches on SBS One from 2pm.
To keep up to date with the rest of the weekend’s action, follow the ABVT Tour on social media at @AusBeachVolleyTour on Facebook, @Ausbvtour on Instagram
and @ausvolley on Twitter.
The updated players’ seeding and tournament schedule are available on the Australian Beach Volleyball Tour website.