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Pressure gets to U21 title defenders Kociolek/Gruszczynska

Katarzyna Kociolek had a tough year with surgery and motivational problems
Larnaka, Cyprus, July 24, 2014 - Everybody expects Poland’s Katarzyna Kociolek and Jagoda Gruszscynska to win another gold medal at the FIVB Beach Volleyball U21 World Championships. All this pressure got to them as they lost their opening match on Thursday in Larnaka.

The 19-year old Polish girls were defeated 2-0 (21-17, 21-17) by German qualifiers Nadja Glenzke and Lara Schreiber in the early morning. “There is a lot of pressure”, said Kociolek. “Everyone tells us: oh, you won last year, so you will also win this year.”

But especially Kociolek is not that sure of herself. She had surgery on her shoulder in August and additionally had motivational issues. “It has been really hard, because I had a half year break after surgery. And I just did not come back like I wanted and I did not play with Jagoda anymore, my partner at last year’s U21.”

The pair played one more tournament after grabbing gold at the U21 last season, the U19 in Porto where Kociolek hurt her shoulder. This season they both played with different partners until now. “Because of all of that I am not so sure that we can win again. But we will try to do everything to win another medal.”

After their wake-up call against Germany, the Polish girls booked an easy 2-0 (21-11, 21-14) win over Paraguay’s Michelle Valiente Amarilla and Erika Mongelos Bobadilla.

“We recovered after our first match, which was I hope our worst match of the tournament”, Kociolek said. “I don’t know what happened, I just could not finish any action and maybe I was still a bit sleepy because we had to play at 8.00.”

The second match lifted their spirit again. Kociolek: “It wasn’t a hard match, but we needed this, because of this match we recovered. It helped us regain confidence after losing the first.”

At the end of the day Kociolek was thrilled to be back again with Gruszscynska at her side. “I am very happy to play with Jagoda again. She is my favourite partner and I love playing with her.”

“She motivates me and she helped me play again this year. Because I was just not motivated after my injury break. It was in my head, it was just so hard for me to come back and to win another tournament and she motivates me to do it again.”

Strong start for Switzerland

Another medal contender in the women’s tournament, 7th seeded Swiss pair Nina Betschart and Nicole Eiholzer, had an excellent start with two wins over American qualifiers Knudsen/Strange (21-14, 17-21, 16-14) and Greek lucky losers Parisaki/Manavi (21-15, 21-16).

“We won twice, but there is still room for improvement”, said Eiholzer after their match against Greece.

The Swiss started the game trailing by a couple of points, but simplified their play to cruise to victory. “We kept calm and tried to play a bit easier, not too much risk”, said Betschart. “Then we played a lot better.”

As a pair Betschart and Eiholzer go back to 2011. They won silver (2011) and bronze (2012) at the CEV U18 and gold at the CEV U20 (2013) and Betschart was Junior World Champion in 2012 and European champion U22 last year with Anouk Vergé-Depré, but together they never won a FIVB medal before.

Last year they finished 5th at the U21 in Umag and 5th at the U19 in Porto. They would like to be on the podium this time, but it won’t be easy, Betschart said. ”I think there are a lot of good teams and there will be great fights. The level of the teams is really close.”

“We had two games and both were not so easy. I think we have to play good beach volleyball to make this pool”, Eiholzer added.

“We hope to make the semifinals, but it’s always hard, it’s always close”, said Betschart. Eiholzer: “And in the quarterfinals, if you lose once you are out. If there is just one game in which you don’t play great beach volleyball, you are out.”

This season the Swiss girls are also trying to get a foot in the door at the FIVB World Tour Opens and Grand Slams. Two weeks ago they played in the qualification tournament of the Gstaad Grand Slam in their home country. They lost 2-0 against Italy’s Gioria/Giombini.

“It was one more game to gain more experience”, Betschart said. “It was a very good opponent. Every game on this level helps. It’s difficult to get to the higher level. You have to start in qualification always and if you lose once you can go home. It’s hard and you get tired. But we will see.”


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