Weymouth delivers spectacular 40th event
The howling winds and wet weather failed to dampen the spirits of the Weymouth Grand Slam last weekend, as the picturesque Dorset town celebrated the 40th anniversary of the UK’s biggest beach volleyball tournament.
Players and organisers donned their dryrobe’s on Saturday as adverse weather conditions proved challenging on the opening day of competition; but the sun shone brightly on championship Sunday for the knockout stages, as 16 teams were whittled down to 4 in the semi-final rounds of both men’s and women’s events, setting up some fierce show downs in the medal matches.
BRONZE MEDAL - Keefe/Tucker def. Coutts/Austin (22-20, 21-10)
Denise Austin and Melissa Coutts are no strangers to success in Weymouth, sharing a stunning 13 titles between the two of them! In her farewell season, Austin knew it was time to deliver on her pact of playing her final event in Weymouth with the Scottish volleyball legend. After battling through pool play and securing a superb Sunday morning win against Barbour/Morisson of Scotland, they found themselves back in the final 4 of Weymouth.
Their opposition in the Bronze medal match, the upcoming talents of Isabelle Tucker and Katie Keefe, two England junior players who were preparing to compete in the U22 European championships this week. Tucker had secured a silver medal at Weymouth back in 2021 with Anaya Evans; but following a closely contested semi-final match, she found herself playing off for a spot on the podium in 2 years later.
The opening set was an even contest between both teams, with Coutts and Austin
drawing on experience and grit to challenge their younger opposition; signature "Ludwig” defence from Austin led to spectacular rallies throughout, with Tucker darting across the back court chasing down the Wilson. Austin/Coutts found themselves with a set point, but were unable to capitalize as Keefe/Tucker took the opener. From there, the momentum shifted towards the England junior side, with Keefe’s physical offense shining through in a convincing second set win.
Austin and Coutts were able to share a fond moment at the end of the match, as Denise was awarded ‘The Spirit of the tournament’ by the local organisers.
GOLD MEDAL - Rastelli/Sviridova def. Beattie/Walace (21-18, 21-19)
The women’s final proved to be a clash of the titans, with the tournament’s tallest blockers going head to head in the gold medal match.
Scotland’s Lynne Beattie and Mhairi Wallace found themselves in a rematch vs Guilia Rastelli and Maria Sviridova, following a 2-1 defeat in Saturday’s pool game. Whilst Beattie was on a mission to win back-to-back Weymouth events, the rest of the field were seeking their maiden titles, with Wallace reaching the final in her first ever Weymouth appearance!
The opening set saw Rastelli/Sviridova unsettled, as the physicality of Wallace at the net proved challenging for both players. Beattie was able to play agressively and creatively in sideout, as she buried ball after ball on the famous Weymouth sand. But as the match unfolded, service pressure become the deciding factor, with Rastelli sneaking pivotal aces towards the end of the set that put the Scots on the back foot.
The second set followed a similar pattern, with Beattie and Wallace looking very competitive in the opening exchanges; but as the set progressed and the pressure began to build, the experience and composure of Rastelli and Sviridova began to show, as they calmly managed situations and took their opportunities. It was an errant serve from Wallace that saw Rastelli/Sviridova crowned champions. Rastelli was awarded tournament MVP in what was her sixth consecutive UK Beach Tour victory!
BRONZE MEDAL - Bello/Seekings def. Stewart/Mckelvie (21-12, 21-12)
Coming off the back of a brilliant bronze medal at a NEVZA event in Norway last month, Enrique Bello and Josue Seekings were looking strong coming into Weymouth. They managed pool play comfortably with three consecutive wins, functioning well as a unit and moving into the semi finals. Things were looking good in the third set decider, until their opposition of Cole Durant and JJ van den Bogert made a run of 5 consecutive points to send Bello/Seekings into the bronze medal game.
Frustrated, but not disheartened, the England pairing reframed to take on Scotland’s Ross McKelvie and Callum Stewart, last year’s bronze medalists at Weymouth. The Scottish team had a difficult semi-final against the new pairing of Matthew Hunter and Zec Johnson, and were looking for redemption in the bronze medal game.
Unfortunately, things seemed to follow a similar pattern as they failed to break down the consistent side-out game of Seekings and Bello; whilst McKelvie remained physical at the net, it wasn’t enough to stop the scoring opportunities of the opposition, with Bello scooping up everything in the back court. They secured the 2-0 win and took their first ever podium finish at Weymouth; a great building block for Bello, who competes in Romania this week for the U22 European Championship.
GOLD MEDAL - Durant/van den Bogert def. Hunter/Johnson (21-15, 21-18)
If there was one team in Weymouth who kept turning heads after each and every game, it was the newly formed pairing of Matthew Hunter and Zechariah Johnson, a team who started in the bottom half of the bracket and made it all the way to the final! A local favourite, Hunter’s performance made him the only player of the Weymouth indoor volleyball team to appear in a final of the beach classic. Their opposition of Cole Durant and JJ van den Bogert were to prove a tough test; Durant was the runner up in 2022, and had some unfinished business to take care of.
Hunter/Johnson had developed an effective offensive system in their run to the final, with Hunter passing brilliantly to open up the second ball option for Johnson. If anyone understands how to defend option offense, its the former Australian national team member Cole Durant, who’s blocking proved to be the key difference in the first set. Using the side-wind to their advantage, the Australian-Dutch combo secured the opener with a big stuff block against Johnson.
Hunter/Johnson found better rhythm at the beginning of the second, as both teams exchanged second-ball swings early; and yet, the blocking of Durant proved key in neutralising the offense of the Bournemouth based team. Steadily working away, as he had all weekend, was JJ van den Bogert, who saw his fair share of serves over the course of the tournament. The former dutch national team player rose to the occasion for Weymouth’s 40th year, ripping the ball to the sidelines and making big players in defense over and over again. The chemistry of the team was evident as Durant and Van Den Bogert went onto secure the second set and win their maiden Weymouth titles, with Van Den Bogert taking the MVP award in the process.
HALL OF FAME
Following on from the women's bronze medal game, 3 new members were inducted into the infamous Weymouth Hall of Fame, in recognition of the players performances and contributions to the Weymouth event over a number of years. Jessica Grimson, 3-time Weymouth Champion and double-commonwealth games athlete for Team England was presented with the prestigious award by current members of the hall of fame, including Andrew Jones, Denise Austin, Ray Capewell, Steve Allgood and Peter Bennett.
Phil Smith and Issa Batrane, who share 7 titles between them, were also inducted to raise the total number of members to 26.
The first Grand Slam of 2023 definitely lived up to its reputation, leaving a lasting impression on players, organisers and fans alike.
A big thank you goes out to our commercial partners Prevented Ocean Plastic, dryrobe and Wilson whose support allows for these fantastic events to take place year after year.
We also want to thank our local event partners of We Are Weymouth, South Coast Traffic Management and Nantes Solicitors, who’s contribution to the Weymouth GrandSlam allowed us to create a fantastic event for the 40th anniversary of the event.
You can find a full list of results from the event by clicking here.
Photos provided by LJ5 Photography.