Clancy dreaming of Rio sands
Widely regarded as Australia's brightest young beach volleyball prospect, Taliqua Clancy's world is changing. The promise is quickly becoming reality and her reputation is rapidly spreading beyond the borders of both Australia and the Asian Confederation thanks to an impressive new partnership with experienced Olympian Louise Bawden that is already making an impression on the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour.
They made it to the last 16 of a Grand Slam event for the first time in Corrientes, Argentina at the end of May and into the final four of the FIVB World Cup Finals in Campinas, Brazil the following week. Bawden's Olympic partner Becchara Palmer opted to step away from the sport after the 2012 Games, but Bawden wanted more, knew all about Clancy's potential and felt she was ready to make the step up.
“I was pretty lucky that Lou [Bawden] decided she wanted to keep going,” said Clancy. “I have a great opportunity that she decided to play with me. I was a bit shocked in the meeting when she said it, but I was excited because I reckoned we would be a strong partnership.”
The desire to play together isn't the only mutual thing between the two. They're both 184cm (6'0”) tall, both very competitive and both approach matches aggressively. “We like to play a really physical game and I think that's intimidating for other teams,” Clancy added.
“Lou brings a lot of knowledge - that's a massive thing and keeps me on track; game knowledge of what it takes to be consistent and play well and about how we want to play and what works best for us.”
The pair showed their potential early in 2013 by cleaning up in Australia's 2013 domestic series. They won all five stages before they headed off on this year's World Tour. Gaining experience of the world circuit is crucial for the pair, but even more so for Clancy who has a place at the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games firmly fixed in her career plan.
“I've always wanted to go to the Olympics,” she said. “As a young kid, you watch it on TV and then you just want to go. I've always been really into sport, but I didn't really know what sport I would pick, then I fell in love with beach volleyball. I like the partnerships you form, the atmosphere is really cool and it's competitive.”
Her volleyball career started in her early teens at Kingaroy State High School, about 210km north-west of Brisbane, and by the age of 16 she was attached to the Queensland Academy of Sport and had taken her first steps in beach volleyball. From there she moved south with the determined support of mother Shannon, to Adelaide and the Australian Institute of Sport [AIS] on a beach scholarship. She eventually came under the supervision of AIS head coach Steve Tutton and was put through a comprehensive skills development programme.
In just her second year with the AIS she and Karley Hynes claimed bronze at the 2010 FIVB U19 World Championships in Oporto, Portugal, but 2012 proved a real turning point in her career outlook and her Olympic aspirations. Teaming up with Mariafe Artacho Del Solar, Clancy first helped Natalie Cook secure a place at a fifth Olympic Games with victory in the double-team AVC Continental Cup Final against China and then went on to claim another age-group medal with bronze at the FIVB U21 World Championships in Halifax, Canada.
“We got to play Continental Cup, which was an awesome experience, and I think last year I kind of realised 'Yeah, this is what I want to do, and I have to work really hard if I want it'. Everyone is really good and you can't just get through not fully committing. I feel like I grew up, actually taking the step and moving forward instead of just hearing about it.
“I don't just want to play and be mediocre, I want Lou and I to be one of the best teams on the Tour, with a top ranking. We've got a few lessons to learn, but we're a good team and we can definitely be really competitive, it's definitely achievable.”