Alani Nicklin (right) hits against Australian Christopher McHugh (left) as Kiwi partner Thomas Hartles follows the action

Tauranga, New Zealand, March 12, 2020 – Three days of Asian Volleyball Confederation Continental Cup competition concluded here Thursday on the Mount Maunganui courts where the New Zealand men and the Vanuatu women captured the top honours.

With New Zealand defeating Australia for the men’s title and Vanuatu out-lasting the host country, Thursday’s winning countries now advance to the AVC’s Continental Cup third and final round scheduled in late June with China currently the hosting country.  The runner-up New Zealand women’s and Australia men’s teams will now compete in the second round of the playoff with another opportunity to qualify for the finals.

Leading the Kiwi men to victory Thursday over Australia were Thomas Hartles/Alani Nicklin and Michael Watson/Sam O’Dea as the host country won both matches against their arch-rivals to the west.

“It is great to win on our home beach,” said O’Dea, who teamed with Watson for the event after his brother Ben was sidelined with an injury.  “We only had one practice before starting play Wednesday.  This is a special moment for us as we now moving one step closer in the Olympic qualifying process.”

Sam O’Dea (left) of New Zealand against Australia’s Maximilian Guehrer

Miller Pata and Sherysyn Toko posted both of Vanuatu’s victories Thursday by first defeating Francesca Kirwan/Olivia MacDonald before posting a clinching win in the day’s last match over Julia Tilley/Shaunna Polley, who forced the “golden match” by winning the second of three meetings between the two countries over Linline Matauatu/Loti Joe.

“We are very please with our play today,” said Pata, who missed qualifying for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games with Matauatu.  “We handled the conditions and defeated two very strong teams from New Zealand.  We had good ball control in the wind.”

Vanuatu’s Sherysyn Toko (left) watches Miller Pata chase Mikasa

In Thursday morning’s men’s third-place match, Tuvalu posted a 2-0 win over Fiji behind the pairs of Saaga Malosa/Ampelosa Luka and Lameko Loota/Ata Biira,  The women’s playoff for third was extended to a third match where Rose Gwali and Hannah U’Una of the Solomon Islands defeated Vunise Lua/Talica Rawaro of Fiji in two sets.

Tuvalu third-place finishers (left to right) are Lameko Loota, Saaga Malosa, Ampelosa Luka and Ata Biira.

Gwaii and U’Una posted one of international beach volleyball comebacks since the start of competition in 1987 as the Solomon Island pair trailed 21-9 in the second set of their match with Fiji’s Gloria Taylor and Teupola Uluilakeba, who captured the first set 21-18.

With Gwaii serving, the Solomon Island team scored 13-straight points to defeat Taylor and Uluilakeba in set No. 3 and then captured the deciding set 15-13.  The Solomon Islands forced the gold match with Glency Eddie Anisha Fulairara 2-0.

Hannah U’Una (left) and Rose Gwali of the Solomon Island lead their country to a third-place finish in the AVC Oceania Continental Cup competition.

The New Zealand men and Vanuatu women now join China (Eastern men and women), Indonesia (Southeastern men), Iran (Central men), Kazakhstan (Central women), Oman (Western men), Thailand (Southeastern women) in qualifying directly to the finals by winning AVC zonal competitions.  Qatar men and Australia women have also qualified for the finals due to winning the 2016 AVC Continental Cups.

Thursday’s runner-ups Australia men and New Zealand women will now compete in the second round against the No. 2 finishers from the Central (Kazakhstan men and Sri Lanka women), Eastern (Japan men and women), Southeastern (Thailand men and Indonesia women) and Western (Lebanon men) zonal competitions.  Currently, the top two teams in each gender will advance to the finals.

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