Aussie volleyballers beat World Champions to make Olympic semi-finals
Taliqua Clancy and Mariafe Artacho del Solar defeated top-seeded Canada 2-1 in spectacular fashion to clinch a semi-final berth at the Tokyo Olympic Games.
The pair are the first Australian volleyballers to reach an Olympic semi-final since Nat Cook and Nicole Sanderson in Athens 2004, and will aim to become the first Australian medalists since Cook and Kerri Pottharst’s iconic Sydney 2000 victory.
The Australians were superb throughout, playing exquisite volleyball against the reigning World Champions, who had come into the contest without having dropped a single set in the first four games of their Olympic campaign.
Australia stunned Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes in the first set, coming out firing on all cylinders. Canada looked under pressure for the first time in the tournament and were forced into an early timeout on 5-1 for Australia.
The Canadians could not find any answers for Australia’s domination, with Clancy and Artacho del Solar suffocating their opponents with remarkable consistency and their strongest serving display of the tournament so far, comfortably taking the opener 21-15.
Other teams may have buckled under such pressure, but Pavan and Humana-Paredes showed why they are one of the best teams in the world. Pavan showed flashes of her brilliant self at the start of the second set and led the charge for a 6-0 run, giving Canada enough of a buffer to take the set 21-19 and force a decider.
Australia stuck to their game plan and went off again to a blistering start in the third set. Artacho del Solar started the deciding set with two aces, setting the tone for an incredible third set performance under pressure.
Clancy and Artacho del Solar kept serving tough and running the ball around, building a 10-5 lead that put them within sight of a semi-final spot. Australia converted their second of three match points, with Clancy and Artacho del Solar celebrating achieving what has eluded Aussie beach volleyballers for 17 years.
Despite not meeting in tournament play since 2018 (the Canadians beat Australia in the Commonwealth Games gold medal match, with the Aussies notching a win later in the year on the World Tour), the teams know each other’s games intimately, with the duos holding joint training sessions before major tournaments to fine tune each other’s skills.
Artacho del Solar was elated after the team’s convincing performance. “I’m just super pumped, it still feels so unreal that we’re actually through to the semis – I was confident that we could get here but for it to be real is just so exciting,” she said.
“We just stuck really strong to our game. We knew we had to come out strong and stay really aggressive. We didn’t think about what might happen and we didn’t look too much ahead and trusted the rest would take care of itself.
“We’ve been working so hard for this moment. It was such a pity that we came up against the girls at such an early stage of the tournament. We’ve got a very good relationship with Sarah and Melissa and we knew it was going to be a gold-medal worthy match.
“Everyone’s so excited for us – we definitely felt the love right from the start. We’re so grateful for all the love from home and from all round the world really.”
Clancy enjoyed celebrating the win but felt like this was right where the team was destined to be. “We are a high quality team,” said Clancy.
“We knew it was going to be a tough match, but it was such a great opportunity that we got to take on that battle and qualify for the semi-finals.
“We’re on such a high right now. I had no doubt we would be here but it’s so nice to be able to be here and enjoy this moment that we’re in.
“In this temperature and humidity, it’s such a serving game. There’s a lot of aces and a lot of amazing serves. We’re a great serving team, that’s one of our skills, so we’re just happy that we were able to take another step forward.”
The pair now enter the final four, and they know they have the support of Australia’s last volleyball medalists behind them.
“Nat and Kerry have been two of our biggest cheerleaders,” Clancy said.
“They’ve been watching our journey and helping however they can – we wouldn’t be here without their great success. We’re just so grateful we can put Australia back into the Olympic semi-finals.
The no.5-seeded Australians will face Tina Graudina and Anastasija Kravcenoka of Lithuania on Thursday 5 August at 11am AEST for a chance to fight for gold on Friday.