Olsztyn, Poland, June 15, 2016 - Is it about the FIVB World Tour points or is it more about preparing for next week’s CEV Beach Volleyball Continental Cup to be played on the dockside courts in Stavanger, Norway?
If you answered yes to both questions, you were correct as 11 teams are using this week’s US$800,000 Olsztyn Grand Slam to garner FIVB World Tour ranking and technical seeding points along with preparing against an elite field of pairs in the Main Draw that features 10 tandems that have qualified for the Rio 2016 Olympics Games.
“The question was to stay at home, training and thinking about it (playing in Stavanger), or come to Olsztyn, cut our travel time in half in getting to Norway and play at least three matches against quality teams,” said three-time Greek Olympian Vasiliki Arvaniti, who will be paired with Panagiota Karagkouni in the CEV Continental Cup as the top team from their country.
“This is a new experience for me as I qualified directly for the Athens, Beijing and London Olympics via the FIVB World Tour,” said the 31-year old Arvaniti, who started playing on the international circuit as an 18-year old in 2003. “I think being at home I would be going crazy. Being in Olsztyn playing is great.”
Vasiliki Arvaniti of Greece
Playing in Olsztyn Grand Slam Pool D that features Rio-qualified Olympians and fourth-seeded Heather Bansley and Sarah Pavan of Canada, the 20th-seeded Arvaniti and Karagkouni dropped their opening match Wednesday to 13th-seeded Maria Antonelli/Liliane Maestrini of Brazil 2-0 (21-16, 21-18) in 33 minutes.
Arvaniti and Karagkouni conclude pool play Thursday against Bansley/Pavan and 29th-seeded qualifiers Kristyna Kolocova/Michala Kvapilova of the Czech Republic, who will also be competing in the CEV Continental Cup event in Stavanger. Kolocova and Kvapilova lost 2-0 (21-13, 21-17) in 28 minutes Wednesday in the first center court match of the Olsztyn Grand Slam.
At the present time, Arvaniti and Karagkouni will team with Pigi Anna Metheniti/Anna Spanou as the Greek team in the CEV Continental Cup where the winning country will earn a spot in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games with the second- and third-place nations advancing to the FIVB Continental Cup Finals where two countries will advance to the Copacabana quadrennial from the July 6-10 event in Sochi, Russia.
Sophie van Gestel, who qualified for the London 2012 Olympics via the Continental Cup path to the Summers Games, is seeking a second quadrennial berth with Jantine van der Vlist as the pair is competing this week in the Olsztyn Grand Slam with compatriots Rimke Braakman/Jolien Sinnema.
The two Dutch teams, who will be competing in Stavanger, split a pair of matches Wednesday with the 15th-seeded van Gestel and van der Vlist losing to 18th-seeded Olympic qualifiers Fan Wang/Yuan Yue of China 2-0 (21-14, 21-17) in a 33-minute Pool B match. In Pool H, the 25th-seeded Braakman and Sinnema upset ninth-seeded qualifiers Eduarda Lisboa/Elize Maia, of Brazil 2-0 (22-20, 21-15) in 30 minutes.
Both Dutch pairs will play twice Thursday with van Gestel and van der Vlist meeting 31st-seeded Katarzyna Kociolek/Martyna Wardak of Poland and top-seeded and Olympic qualifiers Talita Antunes/Larissa Franca of Brazil Thursday. Braakman and Sinnema play two American pairs Thursday, including eighth-seeded and Rio qualifiers Lauren Fendrick/Brooke Sweat followed by a match with 24th-seeded Kim DiCello/Kendra Vanzwieten.
When asked why her team was playing in Olsztyn, van Gestel said "last week we had a practice week for the Continental Cup. It is good now to have matches against good teams. It's a good practice, that's why we are here."
Speaking of playing good teams, van der Vlist said it “really helps to play teams like China. We want to transfer what we did in practice into games. But when you play top teams, it's always tougher to keep doing what you want to do. They put a lot of pressure on us, so that really helps, because next week there's definitely going to be a lot of pressure."
Van Gestel said the route through the Continental Cup portion of Rio qualifying is “tough, because it's one tournament 16 countries. It is one tournament in one week where you have to do it. So everything has to be in the right place."
If the Dutch do not win in Stavanger, van der Vlist was asked about a second chance in Sochi. “Our goal for next week is to win it in Stavanger. But with second or third we're still in the running. So yeah, that's another chance."
Sophie van Gestel and Jantine van der Vlist of The Netherlands
Other pairs entered in the CEV Stavanger event that are competing in the Olsztyn Grand Slam Main Draw are Kolocova/Kvapilova and Marketa Slukova/Barbora Hermannová of the Czech Republic, Jagoda Gruszczynska/Dorota Strag of Poland and Natalia Dubovcova/Dominika Nestarcova of the Slovak Republic.
Women’s teams entered in the CEV Stavanger event that competed in the Olsztyn Grand Slam qualifier Tuesday were Ieva Dumbauskaite/Monika Povilaityte of Lithuania and Inna Makhno of the Ukraine.
In Stavanger, each CEV federation (NF) will participate with two teams which must be composed of athletes not having already qualified for quota spots to the Olympic Games for their national federation through the FIVB World Tour Olympic ranking process. The CEV Continental Cup will be played using a single-elimination country vs. country “best-of-three” format. Each country participates with two teams per gender composed of two players each. In the ‘best-of-three’ format the sequence of matches will be as follows:
•Match No 1: (Higher seeded NF) team 1 vs (Lower seeded NF) team 2
•Match No 2: (Higher seeded NF) team 2 vs (Lower seeded NF) team 1
•Match No 3: “Golden Match” - in case of tie in matches won and lost (this match can be played in any combination of the four participating athletes per NF).
The countries participating in the 2014-2016 CEV Beach Volleyball Continental Cup Final in Stavanger are:
Men - Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Germany, Israel, Latvia, Norway, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine
Women - Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine
Rio 2016 Olympic qualifiers competing in the Olsztyn Grand Slam this week are Ana Gallay/Georgina Klug of Argentina, Talita/Larissa and Agatha Bednarczuk/Barbara Seixas of Brazil, Heather Bansley/Sarah Pavan of Canada, Wang/Yue of China, Laura Ludwig/Kira Walkenhorst of Germany, Madelein Meppelink/Marleen Van Iersel of The Netherlands, Monika Brzostek Kinga Kolosinska of Poland, Elsa Baquerizo/Liliana Fernandez of Spain, and Fendrick/Sweat of the United States.
Talita and Larissa, who captured the inaugural Olsztyn Grand Slam gold medal last August, finished as the top qualifying team for the Copacabana event that will be played August 6-18. Agatha and Barbara were second on the Rio ranking list and earned their Copacabana beach chairs by winning the 2015 FIVB World Championships in The Hague.
Running with Mikasa is Larissa Franca of Brazil