11_BPT Tlaxcala - AUSvsPOL Side. Court

Paul Burnett dives for the ball in Tlaxcala

Three pairs will represent Australia at the Doha Challenge tournament this week and they are all excited to lock horns with the world’s top teams on the Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour from May 5 through 8 in the Qatari capital.

Olympic silver medallists Taliqua Clancy and Mariafe Artacho Del Solar will take on the women’s main draw. Christopher McHugh and Paul Burnett will begin the event in the Main Draw on the men’s side, while Izac Carracher and Mark Nicolaidis will have to go through the qualifiers.

· All the matches in Doha will be available to watch live or on demand on Volleyball TV.

32-year-old Tokyo Olympian McHugh and his current 24-year-old partner Burnett are the highest seeded Aussie duo, heading into the tournament. They will start the event from position seven in the men’s main draw bracket.

After winning gold at their first international tournament together, the 2021 Asian Beach Volleyball Championship in November, McHugh and Burnett made the finals of a couple of this year’s national tour events in Australia before hitting the Beach Pro Tour courts in Mexico.

They had a great run to a fifth-place finish at the Tlaxcala Challenge, but then narrowly lost their first qualification match at the Rosarito Elite16. Before entering their third Beach Pro Tour tournament, McHugh and Burnett have gradually climbed up the FIVB World Ranking, reaching their current 29th position, which they share with prominent Italian pair Adrian Carambula and Enrico Rossi.

“Paul and I worked hard back in Adelaide over the last few weeks after getting home from Mexico. There have been a few bumps along the way, but we feel that we have improved and we are excited to test ourselves against the best in the world,” McHugh told volleyball.org.au.

“Doha is another opportunity to play against some great teams and some new teams who didn’t play in Mexico. Our goals for the week are to continue to grow and explore our team game, but also to compete hard to prepare ourselves for the rest of the year.”

The other Australian representatives in the men’s tournament, 22-year-old Carracher and 21-year-old Nicolaidis are seeded sixth in the qualification bracket and will begin their Doha campaign on Thursday. As they approach their second Beach Pro Tour appearance, they are ranked number 140 in the world after their strong debut as a team when they triumphed with gold at the inaugural Futures event in Coolangatta.

It will be the second Beach Pro Tour participation for Australia’s most distinguished women’s pair too. After snatching the silver at Tokyo 2020, their second Olympic appearance, Clancy and Artacho del Solar probably expected to reach beyond the pool stage as they opened the 2022 season in Rosarito, but are certainly looking at the season ahead with a positive mindset.

“We had a small taste of being back on Tour in Rosarito and it was awesome,” 28-year-old Mariafe told Volleyball Australia. “The new format means you’re facing great teams as soon as you play that first pool game.”

Currently down to number 60 in the FIVB World Ranking after their solid results at the Cancun Hub last year dropped out of the calculations, Clancy and Mariafe are looking to bounce back, entering the Doha tournament on Friday, seeded 16th in the main draw.

“The tour is unreal and it means we compete against the top teams week in, and week out. In saying that, all of the teams are super focused on getting great results, so we will have to be at our best each and every game,” the defender added. “We are focused on those events that we identified pre-season and the goal posts haven’t moved.”