SA volleyball pair go out

South Africa’s Leigh-Ann Naidoo and Julia Willand lost their final beach-volleyball pool match against Italy two sets to love to end their Olympic competition.

The pair fought hard throughout the match, drawing even at five and again at nine points before Italians Daniella Gattelli and Lucilla Perrota opened up a three-point lead at 18-15 for a 21-18 first set.

The second set was equally close for the first 10 points, the South Africans eventually going down 21-14 and securing their fate at the bottom of the log.

“I am quite disappointed. Towards the end, we made too many mistakes that kept us from staying right on top of the Italians and we lost the opportunity of winning a set. We lost the game by mistakes on our own part and not by the fact that they were intimidating and overpowering us, and that’s what disappoints us,” said Julia Willand.

As a result of the continental qualifying rule, the pair—who first played together in 2003—became the first African combination to play in the Olympics. Their Olympic debut did not prevent them from some courageous play over the week, despite having played sides that have a wealth of experience.

The Cuban pairing have been together since 2000 and placed second on this year’s world tour; the Italians have played together since 1996, finishing ninth in Sydney and fifth this year; and the Brazilian pairing, ranked number one in the world, were world champions in 1999 and 2001 and silver medallists in Sydney.

A result other than a bottom-of-the-log placing would have been a major upset. However, Willand and Naidoo’s performances have improved over the week and the pair have one of the best records of service faults, good attacking skills and—more importantly—have improved their service speeds over the three matches.

“Taking part in the Olympics has been an awesome experience. We had a three-month preparation and it was really tough for us competing against Cuba and Italy.

“We have managed to make a start in beach volleyball for South Africa. We were willing to do it and did everything we could to ensure our presence in the Olympic Games,” said Naidoo.—Sapa

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