Beach volleyball ace in elite company

Bendigo beach volleyballer Saran O’Connor is steeling herself for a big step-up in competition when she takes on some of Australia’s best female players this weekend.

The 19-year-old and team-mate Marta Slawuta – a former Polish national indoor player – have been accepted into the 24-team field for round four of the Renault National Beach Volleyball Series at St Kilda Beach.

“It’s very exciting,” O’Connor said of her series debut.

“I was a bit concerned our entry wouldn’t get accepted because St Kilda’s round is the most popular on the national tour – everyone wants to come and play in Melbourne.

“It clashes with St Kilda Festival, so there’s always heaps of people around, a great atmosphere and vibe, so it’s just been the favourite for athletes to compete at.

“The national tour beach series in Australia is the qualifying for our top elite teams for the world tour, it’s got some very, very solid players on it.

“Ultimately we would love to get through to the top 16. We’ve got pool matches on Friday and from that the top 16 go through to Saturday and play elimination.

“We’d love to at least win one of our pool matches and be competitive in the other one to push us through to the top 16.”

O’Connor and Slawuta have only been playing together for a month and will face some battle-hardened teams on Friday.

For O’Connor, who only switched to the beach from indoor volleyball 12 months ago, it’s another chance to learn from top-quality opposition.

“I’ll be learning from how the more experienced players play, learning their different styles of game and mentality on the court,” she said.

“It’s a mental game, it’s a matter of how much do you want it, how much are you going to work for it and how well do you cope with the pressure.”

Last month, O’Connor partnered with Geelong’s Laura Wallace to finish fifth in the under-23s division at the junior nationals at South Melbourne Beach.

“We had a really solid week, had ups and downs but ultimately we were really, really happy with our results,” O’Connor said.

“We beat two out of the three other Victorian teams during our round robin matches, so that was really positive.”

O’Connor is waiting to hear if she has a partner in order to compete at the next round of the national beach series in South Australia next weekend.

Saran O’Connor.

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