Pedro Solberg & Arthur Mariano in Beach Pro Tour action

Pedro Solberg & Arthur Mariano in Beach Pro Tour action

As many as 128 players from 29 different countries are preparing to hit the Turkish Aegean sand on Thursday, as the Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour Kuşadası Challenge event gets underway with the qualifiers. 32 teams per gender will participate, but only eight will win two back-to-back matches to advance to the main draw.

· All the matches of the Kuşadası Challenge will be available to watch live or on demand on Volleyball TV.

24-year-old Canadian twins Megan McNamara and Nicole McNamara are the top-seeded pair in the women’s qualification bracket. They will try to keep up the good work they did at the Doha Challenge two weeks earlier, where they lost only twice on the way to a fifth-place finish, to each of the two eventual finalists. Unlike Doha though, where Megan and Nicole were seeded directly in the main draw, now they are set to start their Kuşadası campaign from the qualifiers, but it is nothing new for them. The Canadians have already managed to survive the qualifier grind on the Beach Pro Tour before, at the inaugural Tlaxcala tournament in March, where they made it past the pool stage of the main draw competition.

Second-seeded Akiko Hasegawa and Yurika Sakaguchi, on the other hand, will be aiming at making their first main draw on the Beach Pro Tour, after failing to do so at Tlaxcala, Rosarito and Itapema. At their previous appearance in Brazil, the Japanese duo started well by winning the first set against Taryn Kloth and Kristen Nuss, but then lost the next two, letting USA’s ‘new kids on the block’ through to make it all the way to the ninth place.

Kloth and Nuss will be another important team to watch in Thursday’s qualifiers. Before their successful trip to Itapema, they had a fabulous international debut winning gold at the Coolangatta Futures. More recently, they won a strong tournament at the AVP Pro Series in Austin, defeating reigning world champions Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes of Canada in straight sets for the gold. Kloth and Nuss are seeded eighth in the Kuşadası qualifier, but should the up-and-coming American duo continue with the great season they’ve been having, they could soon find their way among the privileged teams, who regularly play main draws avoiding the stress of knock-out qualifiers.

Among the names on the women’s qualification list, fans should also look out for that of Emily Stockman. The 33-year-old American will be making her first appearance with a new partner, 19-year-old Megan Kraft. Kraft is a reigning U19 world champion, returning to the international stage for the first time after December’s FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championship in Phuket, where she and Delaynie Maple started from the qualifiers and lost only a single set within a run of eight consecutive victories to the title. Stockman and Kraft will start the Kuşadası qualifiers as the number six team in the bracket.

Also on Thursday, a former U19 and U21 world champ will lead the qualification seeding in the men’s competition. 26-year-old Arthur Mariano and 36-year-old Brazilian legend Pedro Solberg, a 2015 FIVB World Championship bronze medalist and a 2008 FIVB World Tour season champion, will make their third Beach Pro Tour appearance. Always starting from the qualifiers, they failed at Itapema, but made it all the way to the ninth place at Tlaxcala.

Second-seeded Youssef Krou and Arnaud Gauthier-Rat of France, on the other hand, made it successfully through the qualifiers at both of their previous attempts and went on to finish fifth at Itapema and ninth at Doha. So did Daniel Dearing and Rio Olympian Samuel Schachter of Canada, who finished 19th at Tlaxcala and ninth at Doha. They will be seeded eighth in the Kuşadası qualifiers.

Doha bronze medalists Martin Ermacora and Moritz Pristauz of Austria, who also reached the quarterfinals at Itapema, did not play qualifiers at either event, but will have to do so in Turkey for the first time on the Beach Pro Tour, starting from position three in the bracket.

Dutchmen Matthew Immers and Mart Van Werkhoven won their first Beach Pro Tour medal at the Madrid Futures last week. This week, they will try to follow that up with another main draw participation at the Challenge level, after managing to push it through the qualifiers at Tlaxcala.

Tokyo 2020 semifinalist Edgars Tocs of Latvia will also test the Turkish sand on Thursday with his new partner Kristians Fokerots. They scored their first international wins as a team at the Doha Challenge, making it to the main draw in Qatar, and went on to finish fifth at Madrid. Whether they will continue to find each other’s rhythm on the court and continue to improve as a team will get clearer as they take on the Kuşadası qualifiers on Thursday.