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National titles up for grabs on Coolangatta Beach as AVBT Finals start on Friday

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Image: Volleyball Australia

 

The Gold Coast is ready to host the last leg of the 2022 Australian Beach Volleyball Tour (ABVT).

 

The Gold Coast is ready to host the last leg of the 2022 Australian Beach Volleyball Tour (ABVT), with the best athletes in the country squaring off on iconic Coolangatta Beach from 25-27 March.

The event doubles up as the 2022 Australian Beach Volleyball National Championships, after inclement weather conditions in Sydney forced the rescheduling of the event from Manly Beach.

The Australian Championships kickstart the 2022 Gold Coast VolleySlam Festival, as the Australian Youth Beach Volleyball Championships (28-31 March), the Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour Futures event (30 March – 3 April) and the Australian Beach Volleyball Schools Cup (2-4 April) line up for 10 days of unmissable beach volleyball action on the South East Queensland coast.

Following the successful SBS broadcast of the Cobram ABVT in February, which was viewed live by over 166-thousand viewers and replayed another 187, 800 times on SBS on Demand, Sunday’s Australian Championships medal matches will again be broadcast in SBS Australia from 11.30am AEST.

With Gold Coast 2018 and Tokyo Olympic silver medallists and reigning National Champions Taliqua Clancy and Mariafe Artacho del Solar currently competing overseas at the Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour Elite 16 in Rosarito, Mexico, top-seeded Nikki Laird and Phoebe Bell will arguably come into the women’s tournament as the pair to beat.

Rio Olympian Laird and her partner Bell will take to the court still fresh from their performance at the Beach Pro Tour Challenge event in Tlaxcala, Mexico – their first World Tour event since 2019.

Previously paired with young talent Stefanie Fejes, Bell has already won the ABVT Cobram-Barooga Classic earlier in the season and finished second behind Alisha Stevens and Caitlin Bettenay at the ABVT Mollymook Open.

Bell and Laird will not be the only ‘new’ pair on court as several athletes will change partners for the last leg of the ABVT – something that will make for even more interesting competition in Coolangatta.

“Teams have been mixed, which I think is great for everyone’s development,” Bell said. “But Nikki and I treat each tournament the same. We control what we can control and we focus our energy into our individual performance and our team’s performance.

“What matters is the performance at this event, not past events,” she said.

“Plus, being a Queenslander, it’s really important to me when I get to play in front of family and friends, those who have supported me throughout my career.”

Coming off her win in Mollymook, Alisha Stevens will also have a new partner for the ABVT Finals in 23-year old fellow Queenslander Georgia Johnson. The pair are seeded at #2 behind Bell/Laird, with seed #3 going to Steven’s former teammate and fellow Mollymook winner Bettenay and Cobram winner Fejes.

“Obviously coming off a win is really good,” Stevens said. “We’ve been training full time in Brisbane and working up towards the Finals, sticking to the game plan and of course building up my own game is really important,” she said.

The Gold Coast local turns 19 on Sunday and will hope to celebrate her birthday with the National title before taking part in the FIVB Beach Pro Tour Futures event the following week.

“It will be my first FIVB World Tour event and I am so excited,” Stevens said. “I was supposed to play in 2020, but sadly COVID hit then. So really I’ve built up so much excitement and I am looking forward to hitting the beach again.

“It’s not every day that you get to have a tournament on your home beach and coming out on Coolie is always beautiful,” she said.

In the men’s draw, #1 seeds Izac Carracher and Mark Nicolaidis will aim to keep their winning momentum going after claiming gold in Mollymook and silver on Thompson Beach, where they conceded defeat only to Tokyo Olympian and 2018 Commonwealth Games gold medallist Chris McHugh and his new partner Paul Burnett.

“It’s definitely a different feeling coming in defending a title, everyone is out to knock us off,” Carracher said.

“It’s obviously disappointing that Mother Nature threw a spanner in the works two weeks ago in Manly, but we are all stoked to have such a huge two weeks scheduled in Coolie.

“Mark and I have taken the opportunity to double down on some physical work and push our game style over the past couple weeks. We’ve been working hard and feel prepared to get another result at Aus Champs.”

Charracher and Nicoladis are also preparing to represent Australia in the Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour event starting three days after the Australian Championships, which is just the start of a big competition phase for the pair.

“Mark and I are hyper-competitive and have big aspirations,” Charracher added. “We have a big 3 months of international tournaments on the horizon so it’s all about performance for us this weekend.

“Being able to compete in Australia’s largest ever Beach Volleyball festival at Volleyslam is something we are very grateful and excited for. We can’t wait to start competing.”

McHugh and Burnett won’t be at the Finals as they are currently competing at Beach Pro Tour events in Mexico, leaving 2021 runner-up Max Guehrer and 27-year-old Victorian Thomas Hodges as the other main challengers for gold in Coolangatta.

Experience could play a major role though, as 34-year-old Gold Coast gold medallist Damien Schumann will return to Coolangatta beach to take a shot at the National title alongside fellow Victorian Martin Kaufer, after retiring from international competition last year.

Qualification tournaments for both the Women’s and Men’s main draws start on Friday, with medal matches played on Sunday.

The Women’s Bronze medal match will be live on SBS on Demand at 11.30am QLD local time, followed by the Men’s bronze at 12.30pm. The Women’s gold medal match will be live on SBS Australia and SBS on Demand at 2pm, with the Men’s National champions to be crowned after at 3pm.

 

With thanks Volleyball Australia.

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