Australia’s beach volleyball teams have arrived in Tlaxcala, Mexico for the first Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour Challenge event, as preparations intensify for the Commonwealth Games hopefuls.
Australia will be represented by one men’s and one women’s team – Chris McHugh and Paul Burnett, and Nikki Laird and Phoebe Bell.
Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games and Tokyo Olympic silver medalists Taliqua Clancy and Mariafe Artacho del Solar will also play in Mexico, at the Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour Elite 16 event from 23-27 March.
With just under 140 days to go, the Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour will be an important runway to the Birmingham Commonwealth Games for Australia’s beach volleyball teams vying for selection.
For McHugh and Burnett, it will be their second international event as a pair, after teaming up to win the Asian Senior Beach Volleyball Championships in November 2021.
With the experience of the opening two rounds of the Australian Beach Volleyball Tour under their belt, 2018 Commonwealth Games gold medalist and Tokyo Olympian McHugh said he is excited to be back on the world stage.
“We arrived into Mexico early to try and get best acclimated to the high altitude, but also to get as much practice in as possible with international teams,” McHugh said.
“Outside of the Tokyo Olympics, it has been the best part of 2.5 years since we have had the opportunity to train and compete against other countries at the World Tour event.
“As a relatively new team, Paul and I are learning a lot each and every practice, and improving as a team,” he said.
With the FIVB Beach World Championships and Commonwealth Games coming up this year, McHugh said Mexico will be an important stepping stone that will hopefully set him up for a successful 2022.
“This is the first Challenger event of the season, and every team here is looking to compete hard and get a good result to kick start their season, especially with the run into the World Championships and Commonwealth Games later in the year,” McHugh said.
“For our team, this week is a great opportunity to test ourselves against the best in the world after a good training block in Australia.
“We want to back ourselves and our game style, and compete hard with every team we play.
“This is the first important step on the Pro Tour for our team towards the World Championships in Rome, Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and ultimately the Paris 2024 Olympic Games,” he said.
Also joining forces for Beach Pro Tour Challenger will be Rio Olympian Nikki Laird and Phoebe Bell.
Having spent a week in Los Angeles prior to Mexico, Laird said she is excited to see what the team can accomplish.
“Phoebe and I spent a week in LA training against other World Tour teams which was the perfect preparation for us,” Laird said.
“We have been out of the international game for such a long time that it was a good reminder of the level that is required to win.
“Phoebe and myself are on the same page about how we want to approach competition this year. We haven’t competed at a World Tour event since 2019, so we are hoping to get out there and just focus on competing hard.
“We are working to put together our best volleyball, and it’s just awesome to be back at an international event again,” she said.
For Bell, she believes that every team in Mexico will be tough, but it’s a challenge that she and Laird are ready for.
“Every team on the World Tour is talented! But the most important thing for us is focusing our energy into our team and our processes,” Bell said.
“We trust that if we do that well, then the outcome will take care of itself.
“Training in LA has allowed us to find our rhythm and build back into playing against international teams.
“All we can ask for ourselves is that we compete hard, enjoy being back on the tour, and stick to our team values,” she said.
Laird/Bell (AUS) v Shiba/Take (JPN) | Thursday 17 March 1.40am AEDT
McHugh/Burnett (AUS) v Kruk/Miszczuk (POL) | Thursday 17 March 5am AEDT