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Team of the Week: Switzerland’s Heidrich and Vergé-Dépré

Lausanne, Switzerland, June 15, 2020 – Joana Heidrich and Anouk Vergé-Dépré had every reason in the world to be rivals. Talented blockers from the same generation born in a competitive beach volleyball nation like Switzerland, the two battled each other during the early years of their careers. But since 2017 they have formed the top Swiss team competing on the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour.

Coincidentally, the two had nearly identical careers when they joined forces three years ago. Heidrich won the FIVB U21 World Championship with Nina Betschart in Halifax, Canada, in 2011, one year before Vergé-Dépré accomplished the same feat with the same partner at the same location.

They also won their first World Tour medals at the same event, a tournament in Sochi, Russia, in 2015, and the next year both of them made their Olympic debuts at the Rio 2016 Games. Their paths crossed a few months later, when Nadine Zumkehr, who had paired with Heidrich for a fifth-place finish in Rio, and Isabelle Forrer, who partnered with Vergé-Dépré in their ninth-place campaign in Copacabana, both announced their retirements.

Their solution was the simplest but probably also the most unlikely. The two up-and-coming 24-year-old blockers, who both played on the right side, would now become partners.

“Joana and I met to discuss our goals and opinions and we then talked to our coaches to make sure there was a vision for us as a team,” Vergé-Dépré told at the time. “I’ve trained a lot against Joana over the past four years and we know each other well as opponents.”

Their first year together was promising. After a couple of 17th-place finishes in their very first events together, the Swiss had top-ten finishes at all of the other six events they competed at in 2017, including their first medal, a silver at The Hague, and a ninth-place at the World Championships. The team ended the year ranked eighth in the world, the best placement a Swiss team had achieved since 2012. 

For a team that had a transitioning defender, it was certainly a good start.

“When the season started we were not sure about what we could do because Anouk was playing defense for the first time and that was a big change for her,” Heidrich reflected at the end of that season. “I think she did a great job, I never thought she could do so well in the first year. She also had to change sides to play on the left and that required some adjustments.”

In 2018, the Swiss had to face their first setbacks together. They did win another silver medal at a four-star event in Itapema, Brazil, but had to deal with 17th and 25th-place finishes in four of the seven tournaments they played at. To make matters worse, Heidrich sustained a herniated disc injury during their home tournament in Gstaad, which cut their season short right before the start of the European Championships.

Their return wasn’t as smooth as they hoped for either. In their first four events in 2019, the Swiss didn’t get past the ninth place and won just three of the 11 matches they played. But slowly, their regained their form and ended the year on a high with their first victory as a team, at a four-star event in Moscow, Russia. They also made semifinal appearances at the FIVB World Tour Finals in Rome, Italy, and at the European Championships, also in Moscow.

“I just want to say ‘thank you’ to all the people who work with us,” Vergé-Dépré said following their victory in the Russian capital. “I think it’s very important. We had a rough start of the season, but there are a lot of people behind us, who are giving everything to make this possible.”

The positive results catapulted the team to the 12th place of the provisional Olympic rankings, putting the Swiss in position to play for an opportunity of competing at the Games in the summer of 2021 in Tokyo, this time as partners.

Team of the Week features:
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