Bawden and Clancy dare to dream of Copacabana

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BAWDEN AND CLANCY DARE TO DREAM OF COPACABANA BEACH

There was a pause at the other end of the phone, followed by a sigh, and then mock exasperation.

“It sat on the damn tape, and if that tape hadn’t been so new it would have gone over!”

It was Australian beach volleyballer and two-time Olympian, Louise Bawden, reliving the heartbreaking serve she had on match point at this year’s World Championships that could have put her and Taliqua  Clancy into the semi-finals.

“We knew that we could have won that match, and for me that was definitely the part that stung the most,” 34-year-old Bawden said this week.

“I had the serve on match point, and I won’t forget that. It sat on the damn tape, and if the tape hadn’t been so new that ball would have gone over!”

“It was ridiculously tight,” Clancy chimes in.

The Australians went on to lose the match, against Brazil’s Lima and Fernanda, 21-15, 16-21, 16-18. The Brazilians went on to win the silver medal, while Bawden and Clancy had to settle for fifth.

TEAM PROGRESS

But it says a lot about the progress of Bawden and Clancy that they were disappointed with the result.

They only came together after the London Olympics, and had reasonable but not outstanding 2013 and 2014 international seasons.

I’m speaking to Bawden while she waits at Los Angeles Airport to fly back to Europe for this week’s Olsztyn Grand Slam.

Her and Clancy have just finished fourth at the Long Beach Grand Slam in California, their second top four result for the year.

But Bawden is disappointed.

“We had to cop a fourth, but we’re definitely pleased to make the final four,” she said.

“The aim is always to win that round three match and get into the pointy end of the competition. But we didn’t quite capitalise this week, so that was a bit of a shame.

“It’s not particularly pleasant to go through two losses and feel like we haven’t performed the way we would have liked to.”

Bawden agrees that 12 months ago she would have been stoked with a top four finish, and that it’s a good sign that she’s now down on herself.

“Yes, you don’t want to get too down about a fourth, and feel like we’ve failed,” she said.

“But our plans on the domestic tour revolve around the expectation we will be playing on the final day, and we want to build the same sort of mindset on the World Tour.

“The lifting of expectations can’t become a measuring stick for the measuring of the experience. It’s part of the evolution of the team.”

OLYMPIC QUALIFICATION

That evolution has propelled Bawden and Clancy into a top five ranking in the race for Olympic berths next year. The top 15, as of June 2016, will earn their country starting gigs in Rio.

Put simply, things would have to go very, very bad for Bawden and Clancy to fail to qualify from here.

But Louise Bawden is one of the world’s most focused athletes, driven and with a steely resolve to succeed.

She can’t deny the healthy position she and 23-year-old Clancy find themselves in, but you have to push her to acknowledge life as an aspiring Rio Olympian is pretty good.

“It’s exciting,” she said.

“It puts us in a position where we are actually taking steps towards the ultimate dream, where we are putting ourselves in a position where we are testing ourselves against the best teams in the world.

“We can now start to focus on positively influencing our potential Olympic seeding.”

And even though she would prefer not to, preparing for next year’s Olympics is going to require replaying her experience at the World Championships, and that shattering failed serve.

“The World Championships was an opportunity to go through an experience most similar to the Olympic Games,” she said.

“The format, the experience, the way everything is run. It was like our Olympics for this year, it was important for more than just our team, but also for Volleyball Australia. So there was a reasonable amount riding on it.

“Losing that quarter final, it wasn’t the only thing, but it’s the sort of thing that sticks in our brain.”

Another top four finish for Bawden and Clancy

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ANOTHER TOP FOUR FINISH FOR BAWDEN AND CLANCY ON WORLD TOUR

Australia’s top female beach volleyball combination, Louise Bawden and Taliqua Clancy, continue to impress with another top four finish at a World Tour event.

Bawden and Clancy will battle for bronze early Monday morning at the Long Beach Grand Slam in California.

The Australians are currently sitting fifth on the Olympic qualification table, with the top 15 as at June next year automatically qualifying for Rio.

Bawden and Clancy came together after the 2012 London Olympics, and after solid but unspectacular 2013 and 2014 seasons, have become one of the world’s most consistent teams this year.

They finished fifth at this year’s World Championships, losing to the eventual silver medalists.

Their best performance this year was a bronze medal at the Porec Grand Slam, but they have had an additional four top five finishes before this weekend.

Bawden and Clancy will take on Germany’s Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst for the bronze in California early Monday morning.

