Beach volleyball tournament in Waikato attracts top teams

It was an international gathering at Karapiro as volleyball teams from around the world took to the sand and sun.

Teams from the United States, Poland, Denmark, Guam, Fiji, Spain and the Cook Islands - as well as New Zealand - competed in the Waikato Open from Friday to Sunday. 

And some Kiwi teams punched well above their weight. 

"We've got lots of teams who could be at the Comm Games," Volleyball New Zealand tour director Tim Cleaver said. 

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Male and female athletes vie for tops spots within New Zealand and take on internationally ranked teams, too, Cleaver said. 

"And that gives them ranking for being selected to play internationally as well." 

Under 19 New Zealand team member Maya Dickson, 16, and Ella Akkerman​, 17, on Saturday beat the Fijian team, which had qualified for the Commonwealth Games. 

"It felt really, cool," Dickson said. "We didn't know what to expect because we'd never played them before." 

On Sunday, the blonde duo also competed against Tatiana Afalava from Guam and one of the top seeds, Dorota Strag​, from Poland. 

While the pair lost, they were unbowed. 

"It's kind of hard coming from New Zealand when you're put against countries where it's the number one sport," Dickson said.  

And any sport as a female is hard too, Akkerman said. 

"​Men's [volleyball] is a lot faster and harder hitting. But international women's is the same. We're just not exposed to it here." 

But it's more female-friendly than many sports are, Cleaver said. 

"It's a very gender equal sport.

"The international federation are always trying, whenever there's a tournament, to make it double gender."

Brothers Ben and Sam O'Dea won the Commonwealth Games qualifier match on Saturday afternoon.

"They're going to be the team we nominate to play," Cleaver said. "The New Zealand Olympic Committee just need to ratify that they're a worthy team to go." 

Waikato team Kelsie Wills and Shaunna Polley - newly named as New Zealand's first female beach volleyball team to compete at the Commonwealth Games - attended the event, too. 

"Ideally, if they do get a medal, if it's a silver or a gold, we've over-performed what our ranking is," Cleaver said

But it's a hard ask.

While volleyball ranks amongst the three most popular sports worldwide, it doesn't get much attention in New Zealand, Cleaver said. 

"We don't get any televised beach volleyball in between the Olympics. That is kind of our challenge." 

 - Stuff