Four Australian teams will be lining up for the first Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour Elite 16 event of the season this week in Tepic, Mexico.
Olympic silver medallists Taliqua Clancy and Mariafe Artacho del Solar take their place as fourth seeds in the women’s draw, with two Australian men’s teams attempting to qualify for the men’s event.
Chris McHugh and Paul Burnett along with Tom Hodges and Zac Schubert will all be in action over the coming days, looking to gain one of four available places in the men’s main draw. Mark Nicolaidis and Izac Carracher are listed as reserves for the qualifying stage.
At last week’s Beach Pro Tour Challenge event in La Paz, Hodges and Schubert were Australia’s best-performed team with a share of fifth place, bowing out in the quarter finals.
With the Olympic qualifying period now underway, Schubert said it was evident there is greater importance on every result and all teams were feeling the added pressure.
“You can definitely tell teams are nervous,” said Schubert. “There were so many upsets last week that shouldn’t have happened. Random teams losing at random times.
“You can tell everyone’s a bit on edge. They’re all thinking about points, they’re all thinking about how important every event is.
“It will be interesting to see how people respond at this event, if the nerves are still there.”
With two wins required to make it into the Elite 16 main draw this week, Schubert knows they need to be ready to perform from the outset.
“We have to play our best beach volleyball tomorrow,” he said. “In Elite 16 and even at Challenger level, there’s no such thing as an easy game. Everyone is in the exact same position in terms of going for it – if you don’t, you will lose, it’s that simple.
“If you can get out of your pool in the Elite 16, you pretty much guarantee your spot into the main draw at the following Elite 16, so this event is really important for us.”
Following a season when Hodges and Schubert travelled predominantly with only each other, Schubert said having more Australian teams with them in Mexico provides a different dimension to life on the road.
“It makes touring much easier because as a beach volleyball partner you’re in each other’s lives so much all the time, so when you’ve got other people you can be in a big group, play cards, have some fun – it breaks the cycle and makes tour life more enjoyable,” he said.
Qualifiers for the Tepic Beach Pro Tour get underway on Wednesday local time, with McHugh and Burnett first playing The Netherlands’ Boermans/De Groot at 7.10am AEDT on Thursday 23 March, and Hodges and Schubert facing Horl/Horst (Austria) at 9am AEDT on Thursday.
The Main draw starts the following day with Artacho del Solar and Clancy in Pool D, playing Mexico’s Gutierrez/Flores at 8am AEDT on Friday 24 March and USA’s Hughes/Chen at 3.30pm AEDT.
Watch the Beach Pro Tour Elite 16 from Tepic, Mexico on volleyballworld.tv.
Click here for schedules and results https://en.volleyballworld.com/beachvolleyball/competitions/beach-pro-tour/2023/elite16/tepic-mex/
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