FROM THE BLOG: Mariafe Artacho del Solar 🏐 // THE WORLD CHAMPS ROLLERCOASTER
We are quite lucky with our sport; that is Beach Volleyball. Each year, on a rotating 4-year cycle we have a major event, The Olympics (24 teams, maximum of 2 from any country), The World Championships (top 45 teams plus 3 wildcards), The World Tour Finals (Top 10 ranking teams) and finally the Commonwealth Games.
In July 2019 Taliqua (my team mate), Kirk (Our Coach), Brad (Assistant Coach) and I competed at the World Champs which was hosted in Hamburg, Germany. The event is like no other, teams from all around the world are there for 1 thing, that spot at the top of the podium along with an automatic qualification ticket to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Prior to the World Champs Taliqua and I played in the Warsaw Four Star World Tour Event which we won, so we were in a good place plus we got some small downtime to enjoy so we both headed to Paris for a couple of days before another few days in England to train and prepare for the World Champs.
At the World Champs we were seeded 7th and our pool consisted of Netherlands, USA and Mauritius. First up, we played Mauritius and came away with a 21-5/21-6 win which lead us into a day off competition before we played Netherlands who had beaten USA in a close 3 set encounter. We had our chances against the Dutchies but unfortunately couldn’t capitalise, losing in 2 sets 21-19/24-22.
Heading into our final pool play game against USA with a 1-1 record meant we needed to win in order to skip the “lucky loser” games. At the backend of the first set USA were up 19-16 as we swapped ends of the court (in Beach Volleyball you always swap sides every 7 points so there isn’t a more advantaged end). We managed to drag the score back to 19-19 and then Taliqua took over, she absolutely crushed 2 serving aces to take out the set 21-19. The second set went back and forth with no team taking a demanding lead and we managed to win 24-22.
Pool play was done and we now found ourselves in the elimination phase and first up was one of the Canadian teams who we beat 21-15/21-19. This game was a test for our teams’ resilience, in the first set I went down to dig a ball just as I have done 1000 times before but for some unknown reason I got myself into a pretzel like shape, I heard a loud “crack” like noise and managed to stretch my MCL to the equivalent of a grade 2 for all those doctors and physios out there.
The next 24 hours were a rollercoaster!
At the end of the game we walked off the court and I knew something was wrong, tears started flowing as soon as I saw my coaching staff and all I could think about was how I may cause my team to withdraw from the World Champs. We had trained for hours on court, days in the gym and weeks on different planes to get to this position and one small little hiccup might cause our dreams to be thrown away. Immediately our team Physio Petra managed to calm me down and we went off to the onsite medical facilities where the Tournament Doctors and Physios assessed me and with the help of an MRI it was confirmed that I had injured my MCL. We knew our match up game was the next day at 3pm against Switzerland so for the next 20 odd hours I had ice, compression and a large knee brace on as much as I could.
I woke up the next morning and could barely move my left leg let alone walk to the hotel breakfast which is by far the best breakfast at any hotel anywhere in the world, shout out to the Grand Elysee in Hamburg! Kirk, Brad, Petra, Taliqua and I all chatted and I couldn’t live with myself without at least giving it a go, and giving it a go we did. We went through our usual prep for the game except this time I had to sit on a stationary bike at the hotel gym for 10 minutes then walk for 3 minutes up and down the corridor and then another 10 minutes on the bike. This would eventually be my routine for the next 4 days straight before each game, all just to get some sort of movement in my knee before the warm up of each game.
3pm came, we completed our warm up and our coaches left us as we were ushered to the centre court. The World Champs centre court was a 13’000-seat arena and when you have 13’000 crazy Beach Volleyball fans screaming and a DJ blasting music you soon quickly forget about any pain in your body and the adrenaline kicks in. Eventually Taliqua and I won in 3 sets, 21-16, 23-21 and 15-9 (3rd sets in Beach Volleyball are first to 15 or win by 2).
The following day Taliqua and I played in the quarterfinals against Russia. I went through the same routine as every other game thanks to my knee, stationary bike, corridor walking and finally the bike again. I had a little more confidence in myself and my knee this time as I knew I had played on it against the Swiss girls the day before. We managed to grind out a win in the first set and then run away with the second set winning the game 2-0 (24-22/21-14).
Semi-final time brought us head to head with another USA team except this time we were unable to fight through and were knocked off 21-15/21-18 meaning we would play another Switzerland team for a Bronze Medal at the 2019 World Champs.
At the start of the Beach Volleyball season our team sat down and wrote up our goals and KPI’s for the year ahead and one of them was a medal at the World Champs, well here we were with the chance to achieve not only that but to also be the first Australian Women’s team to win a medal at the World Champs in 16 years.
The first set went back and forth with no team getting a real strong lead until we capitalised on a set point and took the first set 21-19. Having the one set lead gave us some confidence but we knew the Swiss girls were fighters, it’s just how they play, they never give you a chance to take a breath. At 21-20 we were up and Taliqua was at the base line serving for a Bronze Medal at the 2019 World Champs, and after some back and forth with both teams transitioning we finally won the point and became Bronze Medallist! 🥉
Relief, Joy, Happiness, Excitement and so many more emotions came running through my body as I dropped to the ground! Taliqua and I hugged and shared tears of happiness as we thanked the crowd for being so loud and engaging. We both looked up at our team and jumped up and down like crazy as at this point in time only our team knew what challenges we had to overcome throughout the tournament with my knee.
We are currently back in Adelaide training leading into some events later this year. I still look back now and smile at how much fun the World Champs were but the hunger inside our team is only growing, we are now on the road to Tokyo and can’t wait for what’s ahead.
- by Mariafe Artacho del Solar