Czech duo Martina Williams and Marie-Sara Stochlova topped the women’s podium, while Slovenian youngsters Rok Bracko and Alan Košenina celebrated a silver medal finish, behind only Lithuania’s Audrius Knasas and Patrikas Stankevicius in the men’s competition at the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour Ljubljana 1-Star by I feel sLOVEnia.
Czech Republic’s Martina Williams and Marie-Sara Stochlova, Belgium’s Sarah Cools and Lisa Van Den Vonder, Italy’s Claudia Scampoli and Margherita Bianchin, together with Emi and Mexime van Driel from the Netherlands, had remained in contention for the medals of the 1-Star event held in the Slovenian capital.
The second-seeded Czechs defeated Belgium’s top team in a dynamic three-setter (21-19, 20-22, 15-7) to secure their spot in the final. In the second semi-final match, the Dutch siblings eased past the first-seeded Italians with a double 21-17 set win.
Williams and Stochlova started the finals strong but the motivated Dutchwomen managed to close the gap and got into a two-point lead at 16-14. Still, the Czechs regained their focus and took the first set 21-18. Later, the Van Driel sisters staged a true comeback, getting into a five-point lead (9-4) but the Czechs did not lose composure and eventually sealed the match at 27-25 to take the gold medals.
“We are so happy that we claimed this win. This victory means the world for us. This is our first podium together in the World Tour series and the first one ever for Marie-Sara. We have enjoyed the tournament. The venue is amazing, the crowd supports all the teams and it is amazing to hear their cheers after two years of absence,”Williams and Stochlova, who received the award for the MVP of the tournament, were thrilled with their success.
In the men’s semi-finals, Slovenia’s home heroes Alan Košenina and Rok Bracko, who had caused quite a surprise by claiming a spot among the top four as the 15-seeded team of the tournament, continued at their pace and in a thrilling clash managed to overcome Sweden’s Martin Appelgren and Alexander Herrmann by 21-16, 17-21 and 15-9. The other team to fight for the gold became Lithuania’s Audrius Knasas and Patrikas Stankevicius, after they routed Serbia’s Milos Milic and Lazar Kolaric 2-0 (21-15, 21-13).
The Serbians and Swedes pleased the spectators at the Pogacar Square with an exciting start to the bronze medal match. However, Milic and Kolaric showed more power and determination to secure a 2-0 (21-19, 21-16) win.
Knasas and Stankevicius started the last match of the competition powerfully, with an 11-7 lead. The highly motivated Slovenians fought hard, but came short at 21-14. In the second set, the Lithuanians kept their rhythm and emerged victorious with 21-12.
Stankevicius, who also took the MVP award, was over the moon with taking the gold:
“We started the tournament with some difficult matches and improved the level of our game later. When we got a chance to play on the beautiful centre court, we pushed even harder and gave our maximum. We succeeded to achieve the result we wanted. I want to thank the people of Ljubljana for the organising such an amazing tournament and all the fans for the support.”
Slovenia’s Košenina was not too disappointed with their result: “It was our first time playing together at a tournament of such a level. What we have achieved is crazy! The fact that we made it so far, says it all. We came to have fun and to entertain the crowd. The end was not like from a fairy tale, but for us, this silver shines like gold.”