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Beach volleyball in Slovenia back on track

The beach stadium at Kongresni trg was packed for the entire duration of the Ljubljana Beach Volleyball Tournament

Ljubljana, Slovenia, August 7, 2014 - Beach volleyball in Slovenia is back on track. Almost a week after the end of the Ljubljana Beach Volleyball Tournament, Slovenian media are still full of photos, videos and interviews about the spectacle in the capital's city center. Last Friday and Saturday at Kongresni trg were a display of what beach volleyball is all about.

The stands were full, the main square in Ljubljana, just below the old castle, provided a breathtaking backdrop for the competition and the show was on from the first to the last referee whistle.The highlight of the tournament was the men's final and a victory for home players Jan Pokersnik, one of the best Slovenian indoor players, and Nejc Zemljak, former U19 beach volleyball world champion, who also hold Slovenia’s best result in FIVB tournaments, a 5th place at last year's Anapa Open.

Pokersnik/Zemljak defeated Austrians Michael Murauer/Florian Schnetzer 2-1, after an hour of battling for every point. Top-seeded Argentinians Pablo Bianchi/Julian Azaad lost the semifinal game against Murauer/Schnetzer and then beat Slovenian champions Jure Peter Bedrac/Danijel Pokersnik, Jan's older brother, by 2-0 for the bronze.

“Every game in this tournament was a challenge. The competition was strong and practically all matches ended in three sets. Our game was not on the highest level at the beginning of the tournament, but we managed to play better and better and even when it was hard on the court, we stood up together and fought for every point. Luckily, it was enough for the win. At this point, I would like to thank our federation for giving us the chance to play at that level. And the spectators were just great,” Zemljak told the media after the tournament.

In the women’s final, Croatian Dalida Vernier and her partner, American Kelly Claes, who won bronze medal at the FIVB U21 World Championship in Cyprus only a week earlier, did not give many opportunities away to their opponents throughout the tournament, except in the semifinals when they lost their only set against Slovenians Jelena Pesic/Ana Skarlovnik. They also dominated in the final against Brazilian Pauline Alves/Austrian Susanne Kreuzriegler, winning by 2-0 (21-14, 21-16). Pesic/Skarlovnik were ranked third after defeating Czechs Gabriela Kotvova/Teresa Jarosova in two sets.

Vernier summed up her impressions: “I am satisfied with our performance. I cannot say we did not expect the win, but we still had to fight hard for it, especially in the semifinals where I had a little crisis, but Kelly was there to pull us forward. I expected a harder game in the final, but we played strong enough and gave no chance to our opponents. And I would also like to give our compliments to the organisers for this fantastic tournament. We will definitely be back next year.

The process of revitalising beach volleyball in Slovenia began when the new president of the Slovenian Volleyball Federation Metod Ropret decided to put the focus back on the sport after a first very successful period for beach volleyball ten years ago when an international tournament was organised in Ptuj, the oldest Slovenian town. That competition saw Czechs Krystina Kolocova/Marketa Slukova make one of their first successful international appearances, winning the 2009 final against best Slovenian players Erika and Simona Fabjan.

The reactions of the home and foreign players, who all want to come back to Ljubljana next year, added to those of the competition partners, sponsors and the media, who were impressed with the whole idea of the competition and its implementation, were enough for the Slovenian Volleyball Federation to consider the idea of a National Tour in 2015, including all the best Slovenian players and attractive foreign players. The Fabjan sisters are even considering calling off their retirement to return to the sand.

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