19/07/2018 21:06
Ukolova is back for good after memorable day at #EuroBeachVolley
2018 CEV DELA Beach Volleyball European Championship

The Hague, The Netherlands, July 19, 2018. It has been a long journey for Evgenia Ukolova – from injury to recovery through rehabilitation – but she is back for good. On Thursday, she and long-time partner Ekaterina Birlova were the standout performers at the 2018 CEV DELA Beach Volleyball European Championship, as they progressed to the quarterfinals of the women’s tournament after back-to-back wins. The 2015 #EuroBeachVolley silver medallists did so in style – even upsetting the ‘orange crowd’ in attendance.

Actually, Ukolova/Birlova caused a major upset already earlier in the day when they beat last year’s silver medal winners Kristyna Kolocova and Michala Kvapilova of Czech Republic 21-11, 21-19 in only 33 minutes. However, even though Ukolova is still looking to hit her top form, the Russians rose the bar even higher as they beat home stars Jolien Sinnema and Laura Bloem 21-18, 18-21, 15-8 in the Round of 16. They did so after trailing 6-8 in the tiebreaker, where they scored as many as nine points in a row with Ukolova’s defence game and Birlova’s blocks mounting a comeback that left the Dutch fans in attendance almost speechless.

Evgenia Ukolova in action during the Round of 24 matchup with Kolocova/Kvapilova (CZE)

Ukolova suffered a serious should injury last year at the Baden Masters in Austria, which required surgery and a long rehabilitation process. She still moves and hits a bit cautiously but you can see that she is slowly but surely coming back to her best. “After two straight wins in our pool, we lost quite badly to Germany’s Behrens/Ittlinger on Wednesday and we eventually ended up third in our pool,” Ukolova said. “This was obviously quite a disappointment and after moving from Rotterdam to The Hague, we knew we were going to play some tough teams. I am obviously happy with today’s performance.”

Ukolova lamented a lack of practice and competition has somehow affected the quality of their game this far. She returned to action in May in Mersin, Turkey – and together with Birlova has contested only four tournaments this season, including the 1-Star Anapa Open in Russia where they won bronze. “Since we have played only a very few matches this season, any game we get to play is like a bonus, like a party,” Ukolova acknowledged. As for the remainder of the tournament, they seem to lower the expectations: “We just take it step by step and we move from match to match,” Birlova commented.

Their next opponent for a spot in the semis will be 2016 silver medallists Marketa Slukova/Barbora Hermannova (CZE) as Ukolova/Birlova are the only Russian team still in the competition. Slukova/Hermannova claimed two wins as well on Thursday – including a 21-10, 21-11 shutout of Finland’s Riikka Lehtonen and Niina Ahtiainen in the Round of 16.

Top favourites from Latvia and the Netherlands complete clean sweep of pool matches

Two highly fancied teams completed a clean sweep of their pool matches on Thursday at Sportcampus Zuiderpark. In a way, history repeated itself for home stars Alexander Brouwer and Robert Meeuwsen. Similarly to what happened back on Monday when they opened their quest for gold against Turkey’s Murat Giginoglu/Volkan Gögtepe, they found much resistance in the second set of their matchup with Maciej Rudol and Kacper Kujawiak of Poland. However, as much as the Turks did, Rudol and Kujawiak failed to capitalise on a number of set points as well – and Meeuwsen eventually finished it all off for a 21-14, 30-28 Dutch victory.

With three wins in as many matches, Brouwer/Meeuwsen secured their spot in the Round of 16, thus bypassing the first stage of the elimination phase. The Dutchmen are still struggling to find consistency in their game, but they definitely remain in contention for the continental crown as they seek to improve on the bronze medal they claimed last year in Jurmala.

Dries Koekelkoren/Tom van Walle of Belgium finished second in Pool B, as they regrouped following their heavy loss to Brouwer/Meeuwsen to edge Giginoglu/Gögtepe in two sets (21-19, 21-18). Koekelkoren had something to celebrate with his young family, as his wife Fien Callens and little daughter Jade have travelled to The Hague to support him. “It is always nice and I feel more comfortable when they are with me,” he said. “Actually, Fien is pregnant with our second child and she should deliver in October. We somehow planned for this so that I am not going to be away from home and away from the children for too long. However, there is now a couple of tournaments taking place in China this coming October, which count for the Olympic qualification process, and we will have to see how this eventually works out. After all, the family is growing nicely, and Fien has taken a break from coaching as well, waiting to resume working with a new generation of young players back home in Belgium.”

The 'Lion King' Aleksandrs Samoilovs striking a pose after completing a clean sweep of the pool matches

In Pool G, Latvia’s Aleksandrs Samoilovs and Janis Smedins comfortably claimed their matchup with Poland’s Grzegorz Fijalek/Michal Bryl 21-16, 21-18. Therefore, the 2015 European champions secured first place in their group to move on straight to the Round of 16. Fijalek/Bryl settled for second, while Germany’s Philipp Arne Bergmann/Yannick Harms claimed the last spot in the elimination phase after a hard-fought 2-1 victory (21-14, 19-21, 15-11) over Lithuania’s Lukas Kazdailis and Arnas Rumsevicius. As a result, the bronze medal winners from this year’s European Snow Volleyball Championship leave the tournament.

This is how the competition is set to continue following the Drawing of Lots for the elimination phase:

(click on the image to enlarge)

Click here for further information.

News nr. 13 of 43
19/07/2018 22:48:00
Keizer fights through pain and into the #EuroBeachVolley quarterfinals
18/07/2018 22:58:00
Brouwer/Meeuwsen ignite ‘orange fiesta’ in The Hague

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