Australia’s U21s claim double gold at Asian Championships
Australia can lay claim to being the premier beach volleyball nation in Asia following twin golds over the weekend at the 5th Asian Volleyball Confederation U21 Beach Volleyball Championships in Thailand.
Ben Hood and Lucas Josefsen claimed the men’s title, while Stefie Fejes and Jasmine Fleming took out the women’s gold medal match on Sunday.
Following Tom Hodges and Zac Schubert’s Senior Asian Championship victory last month and a world ranking of No.3 for Mariafe Artacho del Solar and Taliqua Clancy, the current and future generations are establishing Australia as the leading nation in the region.
Fejes and Fleming didn’t have it all their way throughout the tournament but played with grit and guile to push their way through. A pool match loss to one of the home teams forced a quarter-final match-up with China which went the distance, however the Australian pair eventually triumphed 15-11 in the decider to move through to the final day of the tournament.
Their semi-final was a rematch of their pool match loss, however the Aussie duo had learnt their lessons and dominated in a 2:0 win (21-14, 21-14) to move into the final against the top-ranked team from the home nation.
Australia edged ahead late in the first set to win 21-13 and take the upper hand, however the second set was a tighter affair. Down a set-point at 21-22, the Aussies reeled off three straight points to claim the set and the title.
It brought back-to-back success for Fejes who won the event with Alisha Stevens in 2021, becoming just the third player in history to win the Asian U21 Championship twice.
“It’s awesome to be on the podium again,” said Fejes. “Big thanks and appreciation to the team, and everyone back home.”
For Fleming, who has enjoyed a strong season on the Beach Pro Tour with Georgia Johnson so far in 2023, the victory confirmed ‘job done’ in Thailand.
“Extremely proud of our team to achieve our goal of becoming Asian champions,” said Fleming. “We’re so grateful for all the support from Volleyball Australia and our coach Margo Wiltens.”
Fleming and Fejes went into their final buoyed by the success of Hood and Josefsen in the men’s final just minutes earlier.
The Queensland pair enjoyed a dominant season on the Australian Junior Beach Volleyball Tour this past summer and were hopeful of emulating that domestic success at the Asian U21 Championships.
The duo started the tournament in emphatic fashion, not dropping a set through the pool matches, the round of 16 or the quarter-final. In the last match on court on Saturday, their Chinese opponents claimed the opening set from Hood and Josefsen, and that was all the wake-up call they needed.
They won 36 of the next 59 points to earn their place in Sunday’s final against Kazakhstan and never looked troubled in a 2:0 (21-15, 21-14) victory in the gold medal match.
Following the final, Hood was ecstatic to become Asian Champion alongside his teammate who showed little sign of a foot injury which troubled him throughout the campaign.
“Lucas and I are thrilled with our efforts this week,” said Hood. “It was a real gutsy performance from Lucas, playing with an injury for most of the tournament.
“We kept playing hard and the Australian way, and got the job done for our country.”
The double-victories have earned Australia Continental quota places at the 2023 FIVB U21 Beach Volleyball World Championships in November at the same location, Roi-et in Thailand.
Of the other Australian teams at the event, D’Artagnan Potts and Mitch Croft bowed out of the tournament on Saturday at the quarter-final stage for a share of fifth place, while Lizzie Alchin and Kayla Mears won one of their three pool matches to finish in a tie for ninth.