MORE GLORY FOR AUSTRALIAN BEACH PAIR ON ASIAN TOUR
Australian beach volleyballers Nicole Laird and Mariafe Artacho del Solar have won their third Asian title in four outings with a straight sets win in the Tuan Chau Ha Long Open in Vietnam.
Laird and del Solar beat New Zealand’s Julia Tilley and Alice Bain 21-12, 21-17 to add the Vietnam title to wins in Thailand and Indonesia.
Their only defeat during their Asian tour came at the hands of fellow Australians, Becchara Palmer and Phoebe Bell, at the Palembang Open in Indonesia one week ago.
Palmer and Bell finished the Ha Long Open in fifth position.
“The goals for us before our Asian tour were to practice being and playing a certain way, regardless of who was on the other side of the net or what pressures were around,” Laird said.
“I think for the most part we achieved that. In the moments that we didn’t, a lot of lessons have been learned.”
Laird and del Solar are the reigning World U23 Champions, and will attempt to qualify for this year’s Olympics when they contest the Asian Olympic qualifiers in Cairns in June.
In March they finished runners-up to China’s Chen Xue and Xinyi Xia at the Asian Championships at Sydney’s Manly Beach.
The Chinese pair are likely to start favourites for the Olympic qualifier, and Laird knows it will be a challenge.
“We still have a lot more growth left and a lot of lessons to learn as a team before Cairns, but we faced a few of the top teams in the past few weeks and it gives us the confidence we can keep moving in the right direction,” she said.
“We’re very excited that the tournament will be held in Cairns. It isn’t a city that has had too much domestic or international volleyball attention, so we’re keen to check it out and play in front of a home crowd.”
STUNNING START FOR NEW AUSTRALIAN BEACH COMBINATION
Australian beach volleyballers Becchara Palmer and Phoebe Bell, playing in their first tournament together, have pulled off a stunning victory in the Palembang Open in Indonesia.
Along the route to victory 2012 Olympian Palmer and teenager Bell beat fellow Australians, Mariafe Artacho del Solar and Nikki Laird, and in doing so denied them the chance of a hat-trick of Asian tour titles.
Meanwhile it was a return to the winner’s circle for Australia’s Isaac Kapa and Chris McHugh in the men’s competition.
The Australians, who won the Pak Bara Open in Thailand two weeks ago before losing last weekend’s Samila Open, had an incredible tussle against Kazakhstan’s Alexey Kuleshov and Dmitriy Yakovlev.
After taking the opening set, they were then outplayed in the second, before clawing their way to victory in a tense final set 21-16, 15-21, 20-18.
12 months ago Bell and Palmer were playing for the Australian women’s indoor team.
But while Palmer, who competed at the London 2012 Olympics alongside Louise Bawden, returned to beach volleyball at the start of the Australian summer, 19-year-old Bell has only recently committed to the beach program.
“We’re pretty chuffed,” Palmer said.
“Our tournament was run game-by-game. We knew what we wanted to create, and it only took us a few games to start seeing it
“But once it clicked, it clicked.”
Bell and Palmer beat del Solar and Laird 21-18, 21-17 in the semi-finals, and were then too strong for Kazakhstan’s Tatiana Mashkova and Irina Tsimbalova 22-20, 21-14 in the final.
Their victory adds intrigue to June’s Asian Olympic beach qualifiers, with Australia hoping to qualify a men’s and women’s team for Rio.
While del Solar and Lair are considered the front runners should Australia be successful, the form of Bell and Palmer shows it will not be straightforward.
AUSTRALIA’S LAIRD AND DEL SOLAR SEAL BACK-TO-BACK GOLD MEDALS
Australia’s Nicole Laird and Mariafe Artacho del Solar have continued their dominant beach volleyball form in Thailand with a second consecutive Asian tour gold medal.
Laird and del Solar were unstoppable in the final of the Samila Open, beating local hopes Radarong and Udomchavee 21-7, 21-13 in a one-sided encounter.
Less than one week ago the Adelaide-based pair won gold in the Pak Bara Open.
But there was to be no back-to-back gold medal for Australia’s top ranked men’s pairing pf Chris McHugh and Isaac Kapa, who had to settle for silver against Kazakhstan’s Alexey Sidorenko and Alexandr Dyachenko.
One week after beating the same team for gold at the Pak Bara Open, the Australians struggled to get into the final at Samila, losing 17-21, 14-21.
AustrLI’a other men’s pairing of Damien Schumann and Joshua Court lost the bronze medal playoff to China’s Li Zhuoxin and Li, 21-16, 18-21, 6-15.
The win for Laird and del Solar is a further confidence boost after the pair lost the Asian Championship final to China at Manly Beach last month.
“I think for us, the loss in Manly was critical for the growth of the team,” Laird said.
“It took a lot of honest communication to move through the emotion of the loss and to take the learnings forward, but once we started making those steps we were able to put some actions in place.
“I think that every time we step on the court, past results become irrelevant and distracting, so for us we’re just looking to continuously build our game.”
Laird and del Solar, along with the Australian men’s teams, will be looking to earn Australia additional places at the Rio Olympics when they compete at the Asian Olympic qualifiers in Australia in June.
Australia’s top-ranked women’s team of Louise Bawden and Taliqua Clancy have already sealed their place at Copacabana Beach.