The coveted Volleyslam festival returns to the Gold Coast this week for 10-days of thrilling beach volleyball action on Coolangatta Beach.
The event will start with the 2023 Australian Beach Volleyball Championships, where national champions will be crowned and the overall Australian Beach Volleyball Tour (ABVT) leaders will be decided during the last event of the 2022/23 summer.
After winning their first ABVT title at the event in Canberra earlier this year, Georgia Johnson (QLD) and Jasmine Fleming (QLD) are teaming up again for the Coolangatta event, coming in as the top seeded female team ahead of Rio 2016 Olympian Nikki Laird (QLD) and Britt Kendall (SA) in second, with Caitlin Bettenay (QLD) and Tara Phillips (SA) seeded third.
Fleming says that winning their first ABVT title in January will give them confidence heading into the Australian Championships this weekend.
“It was really cool for both of us to win our first gold medal on the national tour,” Fleming reflected. “Being able to get that one together after a couple events in Torquay [at the end of 2022] was really great.”
The duo have just returned from New Zealand where they competed in the Mt. Maunganui Beach Pro Tour Futures event, finishing just inside the top 10 in equal 9th place. Fleming said that although they didn’t achieve the final result they had hoped for in New Zealand, it has primed them well for Volleyslam.
“It was my first time traveling to New Zealand and the first beach pro tour event of the 2023/24 international season,” Fleming said. “Although we didn’t get the result we wanted, we learnt a lot and were challenged with some difficult, super windy conditions, so it was fun to problem solve against different team combinations.
“Our focus for the Aus Champs will be to maintain our style of game and to try to implement the things we’ve been working on in training. Hopefully that gets us through to the semifinals and we’ll have a good shot at the medal matches.”
The men’s seedings have had a bit of a shake-up from the previous ABVT events, with Ben Hood (QLD) and Lucas Josefsen (QLD) coming in as the top team. Wollongong ABVT champions Bryce Poland (QLD) and Christopher Blake (QLD) are seeded second, with Justin Schumann (VIC) and Garang Anyang (VIC) in third.
The Queensland duo of Poland and Blake are a relatively new partnership, but Poland said that their positive team dynamic is the secret behind their recent success which saw them qualify for the semifinals in Canberra and catapult to a debut national tour victory in Wollongong.
“Wollongong just proved to us that we’re able to compete at that level and win tournaments against guys who are training every day. We both work full time and don’t play volleyball full time yet,” he said.
“There’s a lot of belief in each other, I guess, that’s the best way to put it. Chris and I talk about enjoying ourselves when we’re playing and that’s probably our biggest advantage at the moment – we’re having fun every time we play.
“We only started the partnership in January, and played our first tournament where we got fourth in Canberra, third the next week after that and then winning a tournament two weeks later. The improvement is on quite an upward trajectory,” the Gold Coast local said.
Coming into the Australian Championships this weekend, Poland said they’re not putting too much pressure on themselves as the defending champions, but focusing on enjoying every game.
“We aim to win but we’re trying not to put too much pressure on ourselves to win now that we’ve got one under our belt. We’re just trying to enjoy playing tough matches.
“Win or lose I think we’re just trying to enjoy it. Obviously we’d love to go back to back and win again but that’s not the main goal.”
However a home-crowd advantage might be just what they need on Coolangatta Beach.
“It’s right around the corner from me; only half an hour up the highway and Chris is only an extra 20 minutes so it will be good to have home advantage for a change instead of having to go all over the coast and Australia.”
The Australian Championships get underway with qualifying on Coolangatta Beach on Friday 24 March, with the main draw starting on Saturday and medal matches on Sunday. Stream the championships live on the AusVolley YouTube.
See the full team lists and seedings HERE.
The Australian Championships are just the first of four events in the Volleyslam 2023 Festival running 24 March – 2 April. SEE MORE HERE https://volleyslam.volleyball.org.au
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