Zemljak and Pokersnik first Slovenian men’s team to enter main draw
Fifteen teams competed in the men’s qualification tournament for eight spots in main draw. Latvia managed to advance two teams, Russia advanced with a bye and the other teams that won their qualification matches came from the US, Austria, France and Uruguay.
Zemljak and Pokersnik defeated Japan’s Shinya Hata and Yasuo Nakaya 2-0 (21-16 21-13). They were in control all the way, with Zemljak serving strong and tall Pokersnik finishing at the net with powerful blocks.
Unused wild card in the past
“I think we are actually the first men’s Slovenian team to qualify for the main draw”, Zemljak said after the match. “I think it is only the girls who have qualified before. We had a wild card for the World Tour a few years ago, me and my ex-partner, but we never used it. Back then they were saying we were going to be the first Slovenians to ever play in the main draw. I am sure it’s still valid.”
Although Zemljak and Pokersnik prepared for Anapa with some good results on the Austrian tour, both players were still anxious if they would be able to make it to the main draw. “We were pretty nervous, but in the end we won and that is the most important thing”, Pokersnik said.
“We were hoping to make it into the main draw”, Zemljak said. “That’s why we were a little bit nervous, we put a little bit too much pressure on ourselves but now we can play a little bit more relaxed.”
Both Zemljak and Pokersnik play volleyball in the winter. “Every summer we just play beach, and we try to play some international tournaments. But it’s hard since most players are pretty good indoor players and the seasons are long. So it’s hard to get a steady beach player.”
“I played in France and now in Slovenia. Jan is a player on the national team. I am not good enough, I am always waiting for the indoor guys to stop, have a break from the national team and pick up good guys like this.”
Youth world champion
While Pokersnik is a member of the national volleyball team, Zemljak is the more experienced beach player. With Tine Urnaut he won the Youth World Championships in 2005 and he also trained with some of the best teams in the US. Because of his studies Zemljak visited the US more than once.
“I was there last summer and I trained with pretty much all the American guys. Except for the top three teams, I was fortunate enough to meet all of them.”
Zemljak, who is studying for his masters in human resources, was not able to enter the famous AVP. “Because they have a little bit of a strange foreigner policy. Only two teams that are not US citizens are allowed to play. And some of them are regularly on the Tour and have points. I only played on the Californian tour. It was still pretty fun.”
To prepare for their first FIVB event together the Slovenians played a few tournaments on the Austrian Tour, finishing first and second place. “Austria is close and they count for international points”, Zemljak said. “They have a lot of good teams, so it’s always nice to go there.”
Careful about expectations
About their chances in main draw both players are a bit careful to predict. “For us it’s still the first tournament, so were not putting our expectations too high. There are other teams that have way more practice, way more games.”
“We know we can play the game and like I said in Austria we played a few really good tournaments. We saw that we could hang with the best teams, so we are just trying to bring out our best game and then the result will follow. And if a team is too good, but we still gave our best, we won’t be too disappointed.”