Women's Grand Prix added to bumper June 2016 calendar

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WOMEN’S GRAND PRIX HEADING DOWN UNDER AGAIN

Australia will host the opening leg of the women’s volleyball World Grand Prix next year, with former world powerhouses Cuba confirmed as one of the teams who will be heading Down Under.

The announcement by volleyball’s world governing body, the FIVB, brings to three the number of major international volleyball events Australia will host in June 2016.

Australia will host the opening weekend of the group three Grand Prix competition, with Cuba, Colombia and Croatia making up the round robin quartet.

The following weekend Australia will take on Mexico, Kazakhstan and Colombia again, in Mexico, before the group three finals.

Earlier this week it was announced Australia would also be hosting in June the opening round of the men’s group one World League, with current World League champions, France, and Olympic bronze medalists, Italy, taking part.

And in late June an Australian beach will host the Asian qualifying tournament for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

2016 will be Australia’s third year in the World Grand Prix, with the team still chasing their first victory.

Last month Canberra hosted the 2015 group three final, the first time the Australian women’s volleyball team had played in Australia since the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Volleyball Australia will seek expressions of interest from Australian cities interested in hosting any of the three major events next year.

Having reaped two qualification victories on Wednesday to make the 32-team Main Draw, the 31st-seeded Artacho/Laird continued their winning momentum by defeating Germany’s second seeds Laura Ludwig/Kira Walkenhorst 2-0 (21-17, 21-19) in the morning and Czech Republic’s 15th seeds Kristyna Kolocova/Marketa Slukova 2-0 (21-16, 24-22) in the afternoon.

“Cool! It feels pretty unbelievable! Our first season, our first Grand Slam, come as qualifiers, it feels pretty unreal,” said Artacho.

The second set of the second round match between Artacho/Laird and Kolocova/Slukova was hotly contested and the Australians withstood two set points to level it at 20-all thanks to a Artacho block against Kolocova. After Artacho beat off the fourth set point of the Czech Republic with another block, an error of Slukova during a long rally awarded Artacho/Laird their first match point and Artacho converted on it with an accurate drop shot.

“It feels pretty unreal, but we came back in the second set. We just stuck together for every point and believed in each other and we can do it,” Artacho added. “I think that the most important thing is to believe in ourselves and say: we can do it, it's possible.”

Laird attributed the surprising wins to their concentration. “It’s our first Grand Slam and it's all a bit overwhelming. So breaking everything down, making it a lit bit smaller, a little bit simpler,” she said. “In the game just play our ball. Last point doesn't matter, the next point doesn't matter, and it’s all about what's happening in that one moment.”

Having secured their berth in the 24-team knock-out stage, Artacho/Laird now put their eyes on the last match and the top place of the pool.

“We always go one step at a time, even breaking the game down, thinking nothing, just one game at a time has helped us come this far,” Artacho said. “We still haven’t finish pool match, so our next goal is to finish atop of our pool. Being that our last game today, we can now switch off, relax and get ready for tomorrow's games.”

Home favorites Xue/Xia also had a fine start on Thursday as they swept Kazakhstan’s Tatyana Mashkova/Irina Tsimbalova 2-0 (21-17, 21-11) before beating Ana Gallay and Georgina Klug of Argentina 2-0 (21-19, 21-19).

“We were satisfied with our play today,“ said Xue, who paired with Xia to take the bronze medal at last week’s season-opening Fuzhou Open. “My partner is very young and we have a lot to improve together, so every match is a good test and challenge for us.“

It’s also the first Grand Slam event for the newly formed Chinese combination and they vowed to do as best as they. “It’s important for us to get more points and this Grand Slam is a great opportunity, we’ll do the best we can,“ Xue added.

Other top teams winning two matches in a row include Walsh/Ross of the United States, Juliana/Antonelli, Talita Antunes/Taiana Lima, Agatha Bednarczuk/Barbara Seixas De Freitas from Brazil and Germany’s Karla Borger/Britta Buthe, Katrin Holtwick/Ilka Semmler.

Thirty-two teams are playing a single round robin in eight groups with top three finishers from each group to advance to the 24-team knockout stage.

The 2014 FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour calendar features a record purse of US$10.2 million with a season that extends from late April to mid-December competing at 21 venues in 18 countries. This year’s FIVB World Tour includes a record 10 FIVB Grand Slam events, the inaugural Grand Slam Finale and 11 FIVB Open Tournaments throughout the world, helping expand the door for development of the sport even further.

The 10 FIVB Grand Slam competitions, all double-gender, have eight with $800,000 in total purses while both The Hague, Netherlands and the Long Beach, Calif., USA event will have $1 million each in prize money, the most in FIVB Grand Slam history.

 

 

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