Last minute pairing triumph on Gold Coast
A pair of beach volleyballers thrown together at the last minute have won the women's title at the Australian Grand Slam event at Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast.
Adelaide's Becchara Palmer and Manly's Katie Bartoli came together as a pair just three days before the Gold Coast event. Their opening game of the weekend was the first time they'd ever hit together.
The pairing was the result of injuries to their regular playing partners.
"If we're honest, our first few games were not lovely," Palmer said after she and Bartoli defeated World U23 champions, Nikki Laird and Mariafe Artacho del Solar in straight sets, 22-20, 21-13.
"Maybe as a new pairing we were a bit tentative, a bit nervous and hadn't quite found our mojo. But we got better every match, and our final was definitely our best game."
It was Bartoli's first ever tour title, although she finished with two silver medals with regular partner Pip Soulsby last summer.
"I was 15 when I first started, I'm 23 now, so I'm pretty pumped," she said.
It was also the first Australian title for Palmer since her return to the beach volleyball tour after the London Olympics. Palmer retired after London, but then came out of retirement 12 months later and teamed with another Adelaide player, Zina Stone, with a goal of qualifying for Rio.
But those plans have been thrown into turmoil, with Stone forced to take a break from the sport through injury.
26-year-old Palmer is now desperately trying to find a new partner who will help her qualify for Rio.
In the men's final, New Zealand's Mike Watson and Sam O'Dea followed up their Oceania title from December with a three-set win over Australia's Damien Schumann and Josh Court.
Schumann and Court received three red cards during the match, costing them a point each time.
Two of those red cards came in the third set, which they lost 15-12.
"I think we handled that situation really well," Watson said.
"Typically I'm a person who lets the ref get on top of me, so I just tried to keep out of it and focus on my own game.
"We're kind of in the mix to qualify for the World Championships, and if we can do that it's a big step towards qualifying for the Olympics, so that's a big focus for us."
The final event of the Grand Slam series will be contested at Perth's Scarborough Beach in March.
Beach finals to push case for Gold Coast 2018
Volleyball Australia is banking on a big crowd turning out for the final day of the Australian Beach Grand Slam at Surfers Paradise to boost its case for late inclusion in the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.
Volleyball Australia President, Craig Carracher, has not given up hope of convincing Games organisers to reverse their decision not to include the sport in 2018.
"They raised a couple of concerns with our initial bid, and we believe we have addressed those concerns," Carracher said.
"If there was any one sport that highlights Australia and it's culture, it's beach volleyball. And we are confident that will be further underlined by a big turnout for Monday's finals.
"We will continue to lobby, continue to make the case. We think it makes a lot of sense, we just need to convince the organisers."
The new beach volleyball pairing of Chris McHugh and Bo Soderberg will start favourites to win the men's event on Monday.
McHugh teamed up with the veteran Soderberg after regular partner, Isaac Kapa, underwent shoulder surgery.
The new pairing tasted immediate success, winning the opening round of the Grand Slam at Manly Beach in November.
But they’ll face a big challenge just to get past the semi-final, with Melbourne-based Josh Court and Damien Schumann in good form this weekend.
Court and Schumann enjoyed some success on the World tour late last year, and are hoping to challenge for Australia’s 2016 Olympic team.
Another team with an eye on Rio, WA’s Casey Grice and Cole Durant, will take on New Zealand’s Mike Watson and Sam O’Dea.
Watson and O’Dea are the dark horses on the Gold Coast, having won the Oceania Championships at Manly in November.
In the women’s draw, teams are taking advantage of the absence of Australia’s top-ranked pair, Louise Bawden and Taliqua Clancy.
World under 23 champions Nikki Laird and Mariafe Artacho del Solar will start slight favourites to take the title.
Olympian Becchara Palmer has been forced to find a new partner for Surfers Paradise, after regular partner Zina Stone was forced through injury to take a break.
26-year-old Palmer, who is hoping to qualify for her second Olympics, has teamed up with Manly Beach’s Katie Bartoli in Queensland, but is on the lookout for a new long-term partner.
Palmer and Bartoli will take on former World junior champion, Alice Rohkamper, and her partner, Sarah Battaglene.
Queensland’s hopes in the women’s draw rest with teenagers Phoebe Bell and Stephanie Weiler.
The men’s final will start at 2pm, with the women set to begin at 3pm.