Japan

The victorious Japanese celebrate their first main draw appearance in the Beach Pro Tour

The third time was the charm for Japan’s Reika Murakami and Suzuka Hashimoto. After two unsuccessful attempts, the Asians will finally compete in the main draw of a Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour Challenge event this week in Espinho, Portugal.

The Japanese were one of eight female teams from different countries to advance from Thursday’s qualifier at the Praia da Baia. The men’s qualifier saw duos from seven nations succeed and join the main draw, which will start on Friday with 24 teams in each gender.

· Watch all the matches at the Espinho Challenge live or on demand on Volleyball TV.

Partners since last November, the 28-year-old Hashimoto and the 25-year-old Murakami entered the Espinho qualifier seeded 19th. The two wanted to finally make it to the main draw of a Challenge event and erase frustrated attempts earlier this season in Tlaxcala, Mexico, and Kuşadası, Türkiye, and they did so with a pair of victories.

In their opening match, the Japanese upset Australians Nicole Laird, a Rio 2016 Olympian, and Phoebe Bell, winning in three sets (14-21, 21-18, 15-13). In the second and decisive encounter, the pair, who have played in four Futures events in 2022, came out on top of Lithuanians Erika Kliokmanaite and Monika Paulikiene in a close two-set (22-20, 26-24) match.

“This is our third time competing in the qualifier of a Challenge event and it’s the first time we advance, so we’re really happy,” said Hashimoto. “We’re looking forward to playing in the main draw and we want to finish in the top ten, that would be a good result for us.”

Espinho - Qualification - AUSvsJPN_01

Hashimoto hits during one of their qualifier matches in Espinho

The Espinho qualifier saw another encounter between Lithuanians and Japanese with a main draw spot on the line and this time the Europeans did better, with Skalve Krizanauskaite and Aine Raupelyte topping Sakurako Fujii and Tokyo Olympian Megumi Murakami in three sets (21-18, 12-21, 15-9) to advance.

The other six women’s teams to succeed in the Espinho qualifier were Thailand’s Worapeerachayakorn Kongphopsarutawadee/Taravadee Naraphornrapat, Spain’s Sofia Gonzalez/Paula Soria, Finland’s Taru Lahti/Anniina Parkkinen, Ukraine’s Valentyna Davidova/Diana Lunina, Austria’s Dorina Klinger/Ronja Klinger and France’s Lezana Placette/Alexia Richard.

The United States were the only country to have two teams advancing in the men’s qualifier and Miles Evans and Andy Benesh had certainly the most difficult path, coming back to win both of their matches in tie-breakers.

“We’re ecstatic,” Benesh told Volleyball World. “This is my first big Beach Pro Tour event and it feels great that we advanced. We had a battle today with three-setters against two really good teams and I’m happy with how resilient we were. It’s my first time in Portugal and it’s been great so far.”

Heidrich/Dillier vs. Evans/Benesh - Match Highlights

Playing together for just the second time following a second-place finish in a Futures event in Songkhla, Thailand, in April, the 32-year-old Evans and the 27-year-old Benesh started their campaign in Espinho with a 2-1 (16-21, 21-15, 15-11) victory against Spain’s Rene Giralt and Alejandro Huerta. Later, they needed another three-setter (21-23, 23-21, 15-12) and another comeback against Swiss Olympian Adrian Heidrich and new partner Leo Dillier to secure a spot in the main draw of the Portuguese event.

“We’re looking forward to battling together and coming up with some good game plans,” Evans added. “It doesn’t matter who we play, everyone here is really good. The first goal is to win our pool and make our path a little bit less complicated on Saturday, but we know it’s never going to be easy, so we’re ready to battle.”

The other American team that advanced, Olympians Taylor Crabb and Taylor Sander, were on the court just once as the top-seeded tandem in the qualifier. They had familiar opponents in compatriots Evan Cory and Billy Kolinske and handled them in two sets (21-17, 21-16) to move forward in Espinho.

The other men’s teams that made it through the qualifier were the Czech Republic’s Vaclav Bercik/Matyas Dzavoronok, Denmark’s Kristoffer Abell/Jacob Brinck, Ukraine’s Sergiy Popov/Eduard Reznik, Mexico’s Juan Virgen/Miguel Sarabia, Switzerland’s Jonathan Jordan/Immanuel Zurcher and Poland’s Pawel Lewandowski/Jakub Zdybek.

BPT2022 Challenge Espinho - Men Qualification - PORvsUKR_13

Ukraine's Reznik blocks during the qualifier in Espinho

The first day of the main draw in Espinho will feature the pool play matches, with each team on the court twice. Saturday’s schedule features the Round of 18, the Round of 16, and the quarterfinals, with the semifinals and the medal matches set to end the event at the Praia da Baia on Sunday.