Mark Nicolaidis and Izac Carracher were familiar faces on the Australian Beach Volleyball Tour leading into 2021/2022 – having podiumed at a number of the national events – however they were relatively unknown on the international circuit.
That all changed in the summer of 2022 when the youngsters burst onto the international scene at the Gold Coast Beach Pro Tour Futures event in April, winning gold in their first international event as a pair with a 21-11, 21-16 victory over Canadians Jake MacNeil and Alex Russell in the finals.
The team then went from strength to strength, heading overseas to contest more Beach Pro Tour events across Europe, South Africa and Qatar, highlighted by a remarkable 9th place finish at the 2022 World Championships in Rome.
The duo are currently in Mexico preparing for their first Beach Pro Tour Challenge event of the year, which also doubles as the startline for Olympic qualification for the Paris 2024 Games.
Reflecting on their memorable season last year, 23-year-old Carracher said the pair learnt a lot during the season to put them on the path for Olympic qualification.
“Last year was our first year on the Pro Tour and was for sure a breakout year for us,” the Sydney-sider said.
“We went from having no points and playing the Coolangatta Futures at the start of the year, to playing World Champs and Elites.
“Last year we learnt a lot about the Pro Tour, and more importantly about our game. We are always looking to improve our game technically, tactically and physically but our team dynamic is our best strength.
“Bringing that energy and enjoyment to every event is when we are successful and that’s the goal for every game this year!”
Nicolaidis agrees that the team’s bond is their secret weapon on and off the sand.
“The greatest strength of our team is in the word ‘team’ itself,” he said. “We pride ourselves on being a tightly knit partnership who take risks and back each other in 100% no matter what.
“We are great mates both on and off the court and this really keeps us together in the toughest times.”
The team have a full-on schedule booked in for the next couple of months, starting with the La Paz Beach Pro Tour Challenge in Mexico this week, followed by the Tepic, Mexico Elite 16 event in late March and two Challenge events in Brazil in early April before the Uberlandia Elite 16 at the end of the month.
Following their time in South America, they’ll hit the European circuit with the aim of qualifying for the 2023 World Championships in Tlaxcala, Mexico in October.
Nicolaidis said the duo have had a strong pre-season and are ready to put their best foot forward in this year’s international circuit.
“We are super excited to be heading into the first events of the year with both World Champs and Olympic qualifications on the cards,” the 22-year-old said.
“We’ve been lucky to have a great pre-season block in the lead up to what looks like it could be the toughest tournaments we’ve faced. We’re ready to take on the challenge and face the best in the world.”
As the calendar ticks to just under 500 days to go to the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, qualifying teams for the Games is a top priority for the Volleyball Australia Beach Volleyroos program, and a personal goal for Nicolaidis and Carracher.
“Our ultimate goal is to qualify for both the World Championship and Olympic Games. For us this means a focus on consistency and getting a number of great results at the best tournaments,” Nicolaidis said.
The season starts with three Australian men’s teams competing at the La Paz Beach Pro Tour Challenge in Mexico from 16-19 March.
Following their impressive performance at the Torquay Beach Pro Tour Elite 16 event in December last year where they won silver, Tom Hodges and Zach Schubert are the top-ranked Australian Team in Mexico, seeded third in the main draw.
Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games champions Chris McHugh and Paul Burnett are seeded seventh in the main draw, while Nicolaids and Carracher will have to fight their way through the Qualifiers on Thursday for a spot in the 20-team main draw.
See the full schedule and follow the results here: https://en.volleyballworld.com/beachvolleyball/competitions/beach-pro-tour/2023/challenge/la-paz-mex/schedule/
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