Mark Nicolaidis and Izac Carracher have achieved their best-ever result on the Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour with a fourth place finish at the Challenge event in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Starting the week outside the main draw, the pair needed to come from a set down in their second qualifying match just to make it into the top 24.
They maintained the momentum, topping their pool with back-to-back wins to make their way through to the weekend.
Victories over Latvian and Swiss opponents in the round of 16 and quarter-finals made it six wins on the trot and the team were guaranteed of a crack at the medals.
The semi-finals saw a showdown with Polish pair Piotr Kantor and Jakub Zdybek, who they had met twice in the last six weeks and who took down compatriots Zac Schubert and Tom Hodges in the round of 16.
Nicolaidis and Carracher held their nerve to win a tight first set 25-23 before the Poles squared the match up in the second.
The Aussies led 13-12 in the third and were on the cusp of a finals appearance before their opponents – who eventually finished runners-up – reeled off three straight points to claim victory.
That set up a bronze medal playoff with third seeded Americans Miles Evans and Chase Budinger who they took to three sets in the round of 16 two weeks ago.
Like the Challenge event in China, this match also went the distance after Nicolaidis and Carracher saved a match point in the second set to set up a decider.
The bronze medal was in the balance at five all in the third set, however the Americans went on a run of eight of the next 10 points to set up a lead that was too big to overcome.
Regardless of Sunday’s narrow losses, Carracher said the week marks a huge achievement in their team’s development.
“This week was a huge result for us,” he said. “Unfortunately we missed out in two close matches on finals day; it’s always a little bitter to come away without a medal after playing so well for so long in a tournament.
“In saying that, fourth place is a huge result for our team – it’s our best finish in a Challenger event.”
Carracher said that coming through qualifying to play off for a medal in such a high quality field is proof that he and Nicolaidis are heading in the right direction ahead of competing at Geelong Beach Volleyfest this week.
“This week we put together a full week of volleyball – eight quality matches – I think that’s the biggest achievement for us,” said Carracher. “We’ve always known what we’re capable of, we’ve had some great preparation camps leading into events and then just haven’t quite capitalised this season.
“So it’s really nice to push deep into the draw, especially from the qualifier. It gives us a lot of confidence that we can deliver our game day in day out heading into [Beach Pro Tour events in] Geelong and the Philippines.
“We’re really excited to get back on home soil. Mark and I started our journey in the Coolangatta Futures last year.
“We can’t wait to play at home again!”
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