For the next three weeks, all eyes in the beach volleyball world will descend upon Doha, Qatar, which has quickly become a rising star in terms of annual hosts for major beach volleyball events.
It begins this weekend with the King of the Court, which, despite taking place in January of 2023, is actually the finals of its 2022 season, completing a four-stop tour that also held events in Hamburg, Utrecht, and the hugely successful Rio de Janeiro.
It is, as one would expect of a championship event, a star-studded field, one that includes Alex Brouwer and Robert Meeuwsen, Bartosz Losiak and Michal Bryl, Cherif Samba and Ahmed Tijan, Christiaan Varenhorst and Matthew Immers, David Ahman and Jonatan Hellvig, and Leon Luini and Ruben Penninga, among others.
Representing the USA is a fun mix of pairs and individuals, including Troy Field and Kyle Friend, and Avery Drost and Chase Frishman. Hagen Smith has been paired with Austrian blocker Clemens Doppler.
For the women, Anouk Verge-Depre, who has only played one competitive event since her partner, Joana Heidrich, suffered a shoulder injury in the bronze medal match of the World Championships, is paired with 21-year-old Menia Bentele. They played together in the 2022 European Championships, where the finished fifth. The new German duo of Julia Sude and Isabel Schneider will be making the trip, as well as Spain’s Angela Lobato and Maria Carro.
The King of the Court is just the appetizer to a three-course Qatari beach volleyball meal. Immediately following the King of the Court finals will be the 2022 World Tour Finals, which features 10 teams per gender competing for a $150,000 prize for the winners. The only Americans in the field are wild cards Kelly Cheng and Sara Hughes, and Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth, who punched their ticket with a fourth in the Torquay Elite 16 in December.
And all of that precedes the opening event of the Olympic qualification cycle: The Doha Elite 16.
Olympic qualification begins in Doha
While the full schedule has not yet been released by Volleyball World, the opening event of the 2023 beach volleyball season will be held February 1-5 in Doha, an Elite 16 that doubles as the first Olympic qualifying event. The last day to accumulate points towards Olympic qualifying is June 9, 2024. In between, teams will use their best 12 finishes over the course of those 16 months to rank among the top 17 pairs, which is one of four ways to earn a berth into the Olympics.
In a bonus episode of SANDCAST, I broke down everything you need to know about Olympic qualifying, which you can watch on our YouTube channel or listen to on Spotify (or wherever else you listen to podcasts).
It’s a long 16 months, and if Volleyball World’s inaugural year is any indicator, the term “off-season” will be an even bigger misnomer than it has been in the past, with events being held from February through New Year’s Eve. That helps explain why it isn’t as heavy of a field as one might expect. Only the new pairing of Theo Brunner and Trevor Crabb, and Logan Webber and Evan Cory, are registered for the American men. They will both begin in the qualifier, and while I would include seeding here normally, it’s inevitable that the positioning will change, and it’ll be rendered useless and dated by the time you read this.
For the women, Kelly Cheng and Sara Hughes and Betsi Flint and Julia Scoles will both begin in the main draw, while Sarah Sponcil and Terese Cannon, Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth, and Emily Stockman and Megan Kraft will all begin in the qualifier. It is relevant to note that Sponcil and Cannon are currently the top seed in the qualifier, so should any team drop out, which is likely, they’ll be the first to get bumped into the main draw.
If you build a beach in Idaho … they will come?
There’s beach volleyball in Idaho, folks. This past week, the College of Idaho announced that it will be adding beach volleyball to its athletics department, the fifth program in the Cascade Collegiate Conference and the second in the state of Idaho to officially offer the sport.
“We are thrilled to announce the addition of the fastest growing sport in the NAIA, Women’s Beach Volleyball, at The College of Idaho,” said College of Idaho co-president Jim Everett. “Anytime we can provide opportunities for more students to engage in the outstanding liberal arts and sciences program that The College of Idaho offers, while also providing competition at a high level, we are excited to do so. One need look no further than to our most recent Rhodes Scholar, Kaya Evans, who played soccer here, to know the benefits of blending faculty mentorships with the relationships built with teammates and coaches and the lessons taught in real time in competition. When done right, it is a powerful combination that can produce incredible results.”
“The addition of Beach Volleyball will provide new opportunities for female student-athletes to compete at The College of Idaho,” said Vice President of Athletics Reagan Rossi. “We look forward to hiring a coach to begin our recruiting process both locally and regionally. Initially, we anticipate a roster of 14 with the potential to grow that number. We are excited and proud to be able to provide an exceptional academic and athletic experience for these young women.”
Idaho is also looking for a coach. Any interested candidates can visit the jobs site for more information.
Mikasa to unveil new ball at World Tour Finals
There will be a new ball on the Beach Pro Tour this year. Mikasa is unveiling its new product at the World Tour Finals, and it is set to be used through at least the Paris Olympic Games. USA Volleyball only just received its shipment, so no Americans have been able to test it out just yet, and there have been mixed reviews from the European players who have. Granted, athletes, and human beings in general, aren’t always immediately receptive to change, especially when that change has a sizable impact on their careers. When Wilson released its OPTX volleyball at AVP Hawaii in 2019, it was mostly unpopular amongst the players, until everyone got used to it. Now pretty much everyone who uses a Wilson recognizes the OPTX as the best ball Wilson has produced.
Apparently, however, there is a funny note on the packaging of the new Mikasa, warning buyers not to use the ball in extreme weather, which should be fine, because beach volleyball is never played in inclement weather. I see no problem here.