It was an action packed few weeks in Australia for Team Vanuatu to wrap up what was a very busy year of international beach volleyball.
The squad of four players – Sherysyn Toko, Loti Joe, Majabelle Lawac and Chantale Willie – along with coach Steve Anderson and in-country Team Manager Jill Scanlon, based themselves in Torquay on the beautiful Surf Coast of Victoria for almost three weeks to participate in the inaugural Great Ocean Road Volleyfest hosted by Volleyball Australia and the FIVB.
Constructed on the main drag in Torquay, facing the ocean and the beach spanning the shoreline below, two main stadiums had been constructed with an extra beach court pair designated for both practice sessions and qualifier round matches.
All four players participated in the opening tournament with Loti Joe and young Chantale Willie playing the Qualifying round of the FIVB World Beach Pro Tour Challenge event to get things underway.
Their opponents, Japanese pair Motomura and Sakai were played with few errors and the match 2 sets to nil. But it was a good hit out for this Vanuatu pair and the coach was pleased they got in some game time.
The next day, the Main Draw got underway and the lead pair of Toko and Lawac were pitted in their first Pool round game against another pair from the strong Japan contingent, Ren and Non, and were defeated 2 sets to nil.
The following pool game was in the cool conditions of the evening against Canada, with Team Vanuatu putting up a strong challenge against Dunn and Furlan, despite losing again in straight sets.
Five days later and it was a new week and a new tournament, the FIVB World Beach Pro Tour ‘Elite 16’ event for which the lead Vanuatu pair had to qualify.
Coming up against Radarong and Charanrutwadee from Thailand, Tini and Bella were holding their own in the first set, when Radarong went down with an ankle injury after an awkward landing at the net. While it’s always hard to see a player leave the court with unfinished business, it did mean that Vanuatu would progress through to the Main Draw the following day.
Slovakian pair Kotnik and Lovsin awaited in another late-night match and were too strong over two sets, taking both with relative ease.
Overall, despite the losses, the team had gained valuable court time and competition practice against some of the world’s leading pairs and came away disappointed but well aware of the fine-tuning to their skillsets and strategies that needed to be done.
Their Australian experience was not yet over however, with the Volleyfest still to deliver the Australian Tour event as part of its schedule. And for this one, Vanuatu Volleyball was giving its young guns of Lawac and Willie the chance to test their skills further.
Over the fortnight, Bella Lawac had had the heaviest workload, participating in every competition and her determination to put wins on the board showed as she stepped onto the court for the first Qualifying round game against Aussie emerging pair Hogan and Milne, quickly despatching them in straight sets and putting them into the Main Draw.
On a glorious Saturday morning, with the weather having finally decided to represent all that is good in an Australian Summer at the beach, it was an early start for Lawac and Willie against Homes and Mascrenhas (AUS) and they started fast and hard and kept up that pressure to secure a strong win in two sets.
A quick break at a local café, replenishing some energy stores before heading back for the next challenge, this one against Michalovicova and Richter who proved too strong on the day.
Despite this loss, Team Vanuatu finished second in their Pool and progressed to the Round of 12 with a game in the early evening against Donlan and Moegle (AUS). Bella and Chantale had played well to this point, and despite the mixed results showed some quality play in their performances.
Starting strongly, they were reeled back in by the Aussies and the first set became a marathon with Vanuatu eventually going down 24-26. Determined to take back the momentum, the girls had a strong fightback in the second set, taking it convincingly 21-13. The decider saw momentum swing but the hard-fought points went the way of the opposition in good performances from both teams, with the Australian pair winning 15-8 and taking the match.
With that, the Australian tour for Team Vanuatu was a wrap.
It had been a big, almost three weeks for the team, and the learnings from this multi-tournament event will be valuable as they look ahead to another big year of competition in 2023.
The Great Ocean Road Volleyfest was also a big hit and a huge opportunity, on Vanuatu’s doorstep, for continued performance training and competition opportunities and by all accounts, it will again be held next year. And you can be sure Team Vanuatu will be back to challenge both local and international talent on the sand courts in Torquay!
Huge thanks should be given to the Volleyfest organisers for their assistance whenever required, with a special mention to Ben and Holly from Grand Slam Physiotherapy in Torquay, and at the tournament, for their incredible support and expertise.
To see all the posts and the photo album from Team Vanuatu’s Volleyfest experience, checkout our Vanuatu Beach Facebook page.