Vanuatu beach volleyball targets Olympic Games 2024 spot

Majabelle Lawac (left) and Sherysyn Toko in action at the Asian Senior Beach Volleyball Championships Photo: Vanuatu Beach Volleyball

Vanuatu aims to have a team at the 2024 Olympic Games in beach volleyball.

It won’t be easy as the host teams must finish in the top two at the Continental Cup for the Oceania Zone from September 1-3 in Port Vila, which serves as an elimination tournament for the Games.

Then any successful team – there will be men’s and women’s team competing at the cup – must finish in the top two in the Asian Cup next year.

A busy calendar for the rest of the year is in place for the top South Pacific beach volleyball nation.

Vanuatu Volleyball Federation president Debbie Masauvakalo said the focus this year will be on ensuring the teams qualify for the Olympics and remain the top team in the Pacific at the Pacific Games in November.

“That’s one of our previous aims is to qualify for the World Championships in Mexico in October, the Olympics qualifiers and then come back for the Pacific Games. So yes we have an action-packed competition calendar for our girls, as always,” she stated.

Masauvakalo told RNZ Pacific athletes will appear in several international events such as the World Beach Volleyball Games in Bali, Indonesia on August 6-12, the Asian Tour Event in Taipei on August 18-22, the World Championships in Mexico in October before the 2023 Pacific Games in November.

The Vanuatu beach volleyball team in China

The Vanuatu beach volleyball team in China Photo: Vanuatu Beach Volleyball

Asian outing

Their current women’s team participated at the Asian Senior Beach Volleyball Championships in China in the past weekend.

Vanuatu Volleyball media officer Jill Scanlon said the pair lost two close matches after winning their first round match on Friday, June 24 and missed out on making the round of 16.

Sherysyn Toko and Majabelle Lawac lost to Australia 15-21 and 17-21 in their final pool match.

They had started with a fine result, defeating Kazakhstan 21-15, 21-15 in two sets, but went down 16-21, 13-21 to China in their second game.

Scanlon said the two had done very well and had gained much from the international experience.

“They were fairly tight contests so our girls got knocked out, which was unfortunate. They didn’t make the round of 16. But again, really good practice for them,” Scanlon said.

“We like to get them a lot of international experience. They’ve done very well in everything they’ve competed for this year. So, it was just another level of competing, especially against the teams that they will very possibly come up against in a lot of the preparation for the qualifier.”

Toko won bronze in the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England with Miller Pata.

Intense competition set for Vanuatu

The pair will be one of the Vanuatu teams competing at the Port Vila event in September.

The Continental Cup will include various Pacific teams, including Australia and New Zealand.

The winner will go straight to the Asian Cup finals later in the year while the runner-up will join the second best teams from Asia in a play-off to determine which three teams will join the five zone winners in the Asian Cup.

“This Continental Cup includes Australia and New Zealand and this is quite a big tournament. If you don’t come first or second in this tournament then your Olympic journey finishes here in Vanuatu,” Masauvakalo said.

“And I think it’s really amazing that it is here in the Pacific that we can have more Pacific countries come to Vanuatu and be a part of this Olympic journey to Paris. 2024.”

She confirmed that Samoa, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea have all confirmed for the event, while organisers are waiting for Fiji, Cook Islands and Tonga to confirm.

The event will be open to both men and women’s teams, with each country expected to take two men’s and two women’s teams each to Port Vila.

Photo: Vanuatu Beach Volleyball

As part of the preparations for the event, technical officials are being engaged for training.

“We’re really pleased that we’re also engaging not only in our players but we’re engaging with Pacific Islander referees and we have one Fiji female referee coming over and we have the Vanuatu officials and hopefully one from another Pacific country.

“So it’s also an opportunity not just for the players to get some experience but it’s also an opportunity for upskilling our referees and technical officials in hosting competitions,” Masauvakalo said.

Vanuatu volleyball will also be hosting a FIVB Coaching Course next month, which have some interest from New Caledonia, Tahiti and Wallis and Futuna, who as French territories can not be part of the Continental Cup.

“They would like to come over in September and play some friendly matches on the side,” she said.

“We welcome brothers and sisters from the French territories as well to to come over to Vanuatu and get some games and playing experience in their preparation towards the Pacific Games as well.”