CKU USA-ITA 112

The Italians started their campaign in Morocco with two victories

The Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour inaugural season didn’t start well for Marta Menegatti and Valentina Gottardi, but the Italians have long put their early struggles behind them and are close to their fifth-straight solid finish in the event at this week’s Agadir Challenge, in Morocco.

Menegatti and Gottardi were one of the six women’s teams to end the first day of the main draw in Agadir undefeated and, with that, they won their pool and secured at least a ninth-place finish in the tournament, which would already be their best result in a Challenge event.

· Watch all the matches at the Agadir Challenge live or on demand on Volleyball TV.

Before Agadir, the Italians played in just two Challenges, losing in the first round of the qualifier in Tlaxcala, Mexico, and dropping both of their pool matches in Itapema, Brazil, to finish 19th. Played in April, the event in South America was the last one in which the Europeans didn’t secure a top-five finish.

After Itapema, the 31-year-old Menegatti and the 19-year-old Gottardi started playing in Futures events, where they had great success, finishing second in Madrid, Spain, and fourth in Cervia, Italy. Their progress also showed at the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championship, in Rome, where they were the top Italian team finishing fifth. Before their return to the Challenge level this week in Agadir, the two still played in another Futures, claiming silver in Lecce.

On Friday, the Italians dominated Pool C with a pair of wins to qualify for the Round of 16 and confirm their good form. In their opening match, Menegatti, who won an FIVB World Tour event in the city back in 2018, and Gottardi needed all three sets (16-21, 21-16, 16-14) to top New Zealand’s Shaunna Polley and Alice Zeimann. Later, they returned to the court to defeat Swiss Esmee Bobner and Zoe Verge-Depre in straight sets (24-22, 21-16) to finish at the top of the pool. The Italians have now won 17 of their last 23 matches.

Menegatti/Gottardi Highlights vs. Bobner/Verge-Depre

Besides the Italians, the other pool winners in Agadir are Finland’s Niina Ahtiainen/Anniina Parkkinen, Lithuania’s Erika Kliokmanaite/Monika Paulikiene, Germany's Sandra Ittlinger/Isabel Schneider, Canada’s Megan McNamara/Nicole McNamara and Spain’s Daniela Alvarez/Tania Moreno.

Ittlinger and Schneider had the most dramatic pool victory among all six as the Germans were pushed to three sets in both of their Pool D matches – they defeated Australian lucky losers Phoebe Bell and Nicole Laird 2-1 (15-21, 21-16, 15-11) in the morning and repeated the three-set (21-14, 10-21, 15-12) victory against Americans Megan Kraft and Emily Stockman in the afternoon.

Ittlinger/Schneider vs. Stockman/Kraft - Match Highlights

Six of the eight Round of 16 matches in Agadir are already set with Menegatti/Gottardi playing Kraft/Stockman, Ittlinger/Schneider set to face Spain’s Sofia Gonzalez/Paula Soria, the McNamaras meeting USA’s Corinne Quiggle/Sarah Schermerhorn, Alvarez/Moreno clashing with Bobner/Verge-Depre, Argentina’s Ana Gallay/Fernanda Pereyra facing Slovenia’s Tjasa Kotnik/Tajda Lovsin and Spain’s Maria Carro/Angela Lobato confronting the Netherlands’ Pleun Ypma/Emi van Driel.

Ahtiainen/Parkkinen and Kliokmanaite/Paulikiene need to wait for the Round of 18 matches, which will see Laird and Bell playing the Czech Republic’s Barbora Hermannova/Marie-Sara Stochlova and Zeimann and Polley facing the Netherlands’ Emma Piersma/Mexime van Driel, to know their next opponents.

Besides the Round of 18 and the Round 16, Saturday’s schedule in Morocco will also feature the quarterfinals. The semifinals and medal matches will take place on Sunday, the last day of the event.