Road to the Bahamas: the girls’ story
30th June 2017
When your mother is Denise Austin, one of the most well-known beach volleyball names in this country, chances are that you were always going to end up on the sand yourself.
So it proved with Ellie Austin, one half of the English beach volleyball pair who will be representing their country at the forthcoming Youth Commonwealth Games in the Bahamas this July. Having started playing volleyball as soon as she could, Ellie has been punching above her weight ever since.
“I’ve pretty much been playing since I could walk!” she says. “I made it into my first South-West squad at age 9, playing alongside 14 year old girls, and have been the youngest in all my age groups ever since.”
Remarkably, Ellie is now part of the England U-19 group, despite still only being 15. Her beach partner Yasmin Kaashoek – at the ripe old age of 18 – is almost a veteran by comparison.
Yasmin’s volleyballing back story is similarly influenced by her parents (her dad was a player) although she started playing a touch later than Ellie. She first played at Devizes, aged 10, but bagged her first England trial just two years later.
The two are now set to claim the honour of being the first female beach pair to represent England at the Youth Commonwealth Games after the sport was introduced to the competition for the first time this year.
“I started crying when I first heard we’d been selected”, says Ellie. “Since then, everything’s been so exciting; seeing all the new team kit, planning for the trip to Miami (for the pre-Games holding camp). The Games weren’t even on our radar originally. It was mum who first saw the news about beach volleyball being included. Everything’s just gone from there.”
Ask who the main competition threats are and Yasmin rattles off the names you might expect – Canada, Australia, New Zealand – and a few you might not, such as Cyprus and Vanuatu. They don’t seem to hold too much fear for her though. There’s a steeliness about Yasmin which comes not just from being the older of the two but also the fact she’s lived away from home for the past four years, having moved to the LeAF Academy in Bournemouth to combine volleyball and studying. That experience seems to have given her some firm ideas of what she wants to do next.
“After the Commonwealths, I hope to pursue a career in the RAF,” she says. “I’ve always wanted to do it and have already started the process of applying to be an officer. If I make it through, there’s also a chance that I may be able to continue playing volleyball full-time, representing the RAF, which would be great.”
Clearly Ellie’s plans are a little less advanced although she already knows she wants to go to college and then hopes to secure a volleyballing scholarship in the US. Both of the girls have had exams to contend with in recent weeks but now they’re out of the way, all eyes are on the Bahamas.
“We’ll fly out to Miami on July 12 to start acclimatising,” explains Yasmin. “We reckon that temperatures at the competition will be as high as the upper 30s so we need to get used to that. It shouldn’t be a problem though. I’ve played in Mexico before and Ellie’s played in Turkey so we know what it’s like. You definitely can’t play without your sand socks though. The sand gets seriously hot!”
Where Yasmin counts herself as a beach specialist nowadays, Ellie is still playing both indoor and beach and hoping to persist with both versions for as long as she can. Both players agree about which form they prefer though. “I just find beach volleyball more mentally challenging,” says Yasmin. “There’s no coach on the sidelines and no subs. You really do just have to figure it out yourself.”
“The fact you get your hands on the ball more often also appeals to me,” adds Ellie. “Yes, you have to work harder and it’s tough moving on the sand but at least you’re guaranteed to touch the ball.”
As for their chances in the Bahamas, the pair will be helped by the obvious chemistry between the two of them. That comes from having played together indoors for the South-West long before the England coaches decided to pair them on the beach.
“We love playing alongside each other,” concludes Yasmin. “I think we’ve got very similar playing styles and bounce off each other well.”
The Youth Commonwealth Games will take place from July 19-23. Updates on how both the girls’ and boys’ pairs are doing will appear on the Volleyball England website and social media channels.