Auckland, New Zealand, February 6, 2019 - With the international circuit returning to Manly Beach for the second-straight year, the Sydney event provides an excellent opportunity for the top men’s and women’s teams in New Zealand to gain valuable experience in competing against the top teams on the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour.
Volleyball New Zealand Project Manager Tim Cleaver is optimistic about the development of beach volleyball in his country and credits the 2018 Commonwealth Games held last April on the Gold Coast in Australia “for raising the profile” of the sport in his country.
“The 2018 Commonwealth Games pushed beach volleyball into the limelight in New Zealand and the competition between our top teams to earn the place at the games was great,” said Cleaver. At the event, New Zealand collected a men’s bronze medal and placed fifth in the women’s competition.
“We are now seeing those top teams and those who were just behind them striving to take the next step,” said Cleaver. “We have a lot of depth on the men's side and a great group of junior and under-21 athletes coming through on the women's side.”
Claiming a bronze medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast’s Coolangatta Beachfront were the O’Dea brothers - Ben and Sam, whose grandfather Bob O'Dea played rugby union for the New Zealand national team, the All Blacks, in the 1950s.
The Sydney Open will be the O’Dea’s 13th World Tour appearance as the pair has placed third and fourth in the last two FIVB starts together in Shepparton, Australia (2017) and Aalsmeer, Netherlands (2018).
The O’Deas won five of six matches in the Commonwealth Games with their lone setback to eventual silver medal winners Sam Pedlow and Sam Schachter of Canada, the 15th ranked pair on the FIVB World Tour. On the recently-completed New Zealand domestic tour, the O’Deas posted a 17-2 match mark in winning three of the four events last month.
“Our National Tour took a big step forward this summer,” Cleaver added. “Off the back of the Commonwealth Games publicity, we had a really good crowd at all four events. We also love to host international teams which adds a lot to our tour. We are always keen to have more teams come and compete, we are hoping for bigger and better in 2020.”
Joining the O’Deas on Manly Beach next month at the Sydney Open will be Thomas Hartles/Alani Nicklin in the men’s competition, and Francesca Kirwan/Olivia MacDonald and Shaunna Polley/Julia Tilley in the women’s division. Kirwan is the daughter of Sir John Kirwan, a New Zealand rugby union coach and player.
While Hartles and Nicklin finished fifth, fifth, fifth and third in the four Kiwi domestic events with a 6-7 match record, the two women’s teams were the dominant pairs. With both teams posting 15-3 match records for the four events, Kirwan/MacDonald won two titles and Polley/Tilley appeared in three finals with one crown.
As for qualifying for the upcoming FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships in Germany at the end of June, Cleaver said that “Hartles and Nicklin had a fifth-place finish at Asian Champs which places New Zealand in the mix for a World Champs spot. We’ll need to earn a podium finish at the last Asian Tour event in Thailand to have a shot.”
Cleaver added that “Kirwan and MacDonald had a very strong ninth place finish at Asian Champs in their first international competition together. They improved even more over our National Tour, and with two more women's stops on the Asian Tour, the door is still open for them to crack the top four for World Championship qualification.”
When asked about the positives he has seen in the recent development of beach volleyball players in New Zealand, Cleaver noted that “last weekend’s New Zealand Secondary Schools Beach Volleyball Championships had 216 teams competing, 50 more teams than 2017. We put this increase down to the improved profile of the sport. It was also awesome to see the medallists coming from all parts of the country, including Nelson and Christchurch in the South Island.”
In talking about the FIVB World Tour, Cleaver said “Cost is always a big factor. The Manly Beach tournament offers us an event which we can fly to for under $1,000 - apart from that competing internationally is extremely expensive. Our athletes are usually unable to travel with any support staff and often need to compromise preparation for budgeting.”
With the Sydney event entries at 150 men’s and women’s teams, Cleaver is hopeful that several of the teams will remain “down under” for an exhibition event from March 15 to 17 in Mount Maunganui. “It will be another event that will help us raise the beach volleyball profile in our country,” Cleaver added.
As American standout Jake Gibb said at the end of December when conducting a clinic at Mount Maunganui's Main Beach, "this place is gorgeous" and he said in a web article (nzherald.co.nz) that he "reckoned it should host an International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) tournament."