Natalie Cook: "I'm looking forward to 2014 and beyond"
“This year had a lot of great moments. Some of my favorite memories was seeing all the new teams winning, including Dutch – Madelein Meppelink and Sophie van Gestel in Argentina, Brazil’s Maria Clara and Carolina Salgado winning their first Grand Slam in Moscow and China's world champion Chen Xue playing with new partner Xinyi Xia in Thailand.
“It was evident, however, that USA was a missing presence in the rankings. It was the first time in my memory that the women fell out of the Top 10. With Misty May-Treanor retiring and partner Kerri Walsh-Jennings missing most of the season, along with April Ross and Jen Kessy not following on from their 2012 form, it left an opening for some new USA teams. For example, providing a great opportunity for Jennifer Fopma and Brooke Sweat to get on the board. However, with the introduction of sand volleyball in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) system, I think we will see the USA return to the top quickly.
“Germany’s Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst were the surprises this year. With a new partner for Ludwig, their fourth place ranking at the end of 2013 was a great achievement. I would say Talita Da Rocha Antunes was the most outstanding player this year, as her blocking, leadership and overall game is always at a high standard, reflecting why she and Taiana Lima are currently in the No. 1 position.
“A post-Olympic year is always filled with new teams and even splits throughout the year. Many teams went through this, including the Dutch women. With Sanna Keizer retiring with a chronic injury, the teams were thrown into a spin. But Madelein Meppelink and Marleen van Iersel came together at the end of the season and I’m looking forward to see their progress next year.
“Walsh/Ross is obviously the big team to watch in the coming years, and to see if Juliana Felisberta makes her return to the tour. I think we will see the teams settle for 2014 as they need to going into 2015 with full momentum.
“In the next years leading up to the 2016 Olympics, I think the most important thing is to stay focused on the end goal. The athletes should train everyday as though preparing for Rio, and because it is still three years away they need to find ways to ensure they enjoy their training. Variety is the spice of life; change training locations, change training partners, bring in new experiences off the court too. This helps keep it all fresh! The Continental Cup also adds another dimension to the qualification so balancing all of that will be challenging for some countries.
“It was also great to see the FIVB World Tour return to China, South Africa and Argentina. I would love to see the tournament continue in USA with another Long Beach Grand Slam, and even return to Australia soon!”
“Beach volleyball has an exciting future, and I’m looking forward to 2014 and beyond.”
Natalie Cook became the first Australian women to participate in five successive Olympic Games and is the only women to play in all five Olympic beach volleyball events. After making her debut on the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour in 1993, Cook went on to win a bronze medal at the 1996 Olympics and 2000 Olympic gold with Kerri Pottharst, before finishing fourth in Athens, fifth in Beijing and retiring after a 19th-place finish at the London Olympics. She is now running her own company Sandstorm which runs Oz Volley and Surf Volley programs, whilst ensuring new beach volleyball courts are being built off the beach to support the demand and the growth of beach volleyball.