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02/06/2016 12:23
Koekelkoren/van Walle act as forerunners to grow Beach Volleyball in Belgium
2016 CEV Beach Volleyball European Championship - Final

Biel / Bienne, Switzerland, June 2, 2016. Dries Koekelkoren and Tom van Walle are determined to raise the profile of Beach Volleyball in Belgium to the next level, it has been one year since they decided to fully focus on their transition from playing indoors to being professional Beach Volleyball players. This ‘switch’ included, among many other things, the set-up of their own indoor training hall, for which they organised by themselves the delivery of as many as 500 tons of sand…

The 2016 CEV Beach Volleyball European Championship Final is being extensively covered on the CEV website (click here) as well as on all CEV social media pages; a comprehensive live gallery of the competition is available here while additional information can be found on the organisers’ website www.beacheuro2016.ch.


Tom is not a real rookie since he played at the European Championship Final in 2011 and 2012 with former partner Ward Coucke, but back then he was still playing indoors. “We made the podium at the CEV Novi Sad Masters and as a result we significantly improved our international ranking because of the many points we got from that performance. However, we were still playing mostly for fun and even our participation in the European Championship did not draw much attention back home in Belgium,” van Walle said.

Dries and Tom started playing together in 2009 already, and did so performing on the national tour for a number of seasons. They re-united after Coucke suffered an injury he did not fully recover from and decided to retire from competitive sport. Last year, after completing their last indoor season in Puurs and Antwerp, respectively, Dries and Tom decided they wanted to give it a try and see how far they could get by focussing entirely on playing on sand.

“This is actually our first full season,” Koekelkoren revealed. “We started last year but we played indoors up until May, so we kind of missed the first events of the international season and we almost had no ranking points, so it was kind of impossible to enter any World Tour tournament. We did a lot of CEV Satellites and WEVZA tournaments, where we achieved some good results, and slowly but surely we improved our ranking and later in the year we started playing World Tour events, and did well especially in Turkey and Doha,” he continued.

The transition from playing indoors to focus entirely on Beach Volleyball wasn’t an easy one: “You know, back home many people were quite sceptical and convinced that this was not an option for any player in Belgium. Tom had a very good contract in Antwerp, so it was not easy to give up on everything and start an adventure without knowing how far we could go. We are nevertheless still convinced that this was the right thing to do and the results show that we did it right,” Koekelkoren continued.

The Belgian Federation has been supporting them with an eye on the long-term development of the sport in their country: “They are investing in our team also because they would like for some young players to follow in our footsteps and so there is now a kind of long-term project for the development of Beach Volleyball in Belgium,” van Walle continued. “We are some kind of fore-runners and we very much hope that more young players will follow our example and that with our efforts and hard work we can help raise the profile of Beach Volleyball in Belgium to the next level.”



Still they have to rely mostly on themselves: “We never travel to World Tour events with a coach as this is financially not yet sustainable, but we are happy that our coach has come with us to the European Championship. It helps a lot, especially when you lose or make mistakes, because somebody from the outside can better analyse what you did right and what went wrong. If you are all the time on your own, frustration mounts and you hardly can control your feelings and emotions,” Koekelkoren admitted. “We spend much of our time with the Dutch guys and if you look at the kind of support they get, we would very much love to have the same conditions, but things are going in the right direction.”

They have won one match – the one on Thursday morning with Poland’s Michal Kadziola and Jakub Szalankiewicz – and lost their debut in Biel / Bienne to Austria’s Clemens Doppler and Alexander Horst, but they are on track to be able to reach their goal. “We want to make it out of our pool where we actually are the lowest-seeded team,” Koekelkoren said. “Yesterday we missed out on our chances in the first set and today we won a key match. If we move on to the next round, everything is possible in the knock-out phase and we just want to play as good as we can.”

Volleyball plays a role also in Dries’ and Tom’s private lives. Koekelkoren is married to Fien Callens, who is coaching Belgium’s youth and junior women’s national teams – she helped the young ‘Yellow Tigers’ win a bronze medal at last year’s U18 European Championship. Tom’s twin brother, Gert, is a member of the ‘Red Dragons’, Belgium men’s national team, and his girlfriend, Maud Catry, is playing professionally as well. “My twin brother and I played Beach Volleyball together when we were younger, up until the age of 15 or 16, but we always had lots of fights, you know, brothers and especially twins are quite outspoken towards each other and never keep their feelings for themselves,” Tom said. “However, this partnership would have the potential to be a good and a successful one,” Koekelkoren added with a bright smile.

Last but not least, Dries and Tom have arranged by themselves their own training base in Diest, Koekelkoren’s home town. “Before the start of the winter season we started making plans to go to Germany or Holland to train, but I finally realised there was a hall available right next to my parents’ place and I asked the manager if we could use it. He did not know much about Beach Volleyball and the hall was being used mostly for indoor climbing and laser games. We organised ourselves the delivery of 500 tons of sand and coordinated the set-up of the Beach Volleyball court. There are plans for the construction of an indoor hall next to the EuroVolley Centre in Vilvoorde, but at least now we have our own home.”

This is certainly a further boost to pursue their goals and ambitions since, as Tom said, “opportunities are there and you just have to believe in yourself and work hard to grab them.” 

News nr. 1109 of 3210
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01/06/2016 22:43:00
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