Queensland pair Bryce Poland and Christopher Blake have won their first Australian Beach Volleyball Tour title, while a pair of Chinese Olympians also claimed victory in Wollongong.
In the elite men’s competition, Mateusz Zieba (POL) and Daniele Acconci (ITA) had beaten Poland and Blake on their run to victory in Canberra in January, however the Queenslanders drew first blood in Wollongong with victory in their Pool D encounter on Saturday.
The fourth seeds proceeded to the semi finals undefeated where they knocked out top seeds Solomon Bushby (SA) and James Takken (QLD)..
Pool D turned out to be the form group of the men’s competition, with Zieba and Acconci bouncing back from their early defeat to win six straight sets and make it to their second consecutive final.
The evenness of the fourth and fifth seeds was evident as they split the first two sets. In a tit-for-tat battle, Zieba and Acconco had match point at 14-13 in the third set, however Blake and Poland reeled off three straight points to clinch gold in a match which lasted 116 points (2-1: 27-25, 13-21, 16-14).
“It feels unbelievable, it’s probably one of the best feelings of my life,” said Blake. “We only started playing together in January but we gel really well on the court and we’ve got a good coach who always gives us good strategies and helps us a lot.”
Poland said that after so many matches against their final opponents, they were getting closer and closer to today’s result.
“We’ve played them every tournament this season so it’s kind of been building up,” he said. “They smoked us in the first game in Canberra and then every game after that we started to learn their game plan and just took advantage of what we could do.”
In the playoff for bronze, Australian Junior Volleyball Tour under 21 winners Lucas Josefsen (QLD) and Ben Hood (QLD) beat Bushby and Takken.
The women’s draw was dominated by Chinese pair Xue Chen and Xia Xinyi, both of whom competed at the Tokyo Olympics. Chen – the 2013 World Champion and 2008 Olympic bronze medallist – and Xinyi – who made the round of 16 in Tokyo – didn’t drop a set on their way to claiming victory in Wollongong.
They faced off in the final against fifth seeds Stefanie Fejes (NSW) and Jana Milutinovic (SA) who had dropped just one set in the tournament and took out Tour Leaders Sarah Richter (NSW) and Lucia Michalovicova (NSW) in the semi finals.
The Aussie pair more than held their own in the final, taking more points off the Chinese combination than any team throughout the tournament. In windy conditions, Chen and Xinyi took control of the first set which they won 21-16.
The second set was a much tighter affair, and with the scores locked 15-all the crowd got right behind Fejes and Milutinovic. However their more experienced opponents went up a gear, scoring six of the next seven points to take the match, however Fejes and Milutinovic could certainly hold their heads high.
“It’s the best result we could have come away with so we’re super happy with how we performed,” said Milutinovic. “It’s our first national tour together as a team, so we’re super happy and up-and-up from here.
Fejes said that playing against a pair of Olympians including a former World Champion would hold them in good stead for the future.
“It was such a great opportunity and we gave them everything we had,” said Fejes. “It was really amazing to play together at such a high level and experience that.”
The bronze medal in the Elite Women’s competition went to Jasmine Fleming (QLD) and Britt Kendall (SA), victorious in a 2-0 victory over Richter and Michalovicova.
Next and final stop for this year’s Australian Beach Volleyball Tour doubles as the Australian Championships in Coolangatta on 24-26 March.
Australian Beach Volleyball Tour
10-12 March 2023
Gold Medal Match: Xue Chen (CHN)/Xia Xinyi (CHN) d Stefanie Fejes (NSW)/Jana Milutinovic (SA) 2-0 (21-16, 21-16)
Bronze Medal Match: Britt Kendall (SA)/Jasmine Fleming (QLD) d Sarah Richter (NSW)/Lucia Michalovicova (NSW) 2-0 (21-11, 21-15)
Gold Medal Match: Chris Blake (QLD)/Bryce Poland (QLD) d Daniele Acconci (ITA)/Mateusz Zieba (POL) 2-1 (27-25, 13-21, 16-14)
Bronze Medal Match: Ben Hood (QLD)/Lucas Josefsen (QLD) d Solomon Bushby (SA)/James Takken (QLD) 2-0 (21-19, 21-14)
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