HALIFAX — Two Israeli teams came to Halifax for the World Under-21 Beach Volleyball Championships with low expectations.
Yes, they wanted to win what they could, but with a low-level world ranking and moderate performance (15th out of 30 teams) at the European championships, coach Shaked Haimy was content to see his young charges gain world experience.
Yet, in their three-team pool, with all players advancing to the elimination round, Israeli women Yael Lotan and Viktoria Nesterov downed Guatemala 21-18, 21-14 in their opener before falling to Canada’s Taylor Pischke and Melissa Humana-Paredes, who would advance to the quarter-finals, 21-9, 21-7. Israel was eliminated when the team dropped their third match, 21-19, 14-21, 15-12 to Venezuela.
The men, Alon Sanderovich and Netanel Ohana, lost all three matches in their pool, failing to advance to the elimination round. They fell to Austria 21-19, 21-15 and Latvia 21-7, 21-11 on opening day, then to Canada’s Grant O’Gorman and Aaron Nusbaum 21-19, 21-8 on day two.
“We lack competitive experience,” Haimy admitted the day before the tournament started. “Beach volleyball is not that big in Israel. The level is not that high as we only have three months of competition at home. And we don’t have the funding or sponsorship culture to finance teams travelling around the world.”
Sanderovich said the players will enjoy meeting top competition. “We hope to get out of our pool, but the main thing is to have fun. [Ohana] and I were put together [as a team] by Shaked, and we have good chemistry after one tournament playing as a team.” He said his first sport was judo, followed by basketball, which he played for seven years in the Maccabi Tel Aviv program. “I knew I wasn’t good enough, so I joined a school volleyball team and, after two years of indoor, found beach and fell in love with it.”
Prior to their opener, Nesterov said she’s honoured to represent Israel as she sees beach volleyball providing the greatest chance “to make progress and eventually advance to the Olympics.”
Haimy agreed. “We have the knowledge and talent to get to Rio (for the 2016 Olympics). But it has to happen now. The level of beach volleyball is getting higher. More countries are improving their level and competition is tougher.
“For us, money is the problem. We need funding wherever we can get it,” he said.
He cited the costs of training, travel and facilities, as well as the difficulty of enough teams to train with each other. “If we can get that, we’ll make something special for Israel. People in Israel want a major [international] success.”
Nesterov said people expect things to happen in reverse. “They want results before they give us money to train. I can’t understand why it’s the reverse.”
Between their army service and their regular daily work, the four players still practise and play volleyball for a few hours a day, too. Nesterov and Lotan practised together for about four months before entering the world juniors. “This is for us to work on our game, to get experience and to learn from the other teams,” Haimy said.
He explained that the Israeli players at the Halifax championships were funded by a “generous anonymous benefactor,” and they are grateful the money looks after a few nights in a hotel, plus food. But once the players are eliminated, they’re on their own.
With a laugh, he added, “Not to put pressure on them, I told them, if they lose, they have to look for a place to sleep.”
The team was supported with two nights of pre-tourney accommodation by members of the Halifax Jewish community, through the Atlantic Jewish Council. But Haimy said the teams must play without thinking of the monetary consequences.
“We were criticized at home for coming here, that we’re not the best in the world, so why spend money [to go to the world championships]. But it’s a great experience and it’s an honour to have the Israeli flag here,” he said. “Our players have worked hard and they deserve to have this opportunity.”