When I started playing on tour in 2011 I didn’t have enough points to get into the FIVB Grand Slams, then by the time I did (last season) Klagenfurt dropped off the FIVB World Tour schedule and hosted the European Championships. During that whole time I heard the most elaborate stories of epic times in Klagenfurt. Well I finally know what all the talk is about; Klagenfurt is easily the best tournament of the season.
The days leading up to the qualifier gave me some time to check things out; the players dock, yes, a dock (a huge Red Bull catamaran, and Red Bull power boats parks along side during the main draw), the players lunch area featuring some of the best catering I’ve ever seen at an event; multiple main course selections, a plethora of sides and options to eat basically any kind of meal you wanted, and equally as many options for dessert (Mmm, dessert). Then, of course, the beverage sponsors of the event filling coolers with unlimited selections of Rauch juices and Zipfer brews.
As for the tournament, picture the biggest crowed you’ve ever seen for a beach volleyball match (minus the Olympics) and that’s what Klagenfurt delivered…during the Qualifier! It was incredible, some 4000+ fans for basically every match held on center – Ben and Chaim, as well as Sarah and Heather being the fortunate Canadians to experience a match on center court.
There were 5 other side courts, all drawing their respective sized crowds. We were up against two rounds of qualification to make the main draw. Although we were feeling good having qualified in the past three events, we held down the 16 seed, which is never all that great as it means you’ll be facing the 1 seed in the final round to qualify – that team having won two World Tour medals this season already, Nick Lucena & Ryan Doherty of USA.
Our first round vs Norway was an up and down kind of match, fortunately with ups coming our way in the first and third sets to advance to the final round. We had played Nick & Ryan twice this season already, losing in both Gstaad and The Hague – once in pool play, another in the first round of playoffs. We went in with a strategy we hadn’t tried yet and eventually, after two bonus point sets (with one beat down by USA mixed in-between) we were victorious 2-1 (28-26, 15-21, 18-16). The first set was gnarly as we exchanged advantages three separate times without either team being able to earn a point and finish it off, until I hit a pretty good serve that resulted in an over bump and the final point of the crazy set. Spectators were cheering and supporting both teams as the play went back and forth; it was definitely a great match to play in for us.
The main draw saw us up against Latvia (seems like this is our favorite country this season, playing them 5 times already this season…) and after a slow first set we battled, but lost, another tight one 32-34 losing in straight sets. Our second match didn’t go much smoother also losing in straight sets to the sneakily solid team of Hyden/Bourne of USA – those guys just get it done, not extremely flashy, just super smooth. Going 0-2 on day one put us in another must-win situation to advance, this time against Switzerland. Looking back on it, I’d say we emptied our tanks in our first three matches as we never really got our groove back losing to Swiss in straight sets to finish, yet again, in 25th place.
The weirdest thing about this season is that we’ve qualified in 5 of 8 tournaments yet we have fallen out of the FIVB tournaments, sitting 8th on the reserve list… It’s totally weird. The past two seasons have been my best to date, this year being better than last, yet I don’t feel overly positive about it as all the changes in regards to points systems, both FIVB and Continental Tour related, has resulted in a negative result basically. Regardless, we’ve been qualifying for main draws and are coming away with some bigs wins, just need to string a few more together once we get into the MD then we’ll be in a better spot.
Anyways, Klagenfurt was ridiculous. Up next is Poland – thanks to another Canadian team attending NORCECA instead of the FIVB Grand Slam we will gain entry and look to continue our qualifying ways.
After Poland is the National Team Championships where Canada will crown it’s top team within the Country in an 8-team Championship at the stellar Halifax venue (which I have yet to experience for myself). The top 4 teams from Canadian Nationals held in Toronto the week prior will qualify, and join the top 4 internationally ranked Canadian teams, vying for the title of Canadian Champion. Should be a good event.