Two of Australia’s newest and most exciting beach volleyball teams have posted impressive wins in Western Australia, with Christie Jenkins and Katie Bartoli taking the women’s title, and local boy Cole Durant and Zachery Schubert winning the men’s gold.
Jenkins and Bartoli, one of the most consistent teams on the Australian tour this summer, were in excellent touch all weekend at the Alcohol. Think Again WA Beach Volleyball State Open at Scarborough Beach, not dropping a set until the final.
And Durant and Schubert bounced back after their shock quarter-final exit at the Queensland Open seven days earlier to post an emphatic win over the tournament top seeds.
Jenkins and Bartoli are both regulars on the Australian tour, but usually play with different partners. This year, despite living in seperate cities (Jenkins is from Melbourne, Bartoli Sydney), they have come together to consistently make podiums.
After cruising through the early rounds, Jenkins and Bartoli found themselves in trouble in the opening set of the final against Australian representative players, Sarah Battaglene and Stef Weiler.
They lost the opener, 16-21, fought back to take the second, 21-15, and then won a thrilling third set 15-12.
“It's our first victory playing together which we are stoked about,” Jenkins said.
“It's a great result for us to build our confidence and our standing as we look to play internationally later this year.
“Having said that, Katie has won a few national level events in the past, and I won the NSW Open this season and three national tour events last season, so we aren't looking at it as a break-through, more as a consolidation of our standings and a launching pad to play overseas.”
Despite the handicap of distance, Jenkins and Bartoli are determined to make the partnership work.
“We live in different states which certainly makes life difficult,” Jenkins said.
“However, we are making the effort to visit each other to train, and we are both working with the same coach (Haydn Ellis) which means we are working on the same things and building the same style of game.”
Durant and Schubert, who train together at Volleyball Australia’s High Performance Centre in Adelaide, have had a mixed summer.
After storming to victory in the NSW Open, they then finished runner-up in South Australia before bombing out at Surfers Paradise.
Their form on Scarborough Beach was first-class, the pair not dropping a set all weekend, and cruising to the gold medal against the highly rated Western Australian pair of Mark van Winsen and Jayson Fox, 21-17, 21-16.
Both the winning teams will now turn their focus on next month’s FIVB World Tour event at Shepparton, which will bring teams from around the globe to regional Victoria.
Jenkins said the start of a new Olympic cycle is a time of great opportunity.
“In the next few months we are looking to play as much internationally as we can, on both the World Tour and the Asian Tour, with the goal being to start building a solid international ranking,” she said.
“Tokyo 2020 is the goal but there are plenty of big milestones before then as well.”
One of those goals is next year’s Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, when beach volleyball will make it’s Games debut.
But Jenkins concedes it will be tough to qualify to represent Australia at that event.
“How incredible for the sport of beach volleyball that it is being included in the Commonwealth Games on home soil,” she said.
“While it's a dream to play in front of an Australian crowd, at the moment there is only one Australian team eligible for selection and Lou (Bawden) and Taliqua (Clancy) are our current number one team and our best shot for gold.”
And the other reality for Jenkins and Bartoli is that despite their obvious success this season, to go to the next level might require changes.
“We are loving our new partnership and have obviously been successful so far as a team,” Jenkins said.
“We will play together as long as we continue to be successful and grow as a team.
“But with both of us being on the shorter side, but jumping high, and defensive specialists, we may eventually split in order to play with a blocking specialists.”