Beach volleyball stars return chasing glory on the Murray
The stage is set for the return of one of the most-loved rounds of the Australian Beach Volleyball Tour, the 2024 Cobram Barooga Classic.
Played alongside the Murray River, the tournament makes a welcome return after the 2023 event was relocated due to severe flooding in the area.
Twelve months on, familiar faces and some of Australia’s leading players will take to Thompson’s Beach seeking to boost their national Tour points. Two champions from 2022 are back to defend the men’s and women’s titles, but each with new partners with whom they have tasted recent success.
In the men’s draw, the world number 35 pairing of Mark Nicolaidis and Izac Carracher fill the top seed position having made their national tour debut at the event in 2022.
On that occasion they made it all the way to the final where they were defeated by Chris McHugh and Paul Burnett.
Burnett returns to defend the crown, this time teaming with Jack Pearse. The pair first combined at the opening leg of the Tour in Geelong, before going on to win the Beach Pro Tour event the following week.
“It was great to get the gold with Jack at our first World Tour Event together in Geelong at the end of last year,” said the 2022 Commonwealth Games gold medallist. “It provided a very solid foundation for the team to build off, and we’ve had a solid month of training together to begin 2024.
“We want to continue to improve and are keen to step it up again at Cobram and hopefully get on top of the podium once more.“
Having progressed all the way to the title of the Beach Pro Tour having been eliminated in the quarter-finals of the national Tour the week before, Burnett believes the depth of the draw should make for a high quality event this week.
“The level of the national tour at the moment is really strong, there are just no easy games,” he said. “Every team can play a high level of volleyball and so you have to bring your best from the very first pool game.
“It’s great that Mark and Izac are in for this weekend too, they’re such a talented team and play a really entertaining brand of volleyball so I’m sure the supporters are also excited to see their names on the entry list.
“Every time I face them it’s super challenging but we are all better for those battles, so hopefully Jack and I can have the chance to compete against them this weekend!”
In the women’s draw, Georgia Johnson and Jasmine Fleming come into the Cobram Barooga Classic as top seeds following back-to-back wins in Geelong in November.
Like Carracher and Nicolaidis, the women’s top seeds also combined for the first time at Cobram in 2022 when they finished fifth.
Taking out the Cobram Barooga Classic on that occasion were Phoebe Bell and Stefie Fejes, with the latter teaming with Jana Milutinovic as the second seeds this week.
Fejes and Milutinovic had a strong 2023, finishing runners up at three national Tour events, winning their first Beach Pro Tour title and taking gold at the Pacific Games.
While Milutonovic is still chasing her first Australian Beach Volleyball Tour title, Fejes is hoping to relive the success she achieved at Thompson’s Beach in 2022.
“Cobram is a very special place for me where I won my first gold medal on the senior tour so I have a lot of great memories,” said the 19-year-old. I am so excited to get back and compete in Cobram – it is such a beautiful area and I hope to see another koala!”
Reflecting on a successful twelve months, Fejes said the duo are looking forward with anticipation of what’s to come, and a possible rematch with the top seeds with whom they have a tied head-to-head record.
“2023 was truly an amazing year with many incredible opportunities,” she said. “I just want to thank Volleyball Australia for all their support for Jana and I.
“After some recovery family time over the Christmas we are back building on our team each session with our coaches and the awesome team at QAS around us and cannot wait to start off the 2024 season with a bang.
“We are 2-2 with Jas and Georgia now, I cannot wait to hopefully meet them at each final throughout the rest of the season for some more epic battles.”
Competition starts at 8am on Friday 2 February, with the medals to be decided on Sunday. The second round of the Australian Junior Beach Volleyball Tour will follow on Monday 5 and Tuesday 6 February.
The Australian Beach Volleyball Tour medal matches on Sunday afternoon will be streamed live via SBS on Demand.
The Cobram Barooga Classic is supported by Sporties Group, Cobram Barooga Business & Tourism, Moira and Berrigan Shires and the Victorian State Government.