WARRNAMBOOL’S Seaside Volleyball Tournament is a world away from major events like the Asian championships, but not for a group of emerging stars.
Nanjing Night Net

Australia’s best young volleyballers will use the 38th annual Warrnambool competition as a stepping stone to Asian and, hopefully, world championships.

Two sides, Aus Juniors and Aus Youth, open their first seaside campaigns today in the elite men’s honours division.

The juniors side is Australia’s under 21 squad, while the youth combination is made up of the nation’s under 19 squad.

National team assistant coach Dan Illott, who will oversee both sides this weekend in his role as Australian Institute of Sport and national development coach, said the seaside carnival was the start of an intense build-up to the Asian junior and youth championships in Iran in September and October.

“We’ve been looking around for different event opportunities to get our teams to gel and play,” Illott said.

“The Asian championships are a world championships qualifer and we have never qualified for world championships in youth and juniors before.”

Illott, who was born in Warrnambool, said his young players were excited about the chance to take on some of the nation’s best men’s club sides at the tournament.

While his players will use the event for match practice, he expected strong showings from both sides.

The junior side defeated Canberra Heat in the final of last December’s Good Neighbour Tournament in Canberra. “We try and give them different competitive experiences,” Illott said.

“For the boys, they need to learn to play tournaments. We think putting them into strong domestic competitions in Australia is a good opportunity. We are probably 18-19-year-olds playing against men.”

Illott, who played at the seaside tournament a number of times while with Southern Cross more than a decade ago, said the event’s standing was critical in the decision to bring the two sides for the weekend.

He said seaside was the best tournament in the the country.

“The quality of the Victorian state league teams playing means this is shaping up as a better quality tournament than the Good Neighbour. We are not expecting the boys will romp it in by any means,” he said.

“We always find it is good for the boys. While the tournament format with a time limit is different to international matches, just playing against some of the older guys, they have to learn some of the crafty tricks.”

Illott expects defending champion Heidelberg to be the toughest opponent but believes his players will do well.

The teams are in different pools in the 14-team honours division, meaning both could square off in Monday’s final.

Illott said several of the players the AIS brought to Warrnambool last time had gone on to become members of the national men’s team, which has progressed to the final Olympics qualifying event.

He expects several of this year’s crop to do the same, suggesting youth team passer/hitter Sam Walker, 16, would be a standout.

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