Sofia, Bulgaria. Alexander Huber and Christoph Dressler, one of Austria’s best beach volleyball pairs, currently #47 in the FIVB World Ranking, but still below the line for next year’s Olympic Games, hope to make up ground on the road to Tokyo 2020.
And they have been quick to return to competitive action.
“Everything went really fast in Austria. One day we were training; the next day they closed everything down,” Rio 2016 Olympian Huber told fivb.com at the recent Sofia Beach Pro Club Opening international tournament in Bulgaria.
“I wasn’t really prepared for the lockdown (I think Christoph was better prepared than me). But we tried to do the best we could to stay in shape during these weeks. I actually had a great time, spending the whole day with my family and with my kids. We had so many adventures! We went out a lot – into the woods, into nature… I was very motivated to come out of this really strong and ready to play whenever it was going to be possible again. And I think we did a good job with that.”
As soon as the Austrian federation resumed its beach volleyball calendar in June with the innovative Champions Cup tournament, Huber and Dressler were on board and battled it out for a silver.
“We are really grateful to the Austrian federation for quickly organising the Austrian Cup over three weeks at three different locations for the top 12 teams,” 27-year-old blocker Dressler said.
“We played a lot of games. We did really well, winning seven out of eight games. We just lost the final to Robin Seidl and Philipp Waller and that was really tight. We were happy to start competing early.”
The Austrian pair did not hesitate to take part in the Ljubljana 1-star when the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour returned to action in late July and earned bronze. After winning silver at the Phnom Penh 2-star in February, they now boast a 2020 record of two medals in two World Tour appearances.
“We also got a silver medal at the Austrian event, so we must be really good in getting medals! We’ve already collected a lot of medals together and we want to get some more,” said Huber.
“When we saw that the first World Tour tournament was coming, we both agreed that we wanted to play. Slovenia is really close to us and it’s a safe country, so we weren’t really afraid of the pandemic. We took a COVID-19 test and we were really lucky and happy to compete against international teams again. It was a strong 1-star tournament, especially with Clemens Doppler and Alexander Horst participating,” Dressler added.
Next, they travelled to Bulgaria to play at the €20,000 Sofia Beach Pro Club Opening tournament, where they were the top-seeded team and the favourites for the title. Despite finishing fifth, they were satisfied with the experience.
“Since we are qualified for the CEV European Championship in September, we wanted to get used to international competition as much as possible and also test how all the travelling in this COVID situation would work, just to be prepared when we have to travel in September,” Huber explained. “It was a good competition. We saw the list of teams and there were a lot of strong ones, so we thought it was a perfect competition to test ourselves before the European Champs.”
“I think what they built here is really nice. I didn’t expect it, but when I saw it, with the pool, with the indoor gym, the yoga place and eight beach volleyball courts, which was the most striking thing, I thought it was really nice,” Dressler said about the brand new Sofia Beach complex which served as the venue for the tournament. “I hope the Bulgarians use it to train here and international teams will join them as well. The cook and the food are also fantastic. This is my first time in Bulgaria and I remain with a really good impression. It’s a beautiful country.”
Huber and Dressler are set to appear at the next World Tour stop from August 20 through 23 on home sand in Baden.
Quick link: FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour – Baden
“Last year we narrowly missed the podium in a really tight bronze medal match. We were a bit unlucky in the end there too. So now our big goal would be to get a medal in Baden,” Huber said.
“For me, it’s always been a special tournament in Baden, because my first partner was from that region and the Baden Beach Volleyball Club that’s organising the tournament were one of our first sponsors at that time. They believed in me, when I was really young. Through the years I met a lot of friends there, so it is always fantastic to go back and see them again every year.”
Since Xandi and Christoph paired up in July 2018, things have improved for both players. Dressler earned his first medals on the World Tour, while Huber piled up more podium finishes (two gold, two silver, one bronze) on the Tour than throughout his entire pre-Dressler career.
“I think it’s the perfect team for the moment, for the situation… I can learn a lot from him. And I think I bring a lot of motivation and structure into the team,” said Dressler.
Of course, the big goal is Tokyo 2020, which was postponed to next year.
“As strange as it may sound, COVID-19 helped us a little bit with that, because now we have more time to make up ground on the other teams as we are a little bit behind,” Huber commented. “Our goal was to make it through the Continental Cup. We are steadily improving. This winter was our first winter of full training together, because the years before we had problems with injuries. I think there is still a lot of room for improvement and a lot of potential in this team. I think we fit together perfectly, there is a decent chance, and I hope we can make a run for Tokyo.”
Huber also reminisced about his first Olympic participation at Rio 2016, when he and Robin Seidl reached the eighthfinals.
“I have really great Olympic memories. When I went there, I was like, ‘OK, now I’m here, but what if I don’t play well?’ But we were really lucky as we were in good shape and played well. Not all the results were right; we lost some tight games, but for me the most important thing was that after the matches in Rio I could say, ‘this was my chance to perform at the Olympics and I performed well.’ I was very satisfied with how we did as a team and how I did as a player. It was an experience that I will never forget.”
As part of the Austrian snow volleyball team, Huber and Dressler also wrote history on the FIVB Snow Volleyball World Tour, winning gold at the first ever event, the 2019 stop in Wagrain-Kleinarl.
“That was a really great experience. I am already looking forward to my next chance to strike on the snow again,” Dressler said. “It was really fun to play with the guys. I think it was really well organised. I like that people are putting a lot of energy into this whole project. I also think it has potential. I hope the sport recovers quickly from the coronavirus hit it suffered and starts again in full as soon as the mountains open. I really hope they manage to organise the World Championship.”
“Snow volleyball was a big part of our plans,” Huber added. “We wanted to play at the European Championship this winter with next year’s World Championship in mind as the big aim. We had a really strong team there, in Wagrain, a year and a half ago and we were planning on going full steam in snow volleyball too. As soon as it returns, I think we will be a team to beat on the snow.”
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