Hungarians and Austrians take the Middle European Championship titles, hosting country Slovenia wins 3 medals

KRANJ – The Middle European Beach Volleyball Championship in Kranj has concluded. Amidst tough competition from seven countries, the locals from Slovenia claimed 3 medals (two bronze and one silver), while the new Middle European Champions are the Austrian duo Eva Freiberger & Kathi Holzer on the women’s side and Hungarian duo Artúr Hajós and Bence Attila Stréli on the men’s side.

Coming into the tournament, the defending MEVZA champions Vaclav Bercik and Matyas Džavoronok of the Czech Republic confirmed the main draw is an exceptionally tough one:

“This year, the competition is tough, and we will be personally happy to make it out of the group stage. After that, we will see how it goes.”

In the end, Ber?ik and Džavoronok were stopped by locals Nejc Zemljak and Klemen Sen in a straight 2:0 match in the quarterfinals. The first women’s seeds Miroslava Dunarova and Daniela Resova of the Czech Republic were favored to win the tournament and felt in top form at the start of the event.

“We are very excited to be here at the MEVZA tournament in Slovenia. We just came from Austria where we won the King of the Court event, so we are feeling really well,” said Dunarova, who in the end had to settle for silver.

But this was not the only surprise of the tournament. Perhaps the most notable was the collective effort of the local Slovenian teams. According to FIVB ranking points, none of them ranked even in the top 8, but they managed, with the help of an extremely engaged home crowd, to claim two bronze and one silver medal in the end. Klemen Sen and Nejc Zemljak, who had to concede victory in the final to the Hungarian pair Hajós/Stréli in a close match of two sets lost at the nineteenth point, commented after the game:

“There is a slight bitter taste after coming so close to the first place, but we should still be content with second place in such strong competition. It was a pleasure to play in front of such an audience, and we’re coming back for the gold next year.”

Their opponents confirmed that facing the home pair was challenging.

“The second set was exceptionally tight and tough, especially due to the home crowd. It was a lot of fun to play in such an atmosphere, and we are very pleased to have won the title of Middle European champions,” summarized Artúr Hajós.

The men’s draw was the more dynamic one overall in terms of upsets. Interestingly, none of the very high quality and highly seeded Austrian duos made it to the semifinals. First seeds Schnetzer/Petutschnig, second seeds Friedl/Huber, and fifth seeds Reiter/Grössig were all stopped in the quarterfinals. The most surprising of these was the defeat of Olympian Alexander Huber and his teammate Felix Friedl by the Czech players Frantisek Knobloch and Lukas Kittel. The latter pair wrote a fantastic story of success, as they made it all the way from the qualifications to the semifinals.

“This is really unexpected for us because there are many matches between the qualifications and the last day. Today we showed two excellent performances against two Austrian teams, and it feels really good to beat Xandi Huber,” said Lukas Kittel.

In the end, the Czech team nearly made it to the podium, but to their misfortune ran into the 16th seeded Slovenian comeback duo Tadej Boženk and Vid Jakopin in the match for bronze. Tadej Boženk expressed his satisfaction with their 2:0 (15, 20) win and final third place:

“I am very pleased with our placement. We haven’t played together in a while, and Vid has been off the courts for a long time. Considering our preparation, I didn’t expect us to even reach the semifinals. So, all in all, an excellent achievement.”

On the women’s side, the course of events was much more according to expectations, with nearly all top seeds making it to the final stages. The match for bronze was a replica of the men’s match, as a Slovenian duo overcame a Czech one. Spela Morgan and Anja Macek defeated Magdalena Dostalova and Michaela Brinkova after having lost the first set quite badly. The final score was 2:1 (-15, 16, 13). In the grand finale, the first and third-seeded pairs faced off: the Czech team of Miroslava Dunarova and Daniela Resova against the Austrian duo of Eva Freiberger and Kathi Holzer. Despite being favored and having recently won the King of the Court tournament, the Czech pair had to admit defeat to the Austrians in a match full of plot twists with a score of 2:1 (18, -11, 12). The new Middle European Champion Kathi Holzer commented:

“The first set we played really well and it showed at what level we are able to play. The second set we’d rather forget, to be honest. It felt like we only played set one and three.

The organizers were very satisfied with the tournament and their transition from traditionally holding the Slovenian national championship in Kranj, to holding the Middle European one. Tournament director Sašo Rop was full of superlatives after the finals: “Organizing the tournament under the auspices of the MEVZA association is undoubtedly a completely different challenge, but it was definitely worth it in the end. Seeing how the home crowd rose to their feet and chanted ‘We Slovenians’ for the first time in the history of Kranj volleyball is priceless, not to mention the level of volleyball we got to see from the first day on. In the future, we hope to repeat this tournament, or even go a step further. The Kranj crowd has once again proven that they appreciate and want top-notch volleyball events.”