Rome, Italy, September 6, 2019 - One team is an FIVB world champion, the other couldn’t even qualify for the 2019 World Championships.
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Christiaan Varenhorst and Steven van der Velde have had a roller-coaster season, but they were on the fun part of their ride when they defeated countrymen Robert Meeuwsen and Alex Brouwer, 2-1 (21-18, 17-21, 15-13) on Friday.
“It’s been a struggle this year, we lost our head coach and we were fighting a lot in qualification, losing and finally getting back into it,” said Varenhorst, a Rio 2016 Olympian. “We got the qualification for this tournament, which we are really thankful for, and I hope we show we are worth it.”
They’ve done that. They won their pool by defeating Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena of the United States and George Wanderley and Andre Loyola of Brazil.
When they got their second shot of the season at Meeuwsen and Brouwer, Varenhorst and van de Velde won for the second time.
“There’s no secrets on both sides, that’s why it gets so close as well,” Varenhorst said. “We just have to keep our heads up. We were 12-10 down and we won 15-13. That’s just hard work and keep on going.”
Big block by the Netherlands' Christiaan Varenhorst against the Netherlands' Robert Meeuwsen
The season began in promising fashion with a bronze-medal finish in Itapema, Brazil, a 4-star event.
But along the way in 2019, the duo has four times failed to get out of the qualifier tournaments. They missed earning a spot in the Hamburg World Championships by one spot.
“We know that story very well,” van de Velde said with a smile.
But a month later, they took a ninth in the Vienna Major after it looked like another qualification ousting. Down 10-5 in the third set in the qualifier to Latvians Aleksandrs Samoilovs and Janis Smedins, they turned things around and advanced to the main draw.
They followed that up with another ninth-place finish in Moscow, and now they are in the final eight of a 5-star.
Though they admittedly can get a little snippy with each other - Varenhorst threw a bag of ice at his partner during that Vienna comeback – they admit that those little spats can fire them up.
“Sometimes we spice it up with each other. It’s no hard feelings ever,” van de Velde said. “We can have that with each other. It’s been a process, but we found our rhythm and how we want to play and the result is here in the quarterfinal.”
Their new coach, by the way, is Dutch legend Reinder Nummerdor, Varenhorst’s Olympic partner. Nummerdor is also the coach of Brouwer and Meeuwsen, but he had to keep quiet during this showdown.
“For this match we don’t do any coaching, we just watch our own images and we know each other quite well,” Varenhorst said.
That doesn’t make it any easier on Nummerdor, who was watching rather uncomfortably from the stands.
“I think I even saw him standing up, he couldn’t handle it,” Varenhorst said. “He had to stand up and maybe pace around a little bit.”
As the teams packed up to leave the court, Nummerdor headed out to greet them and he was as diplomatic as ever.
“It was a win-win, right?” he said with a wink.