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New Zealand’s U19 Men’s and Women’s teams have both qualified for the World U19 Beach Volleyball Championships in Cyprus at the end of July after strong performances at the recent Asian U19 Beach Volley Ball Championships in Laos.
Needing to finish inside the top five or better in Laos, the top New Zealand U19 Men’s pairing of Greg Vukets (Westlake BHS) and Daniel Kilpatrick (Tauranga BC) finished fifth in their section.
The top New Zealand U19 Women’s team of Emily Johnston (Bethlehem College, Tauranga) and Alice Zeimann (Burnside High School) finished second.
Additionally, New Zealand’s second Junior Women’s pairing of Holly Chandler (Waimea College) and Jasmine Milton (Whangarei GHS) finished 11th behind Emily and Alice.
Speaking with College Sport Media this week, Emily said Alice and her were thrilled with the silver medal and qualifying for Cyprus.
“Our goal before the start of the tournament was to make the top five and qualify for Cyprus at the end of July,” said Emily. “We found out before our quarter-final that we had already made that goal, so starting in the quarterfinals our focus changed to one of keeping on playing well and seeing how far we could progress."
Emily and Alice went into the tournament seeded seventh of the 21 Women’s teams.
“We started the tournament on Friday and won our two pool matches [against Kazakhstan 2 and Laos 1] to come top of our pool.
“From then on it was single elimination and we played Kazakhstan 3 in our round of 16 match and won that [21-9, 21-11] one. In our quarterfinal we played Thailand 3 [21-13, 21-18] and then beat Thailand 2 in the semi-final [21-10, 21-15], which put us in the final against Thailand 1. We just went up through the Thailand teams!”
Emily and Alice lost the final 21-17, 21-11 against the top Thai pair. “In the first set we were neck-and-neck with them, and then they started pulling away towards the end of the set. They were executing really well and had good ball control and stepped up their game. We were fighting all the way though.”
The pair now can’t wait to get on the plane in several weeks and head to the worlds in Cyprus. “The goal is the same for us, to focus on each individual game and get out of pool play and progress through the knockout rounds.”
Between now and then they’ll be training hard. “Alice has just left school. She’s already got an indoor USA university scholarship for next year and she has got her SAT exam to sit soon and after that she’ll come up here and we’ll train hard until worlds.”
Emily’s been playing volleyball for several years. “I’ve also represented Bay of Plenty in netball and basketball, but I started playing volleyball in Year 7 and as it got more competitive I enjoyed it more and more. In Year 10 I made the New Zealand U17 team to go to Florida, and so the travel opportunities made it much more appealing.”
Volleyball has already given her several other opportunities to see the world, As well as Laos and Cyprus this year, the sport has taken Emily to the USA (Florida and California), Vanuatu, Mexico and Thailand.
Next year she hopes to gain a university beach volleyball scholarship in the USA.
As well as being an established Olympic sport (since 1996), beach volleyball is now also a Commonwealth Games sport. “The first time it will be as Commonwealth sport will be 2018, so that’s exciting for us to aspire to.”
Emily and Alice’s New Zealand beach volleyball coach is Fiona Scrimshaw. “For this trip to Laos she was really committed in helping us out so we are really thankful for her input.” Emily also thanked her Aspire gym in Tauranga and the Foundation Physiotherapy.
Emily lives with her sister’s family in Tauranga, after previously living with her brother, following the death of both of her parents in a road accident in Kenya when she was 14. “They were on a mission’s trip there with my school. The roads were really bad and it was raining and their van lost control.”
The van driver died and Emily’s parents Brian and Grace and former Bethlehem college pupil Caitlin Dickson were also killed.