Team Gregory/Sheaf Finish Season With NEVZA Gold
7th November 2016
Image by Fredrik Stenholm
England’s top beach volleyball pairing of Chris Gregory and Jake Sheaf have finished their season on a high after topping the table at the NEVZA Beach Volleyball Championship Finals in Göteborg, Sweden.
Going into their final last international tournament of what has been a difficult season for the duo, they were gunning for a top result, and aiming for gold. England’s top female pair of Vicky Palmer and Jessica Grimson, also concluded their season mid-table, finishing in seventh place.
“Winning a tournament, and that elusive gold, has always been one of our goals,” explained Chris. “The new FIVB system for beach volleyball tournaments is changing in 2017, so this was potentially our last chance to do it as we will have target World Tour events to prepare for Commonwealth Games qualification the following year.”
Following their good start to our 2016 campaign on the World Tour in Iran, the pair’s season has been a turbulent one. Plagued with an injury which put them out for a couple of months, they struggled to find momentum on the World Tour in the middle section of the year. A few top 10 finishes on the European Tour saw some good performances, but overall they were unsatisfied compared to their previous form at the peak of the season. After a good performance on home soil in Bournemouth two weeks ago, they were in decent shape heading to Gothenburg, Sweden.
Their first round performance against hosts Sweden, was a disappointing start as they lost 2-1 (17-21, 23-21, 15-9). Gregory/Sheaf then had the hard job of fighting through the loser’s bracket of the draw through the knockout matches. One defeat would end their competition. In their next match they easily saw off Norway’s Helland/Nordstrand 2-0 (21-14, 21-15) to end their first day on a more positive note.
Day two was more successful and saw the pair taking three out of three wins, to secure their semi-final spot. They saw off compatriots Batrane/Smith 2-0 (21-17, 21-18), Frantzich/Tholse of Sweden 2-1 (21-14, 18-21, 15-10) and then Norway’s Jørstad/Retterholt 2-1 (21-14, 18-21, 15-10) to make it through to the last four.
On finals day, they faced the host nation’s top seeded pair, Appelgren/Herrmann in the semis. They started well and closed out the first set 21-16. However, supported by a partisan crowd, the Swedes took command of the second set 21-17), taking the match to a tie breaker. Despite being two points behind throughout the set, Gregory/Sheaf rallied to secure their berth in the finals with a 17-15 third set score. They now faced the Finland team of Nurminen/Piippo in the final, who they lost to a couple of weeks earlier in Bournemouth.
In the gold medal match, Gregory/Sheaf came out firing, to take an early advantage and winning the first set 21-13. The second set was much tighter but England brought about a match point which their opponents then saved, then took themselves 22-20, to bring the game to another tie-breaker. Keeping their composure, Gregory/Sheaf executed their game plan, and made some great plays to become NEVZA Champions in three sets 2-1 (21-13, 20-22, 15-9).
Chris Gregory said, “We’re really happy with the way that we played and competed, especially after the way we started the tournament. This was a major test for us, and to come through as NEVZA Champions not only feels great but is a crucial result ahead of Commonwealth Games qualification next year.
“Massive thanks to our team, our sponsors, and the support from back home as always. Lastly, thanks to our coach Kirk, it’s been great to work together towards this tournament and during it.”
Jake Sheaf added, “We’ve had podium finishes on this tour before and knew we had it in us to win gold. I’m really happy we came through and achieved NEVZA Champions in the last tournament of the season following an up and down year. This is a massive result for the team, and the best way we could have ended the season. Thanks to all the support from everyone that was there, and from at home.”
Kirk Pitman, head coach for the pair, said: “After a tough start we showed great resolve, and a lot of fight to come through in the end. This is a good achievement and a real springboard into our 2017 pre-season.”
Elsewhere in the men's standings, England’s Issa Batrane and Phil Smith, finished in ninth place overall, despite beating fifth seeds Sørum/Moen of Norway on day one. They were also defeated by eventual bronze medallists Applegren/Herrmann of Sweden and also Gregory Sheaf. Team Garcia-Kidd/Hunter finished 13th overall after a tough draws which saw them face Applegren/Herrmann of Sweden, Sørum/Moen of Norway.
In the women’s competition Jessica Grimson and Vicky Palmer won their first round match in two sets 2-0 (21-9, 21-8) against Stief/Schade of Denmark, before narrowly missing out against third seeds – and eventual silver medallists . Kjølberg/Hjortland of Norway 2-1 (21-14, 19-21, 15-8) in the next round. A comfortable 2-0 (21-18, 21-10) victory against Sweden’s Lindström/Simonsson saw them through to round three where they met Pedersen/Olimstad of Norway. But their tournament ultimately concluded with a 2-0 defeat (21-16, 21-19) and seventh place overall.
Next year will be a crucial year for all our beach volleyball players, aspiring to compete in the iconic Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in 2018. Crucial world ranking points will need to be garnered ahead of the qualification in 2017.