Vanuatu Women’s Beach Volleyball team is through to the final round of the Olympic qualification process after a hard-fought victory over New Zealand in the Tokyo 2020 AVC Continental Cup Qualifier Phase One – Oceania tournament in Mt Maunganui on Thursday.
With just four women’s teams contesting for the title and the prized spot in the final qualifying phase in June, the competition draw proceeded straight to the semi-final format where Vanuatu played Solomon Islands and New Zealand took on Fiji, which was a late entry due to the withdrawal of the Tuvalu women’s team earlier in the week.
The format for the Olympic qualifying tournaments is similar to that of the Davis Cup in tennis. Each nation has four players split into two teams. Team One from each nation plays each other and the same for the second teams, using a normal best-of-three set beach volleyball format. If the results are one match a-piece then a third Golden match is played with any player combination open to selection by team management and the winner takes the overall victory.
Vanuatu’s top four players – Miller Pata, Sherysyn Toko, Linline Matauatu and Loti Joe – faced Solomon Islands in the semi-final round, quickly moving to the Final with two two-set victories.
With New Zealand having similar success over Fiji, the stage was set for an epic regional battle between Vanuatu and New Zealand, which was perhaps as expected.
Pata and Toko blitzed through the first match against Francesca Kirwan and Olivia MacDonald playing with a clinical determination which could not be stalled, winning in two sets (21-16, 21-12).
Joe and Matauatu on the other hand, had to face the demons of the previous Sunday, when they had lost the final of the New Zealand Beach Tour to Shaunna Polley and Julia Tilley.
The Kiwi pair read the conditions better and again sealed the win in straight sets (21-15, 21-18) but not without some hard-fought resistance from the Vanuatu pair.
With one match a-piece, the Final progressed to a Golden Match decider played late in the afternoon. Pata and Toko faced Polley and Tilley with the Vanuatu number one pair again playing with the same relentless determination which had seen them succeed that morning.
Winning in two sets (21-19, 21-14) this victory sealed the progress of Vanuatu to the final qualifying hurdle in late June, where it will compete against seven other regional qualifiers for a shot at just one Olympic Beach Volleyball spot.
Vanuatu coach Michel Bargmann was pleased overall but feels there is still improvements to be made.
“The players had good focus and managed the pressure really well,” he said.
“It was a great achievement for now but there is still a lot of work to do to be ready for that final in June.”
“We are grateful for the strong support for the team both here and back home and know the efforts of the players are also appreciated in Vanuatu.”
All is not lost for New Zealand as its second-place finish will see it progress to Phase Two of the qualifying process which will be played in early June, giving another opportunity to go through to the Phase 3 final competition.
Solomon Islands scored a good victory over Fiji in the Bronze medal match showing signs of strong development in its beach volleyball program.
With the first step in the Olympic qualifying campaign done, the next few months for Vanuatu will be spent competing on the international circuit in preparation for the final qualifying tournament.
In a week which celebrated International Women’s Day (IWD), Vanuatu’s four champion players – three of whom are mothers – have achieved this much-anticipated goal and will be working hard towards the next one in June.
[Photo Credit: Julie Fitz-Gerald of Julie Maree Photography, NZ]