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Bawden and Palmer get confidence spike for London

Natalie Cook, who claimed bronze at the Australian Beach Volleyball Championships with new partner Tara West, aims to be the first Australian women to compete at five Summer Olympics

Adelaide, Australia, March 13, 2011 – Three Olympians walked away from the sand with medals at the Australian Beach Volleyball Championships in Holdfast Bay, Adelaide on Sunday.

Olympians Natalie Cook, Tamsin Barnett-Hinchley and Louise Bawden were on opposite sides of the net with their respective partners – all gunning for an edge ahead of an international season crucial to qualifying for the London Olympic Games in 2012. The maximum number of teams a nation can take is two.

Add in former junior world champions Becchara Palmer and Alice Rohkamper plus Australian volleyball captain Tara West and you have six sensational athletes.

In an international-level final, former team-mates Palmer and Rohkamper faced off on opposite sides of the net. The girls now play with Sydney 2000 volleyball colleagues Bawden and Hinchley. Hinchley played with Cook, meanwhile, on the sand at Beijing 2008.

The number two seeds Hinchley and Rohkamper raced to an early 15-6 lead in the opener. Led by an unstoppable Rohkamper serve and supported by Hinchley's excellent blocking, they claimed the first set 21-15.

As the second set began Bawden and Palmer were threatening to come back like the rain from the dark clouds above Glenelg Beach. With the scores level at 19-all the Championship was in sight for Hinchley and Rohkamper, but a lost service point and a strong Palmer serve sent the game into three sets.

Some big serving by Palmer then carried the number one seeds into a 5-0 lead in the best-of-15 final set. Although Hinchley and Rohkamper then produced a mini-comeback it was not enough, with Bawden and Palmer taking the title 15-10.

"This was absolutely one of our key events heading to London 2012," said Palmer. "This win definitely solidifies our place as number one team in Australia and that's definitely where we want to be heading into the next year."

Adelaide's Glenelg Beach represented more than just the nationals for silver medallist Hinchley. Since the Beijing Olympics she has got married to partner Al Hinchley, had a baby (Arley) and relocated to Adelaide – without her husband and 18-month-old child. The next year will determine whether the sacrifice was worth it.

Having only played their first game in November 2011, Cook and West, meanwhile, were forced into the bronze-medal match after falling to Bawden/Palmer early on Sunday.

Cook and West duly fought back from a set down to take bronze and cement their place among Australia’s top three women's teams. Cook, who hopes to become the first Australian woman to compete at five Summer Olympics, convinced volleyball star West to put her physiotherapy studies on hold and campaign with her for London 2012.

Slams, spikes and sand-dives were the order of the men's finals. Australian Institute of Sport rising stars Sam Boehm and Isaac Kapa suffered a surprise loss semi-final loss but managed to win the bronze in a tight three-set match against Casey Grice and Aaron Crook.

Super Dane Bo Soderberg and Justin 'The Fury' Feuerriegel of Queensland beat the Victorian combination of Owen Boland and Damien Schuman to win the national title in two sets.


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