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Stefanie Schwaiger seeks steady substitute

Thumbs up for Stefanie Schwaiger (left) and Barbara Hansel after the Austrian's win at the Gstaad Grand Slam.

Gstaad, Switzerland, July 9, 2014 - For the first time in Stefanie Schwaiger’s FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour career, she found herself playing without her older sister Doris as the two-time Austrian Olympian resumed competing this week on the international circuit with a different partner.

In fact, the 27-year-old Schwaiger had only taken to the sand in an international Beach Volleyball tournament without her older sister twice before when she competed in FIVB and European confederation youth events. The reason for the other partners was that Doris, who is now 29, was too old to participate in those tournaments with her younger sibling.

Playing with Barbara Hansel here Wednesday during the opening rounds of the $800,000 Gstaad Grand Slam, Schwaiger and her new partner rallied to upset 12th-seeded Lauren Fendrick and Brooke Sweat of the United States 2-1 (17-21, 21-19, 18-16) in 58 minutes.

“Right now, we are only playing together in this tournament,” said Stefanie Schwaiger.  “Barbara’s regular partner (Bianca Zass) has a back injury. Barbara and Bianca will be playing together again next week at the FIVB event in the Netherlands. I don’t know who I will be playing with right now.”

Seeded 21st in this week’s event in the Swiss Alps, Stefanie Schwaiger and Hansel play reigning European champions and fifth-seeded Madelein Meppelink and Marleen Van Iersel of the Netherlands in their second match Wednesday. The Austrians conclude pool play Thursday against 28th-seeded Tanja Goricanec and Tanja Huberli of Switzerland as the top three teams advance to the Gstaad Grand Slam elimination rounds.

Trailing 8-4 in the third and deciding set against Fendrick and Sweat, the Austrians rallied to tie the score at 12-12. The Americans were serving for the match at 14-12 before Stefanie Schwaiger and Hansel scored the next three points to take a 15-14 lead and won it on their third match point.

“We were pretty shaky to start the match,” said the 30-year old Hansel, “but we started to gain confidence as the match progressed. We made a few changes in our tactics and were able to take advantage of our service game.”

Both players did not enter this week’s 15th annual FIVB World Tour event in the village of Gstaad with “high expectations,” said Stephanie Schwaiger.  “We are both blockers, so we had to make some adjustments in our game. We are fortunate that Barbara had started working on playing more defense with Bianca during the off-season. She was more comfortable than I as a defender and that worked to our advantage as the match progressed.”

Both Austrian players credited their coaches for helping prepare them for the Gstaad Grand Slam. Stephanie Schwaiger is coached by Swiss Beach Volleyball Olympian Martin Laciga along with Kersten Holthausen. Hansel’s training staff features Brazilians Leonardo DaSilva and Marco Teixeira.

“Since we only trained one week together, it helped us to have experienced training staffs,” said Hansel, who joins Magdalena Jirak and Stefanie Frotschnig as the other Austrians to play with Stefanie Schwaiger in an international Beach Volleyball event. “They helped us with our tactics, especially since we have played similar positions on the court with our previous partners. Our next match today will be tough against the Dutch champions, but at least we defeated a quality team in our opening match.”

When asked about playing together in future events, both Austrians were reluctant to answer the questions. We are not worried about that right now,” said Stefanie Schwaiger.  “I will be playing with Bianca next week in the The Hague,” said Hansel.

Doris Schwaiger made her announcement to retire from the sport at the end of May before the Austrian sisters played for their final time together by winning the European tour stop in Baden June 1. Playing before family, friends and fans for one last time in their home country, the Schwaigers captured the Baden event by winning five straight matches to win the gold medal.

“Over the years I have slowly lost motivation,” said Doris Schwaiger when she announced her retirement before the Baden event. “I have ignored that for too long.” The gold medal in their last tournament together was the third for the Schwaiger sister partnership as the Austrians had won the Baden event the previous year before capturing the European Championships in 2013 at Klagenfurt, Austrian.

A week earlier in the Czech Republic, the sisters played for the last time together on the FIVB World Tour by placing fourth in Prague. The Schwaigers won five of seven matches in the “open” tournament to end their 123rd FIVB World Tour event together with a career match record of 272-239. The semifinal appearance also marked the seventh time the sisters had advanced to the FIVB World Tour medal rounds as the Schwaigers finished their partnership with three silver and two bronze medal placements.

Overall, the Schwaigers competed in 128 FIVB-sanctioned events together to rank fourth all-time in events played together. The Nystrom (Emilia and Erika) twins of Finland have competed in 150 FIVB-sanctioned events together to top the list for both men and women.  The men’s pairs of Vegard Hoidalen and Jorre Kjemperud of Norway (135 FIVB-sanctioned events together) and Joao Brenha and Miguel Maia of Portugal (134) have played in more FIVB events than the Schwaigers.

Highlighting the Schwaigers’ FIVB career was a bronze medal finish at the under-21 world championships in 2005 at Rio de Janeiro. The Schwaigers also placed fifth at both the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Olympic Games where the Austrians were eliminated each time by higher ranked pairs from China. During the London Summer Games, the Schwaigers became the only team to ever win a set in an Olympic match against the legendary American team of Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings.

Hansel started playing regularly on the international tour in 2003 as the Gstaad tournament is her 126th FIVB–sanctioned event. Stefanie Schwaiger is the seventh partner Hansel has played with on the FIVB World Tour. She played in 69 events with Sara Montagnolli as this partnership netted five “final four” finishes highlighted by a bronze medal placement in 2010 at Marseille, France.


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