Gregory and Sheaf claim top honours in Denmark
9th June 2017
England’s top beach pair of Chris Gregory and Jake Sheaf claimed victory at last weekend’s NEVZA zonal tournament in Kolding, Denmark, as they stepped up their preparations for next year’s Commonwealth Games.
The experienced pair had to do it the hard way though, rattling off seven consecutive victories after a surprise defeat in their opening match of the competition. After that early wake-up call, they only dropped two further sets as they progressed through the losers’ bracket to reach the final. Victory was finally assured after a 2-0 win over the ninth-seeded Norwegian pair of Retterholt and Olimstad.
Elsewhere in the competition, there was a 17th place finish for another English pair, Sam Walrond and Sam Dunbavin while Matthew Hunter and Mark Garcia-Kidd claimed 9th.
The fourth English pair in action were the 16 year old twins, Javier and Joaquin Bello. Playing in their first senior NEVZA event, the boys from Richmond finished a commendable 13th, courtesy of a stunning 2-1 win over the #4 seeds, Opsahl and Gamlemoen.
If Gregory and Sheaf were looking for an extended workout, they got it after an opening round defeat to Thomsen and Abell. After losing the first set 21-13 to the #17 seeds from Denmark, the Englishmen almost turned it around but eventually lost 16-14 in the 3rd.
With no further room for error, the pair – who were top seeds for the competition – then showed their class, blitzing their way past seven other Scandinavian pairs to land the spoils.
Their biggest challenge came in the semi-final with a 22-24, 24-22, 15-12 victory over the Danish #6 seeds, Overgaard and Jonassen, which took 63 minutes to secure. After that, the final was a more routine affair, with just 37 minutes needed to overcome Retterholt and Olimstad, 21-17, 21-18.
Speaking after the competition, the victorious pair said: “We may have done it the hard way but this was a really good competition for us. After that opening loss, we stuck together well and showed some real mental resilience. We actually played ok in that defeat – against a team who did then make it to the semis – but just got steadily better after that. Across eight matches, our on-court confidence began to return in what was our first proper outing of the new season. We still had to save several match points in the semi-final but by the time we got to the final, our side-out percentage was high and we were playing some clinical volleyball.”
Elsewhere in the competition, the Bello boys achieved arguably the result of the weekend after seeing off the Norwegian fourth seeds. Having lost their opening match 2-0, the pair looked in trouble when they went down 21-19 against Opsahl and Gamlemoen. However, they fought back superbly to win the next two sets 21-18 and 15-13, claiming a memorable scalp after exactly an hour on court.
The result will be a huge fillip to the pair as they combine senior tour activity with training alongside the rest of the English beach squad – all as part of their efforts to secure a place at the forthcoming Youth Commonwealth Games.
Another pair with their eyes on the Commonwealth Games (although the senior version, not the junior version) are Jess Grimson and Vicky Palmer. The top-ranked English team head to a competition in Denmark this weekend and then go straight to China for back-to-back World Tour events as they pursue the ranking points which could see them qualify by right for next year’s competition in Australia.