Beach volleyball makes Universiade debut

SHENZHEN, China (CIS) – It was a big day for beach volleyball on Saturday as the sport made its long awaited Summer Universiade debut at the Dameisha Beach Volleyball Field.

Although beach volleyball has been part of the Olympics since 1996 and FISU world university championships are staged every second year since 2002, the sport had not been included in the Universiade program before this year.

“This was very important for us. To me it was the next logical step,” said Dolphin Kasper, head coach of the Canadian contingent in Shenzhen. “I think it took this long because in a way we’re still not as well established as the indoor game or other sports like basketball or soccer. But when you look at the caliber of athletes who play on the beach, it was only a matter of time.”

Two female and two male duos are representing Canada at the Shenzhen Games. While the women’s competition only gets under way Sunday, the men’s tournament kicked off on Saturday with both Canadian pairs playing two matches apiece, with opposite results.

Simon Fecteau-Boutin of Lévis, Que., and Cameron Wheelan of Barrie, Ont., got off to a perfect start with a 21-19, 21-17 win over Germany 2, followed by a 21-12, 21-11 victory over Croatia 2.

François-Guy Allaire of Notre-Dame-du-Laus, Que., and Michael Plantingua of Langley, B.C., struggled in scorching heat however and lost in straight sets to both USA 1 (19-21, 11-21) and Russia 2 (13-21, 8-21).

“It’s not the start we wanted but the tournament is still young,” said Allaire, a University of Quebec at Montreal student who competed at the 2010 FISU world championships and at the 2009 Francophone Games. “The two teams we played today are very strong. But that’s what you want, you want to play good competition and have good teams in your pool to get you ready for the second stage.” 

Each team is guaranteed a minimum of five games under the current tourney format. The 32 sides play three preliminary round games, after which they are ranked according to their standing within their pool. All teams then advance to the double-elimination second round.

“The heat was definitely a factor. It slows you down, it’s like your body doesn’t want to move,” said Plantinga, a member of the University of Alberta’s indoor squad. “This being said the conditions are the same for everyone.”

Like his head coach Kasper, Plantinga is ecstatic to see the beach game included as part of the Universiade program.

“It’s awesome. There are no university leagues in beach volleyball in Canada so I can understand why it took some time. But the NCAA in the United States is looking at beach volleyball, so that’s exciting as well.”

“Everything has been great here so far. Everything is very well set up. We’re well taken care of.”

Both Canadian men’s pairs conclude pool play on Sunday.

Fecteau-Boutin and Wheelan will play for first place in pool C when they face Indonesia (2-0) at 1 p.m. local time (1 a.m. ET).

Allaire and Plantingua will try to avoid an 0-3 finish in pool H when they battle Thailand 1 (1-1) at 3 p.m.

Team Canada website: http://english.cis-sic.ca/universiade/summer 

2011 Summer Universiade website: http://www.sz2011.org/Universiade